Meetings stink.

You know you have to have them — status update meetings, quarterly reviews, client updates, investor relations, customer feedback sessions, etc. They stink because:

  • They are usually not well run.
  • They frequently go over their schedule.
  • Work usually doesn’t get done — just talking/pontificating.
  • It’s not all about you (probably the most important one).

One technique I use to combat “meeting-itus” is to take great notes. Stick with me.

The process of taking notes produces a number of pleasant side effects:

  • You retain not only a mental record of the meeting, but also a physical one.
  • You are engaged in the meeting, your mind doesn’t drift off to other areas.
  • You show your peers, customers, and superiors you value their time and input.
  • It keeps your professional mind sharp at a time when you are might be drowsy and punchy.
  • It delivers a jumping-off point for new ideas, strategies, and directions – which you can bring up during the meeting and look good.

But most people don’t take good notes (or they don’t take any at all). Usually because they still take notes like they did in school. Two different environments. So here are my three ways to take better notes:

Structure

A lot of executives use fancy and expensive leather books to take their notes. It’s usually small, with a binding, and blank (or with lines). If you had to take a lot of notes, the physical structure of your book would probably work against you. Here’s what I look for in a good note-taking platform:

  • Ability to spread out – no bindings, large rings, or encumbrances to deal with. Nothing in the structure should impede my note-taking.
  • Lots of space – don’t use a 4″ x 6″ book – you need 8.5″ x 11″ to be able to draw, make arrow connections, and add/modify sections.
  • You need to have some type of structure designed into the pages (see Format). These are usually flat.

Format

This is critical. Use my template (pdf) if you would like to see what I use. It’s a simple format allowing me to list basic info at the top (date, meeting title, attendees) and adequate space between the lines to add graphics to my thoughts.

In addition, I have a 2″ left-hand rail to allow me to list overall ideas, positions, and directions, so I can easily read down the left side of the page and understand what exactly happened during the meeting.

At the bottom, you’ll see a large space for next steps or action items from the meeting. That’s the most important part.

Behavior

Be engaged. When you sit down, prepare your notes — set the title, date, and attendees. There usually is a lead person who sets the stage for the meeting and hopefully delivers an agenda. This will give you a good idea of the purpose and structure of your time, hopefully well spent.

During each section (or person), break out each note area with a sub-title and think what’s being covered, what are the elements, and what are the decisions/next steps. If you are tapped in any way to do something, make a defined, regular, and recognizable notation next to each element (I use two asterisks). This tells me I have something to do and to quickly inquire when it needs to be delivered.

What do you use to take your notes in? How successful are you in taking good notes? I would love to hear your techniques!