You've Probably Been Taking Notes Wrong -- Here Are 5 Ways to Fix It
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
In the Information Age, one of the primary challenges we face is how to process and store all the data available to us so that we can use it. With so many stimuli flying at us, many of us find ourselves multitasking by default -- even though multitasking has been shown to make people less able to organize their thoughts and filter out needless information.
The antidote is a humble and unlikely contender: note-taking.
Among many other benefits, note-taking has been shown to help us avoid distraction, better organize our thoughts and retain information more effectively. It's no wonder this age-old practice has won the attention of app developers and other thought leaders. Today, notetakers can choose from dozens of apps (including Slack, Hipchat and Atlassian's latest, Stride) and more analog methods (e.g. bullet journaling) to improve their processes and outcomes.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are taking notes in ways that aren't as efficient or effective as they could be -- and that's hurting their bottom line. Here are five strategies to make sure your note-taking practices are propelling your business forward.
1. Don't make note taking the "new guy's" job.
Remember: Note-taking is all about capturing the most important parts of a conversation.
Delegating this duty to someone without the context necessary to capture the most salient points can backfire, leading to confusing notes or lost ideas. A more senior (though maybe not the most senior) person will better capture the most important takeaways given current priorities and ongoing projects.
2. Share responsibilities.
Note-taking shouldn't be only one person's job. That's because the "notetaker" is inevitably going to talk (especially when senior people all take notes; see No. 1 above) -- and his or her words need to be captured. Sharing the responsibility ensures that multiple people are able to contribute. Having several members of a team collaborate on a shared doc can go a long way toward making sure meeting minutes are complete.
Shared documents are also a place to maintain accountability by tracking revisions and allowing team members to leave comments and fill in the blanks. Collaboration shouldn't be limited to big-time projects, after all.
These days, note-taking software and apps make it easier than ever to share the load. Consider Google Docs, Quip and even Slack, HipChat or Stride to get multiple team members on the same (literal) page.
3. Use technology, but don't fall for the cool new tool.
While note-taking apps abound, there's no silver bullet for taking good notes. The best tool is the one that works for you and/or your team. For example, when everyone needs to access notes, the best iPad note-taking app may be worthless to your coworkers who use Android. This is why Kickdrum commonly uses Google Docs, which everyone can access.
While pen-and-paper notes may seem archaic, bullet journaling has proven effective for thousands of devoted followers. And for those who can think better when holding a pen (or stylus) but need an easy way to share what they write, apps like NotesPlus and Pencil let you capture that feeling on a digital surface.
So, if the latest software is not user-friendly, or if what you already have is working, don't feel pressure to switch to the exciting new tool everyone's talking about.
4. Don't forget next steps.
Picture this: You complete a meeting and no one recorded what has to be done or who has to do it. A meeting without tangible needs or to-dos is more often than not a waste of time.
At the end of every Kickdrum meeting, the meeting leader goes over exactly what is required in follow-up, and by whom. This makes for more efficient completion of projects and increased ownership of necessary tasks on the part of team members. If there aren't definitive to-dos at the end of a meeting, then either the meeting wasn't productive, the notetaker wasn't effective or, horribly, both. If your note-taking software doesn't support built-in tasks or action items, consider simply using an all-caps "TO-DO" at the start of a line to make them easy to find.
5. Make a plan for archiving.
One of my favorite things about Slack is the ability for team members to go in and catch up on anything they've missed. Everything is easy to find because you can easily search through the app for old messages and documents.
Similarly, archived meeting notes can be a rich resource for training new hires or developing new ideas, so it's a good idea to keep them around and make sure they're easy to find. To ensure your notes are clearly identifiable, date them, give them clear titles or labels, and preserve them in a secure location.
While note-taking seems like a no-brainer, adopting an "anyone can do it, any way, at any time" attitude is the first step to misused time and useless documents. Few companies can afford to waste time or resources, so optimizing your note-taking is important. A thoughtful strategy for taking notes can be the foundation for stronger company relations, increased accountability and boosted productivity.
Related Video: How to Master the Art of Productivity