Taking notes in a meeting is one of the best ways to ensure that all that talking actually gets you somewhere! They are a way to summarize key points, create actionable items, and expand on passing thoughts and ideas, giving purpose to your meetings and helping projects move forward.
That said, note taking is a skill, and like anything, it can be done well and… not so well. Good meeting notes help you progress and grow your projects. Bad notes end up in the trash. What’s worse, lousy notetaking can pull focus from what is being said and make meetings less worthwhile, decreasing productivity and frustrating everyone involved.
So, let’s explore how to take your meeting notes to the next level, why you shouldn’t be taking minutes, and we’ll even throw in some bonus note taking templates for the ultimate productivity boost.
Meeting Notes vs. Meeting Minutes
Unless you’re explicitly responsible for taking minutes in a meeting, don’t do it! Minutes are a comprehensive, formal report of what has happened in a meeting, and they are always assigned to an individual member of the team. They certainly have their place and are, in fact, sometimes a legal requirement.
They are not a way to take notes for personal use, and trying to keep up with a meeting while taking minutes will have the opposite effect. Meeting minutes will often include:
Title of meeting and location
Purpose of the meeting
Date and time
A list of participants and absentees
Full schedule, with each item:
- Action items
- Next steps
- Assigned individual
Agreed date and location of the following meeting
Purpose of the meeting
Appendices of related documents and reference materials
Meeting notes, on the other hand, are meant as a personal productivity tool. They should still follow a format (we’ll get to that later) but are much less formal, don’t need to include many of the more specific details that minutes cover, and are instead a reference for you personally to have a quick overview of:
What was discussed
What you thought about it
What actions are being taken based on these points
Your tasks are related to the meeting
Take a look at these short examples to get a clear picture of how meeting minutes and meeting notes differ:
Example of Meeting Minutes
Example of Meeting Notes
Both meeting minutes and notes have similar content but serve very different purposes and applications. The latter is a way for you, individually, to know what’s going on, your thoughts on the matter, and what to do next, while the former is a more formal way of making a written record of what happened within a meeting.
Take Meeting Notes The Right Way
Taking notes in a meeting (rather than minutes) is a great way to keep track of why you’re there in the first place, put to paper any sparks of inspiration you have at the moment and have clear, actionable goals that you can follow up on after.
Today, online notes make this simple, giving you the power to organize in any way you please—including at-a-glance color-coding. With cloud-based notes available, it is well worth taking down points direct-to-digital instead of wasting time writing them up after you’re done. This also allows you to tag essential people and include interactive tasks and to-do lists.
Of course, taking your meeting notes to the next level will take a bit of practice. However, by following our tips below, you can get started today.
Focus on a Clear Plan
Any meeting you go into should have a clear plan, and this should be the skeleton of your notes. It will help keep you focused on what is being discussed and acting as a natural structure to keep everything easily accessible if you need to refer back. This takes us onto the next point…
Despite meeting notes not requiring rigid, predefined formatting like meeting minutes, they still need some. How this looks is ultimately up to you—they are your notes, after all! However, there are some basic formatting rules that can keep you focused on the task at hand. These include:
Headings for agenda points
Your own ideas and thoughts pulled out from the main text using bold or italicized text (or color-coded)
Bullet points of key information within an agenda item
A usable to-do list
Check out the meeting notes samples below to see how you can use this formatting to maximize your productivity.
Write Down Key Points
The key points presented by you and anyone else in the meeting should be noted down under the respective agenda item.
If you know that your meetings tend to have some off-topic items, maybe even leave a box for any other business somewhere in your notes. However, you should try to stick to your agenda for the most productive meetings possible!
Take Clear Action Items
Notes without action items are a wasted opportunity, and not following through with these can make meetings seem pointless. Action items are any proposed tasks that come up in the meeting; you can simply note down the ones that have been assigned to you.
Later, If you’re using online notes with an integrated email client and you need to cross-reference action items with a team member, you can seamlessly share your tasks and theirs once the meeting is done.
Write Down Ideas and Thoughts
Let’s be honest, most of us have walked into a room and immediately forgotten why we’re there. Let’s not pretend we can remember all our thoughts and ideas in a meeting while still trying to focus on what is being said.
Write down any ideas and thoughts as they come to you using different formatting (see above) to separate them out from the main points and action items.
Create Tasks From Your Taken Action Items
Not all meeting notes have to be taken during a meeting. One of the key skills of successful notetaking is the ability to write them while still engaging fully with the meeting.
Sometimes this means jotting down a reminder and padding it out into a full task list once the meeting is wrapped up.
Creating tasks from your notes – and more specifically from your action points – is an integral part of getting things done, staying productive, and making meetings actionable gatherings rather than black holes of time.
Meeting Notes Template
Meeting Notes Template With Action Items
Meetings can either be a waste of time or a great opportunity to push projects forward. A big reason for them to fall one way or the other for you personally is the ability to take great notes. Now, armed with these meeting notes templates, you can take your productivity to the next level.