Whether formal or informal, meetings are part of any professional’s life. In fact, you may have so many meetings that it can be difficult to remember what transpired during all of them. Even if you’re not asked to take notes, recording what happened can be very useful.
Be prepared. Especially for a formal, scheduled meeting with an agenda, take a few minutes beforehand to set up your document. Research shows you will remember more if you write instead of type, and using a laptop during the meeting may make it appear you are not paying attention. However, electronic documents are easier to read—and share. Investing in a stylus on a tablet or a smart pen that digitizes your handwriting may be worthwhile if you will use it often.
Record the date, time, attendees, and who was invited but missing. Use the agenda to create an outline, and then fill it in as the meeting progresses. After the meeting, review and fill in your notes to make sure you captured all the important information.
Emphasize only key points. Especially if you’re taking informal notes, record only the highlights. Decisions, outstanding questions, action items, and future plans should be recorded, but the details of discussions and the arguments’ pros and cons or who was on which side do not need to be.
Action items are the most important things to record accurately. Who is going to do what and by when are all crucial. Sometimes, people hear things differently, so putting the agreement in writing ensures that everyone agrees to the same thing. For example, did Pat agree to do the task or to make sure that it got done?
Consider what not to include. While notes can be informal and kept for yourself only, you may decide to share them with others. In that case, you may want to think about what content should not be included—for example, sensitive or personal information—since you don’t know how widely they may be distributed.
Minutes are more formal and can include more facts about who said and did what, votes that were taken, and so on. While not as detailed as a transcript, they may become part of a legal record and so need to be reviewed carefully by everyone who attended and formally approved at the next meeting of that group. There may be requirements as to where and for how long they need to be retained, so make sure you follow all organizational policies.
Share and save. If possible, share your notes with the other attendees, or even just a few trusted colleagues, to check their accuracy. They may remember things differently, so allow them to comment or edit until you reach agreement.
Notes are no good if you can’t find them. Archive them in a logical place, and refer to them when necessary. It’s especially helpful to review them just before the next meeting of the same group to remind yourself of what conclusions were reached at the end.
Writing things down is a great way to solidify information and make sure you get it right. By taking deliberate notes at meetings, you can make the most of the time spent.
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