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The Half Life of Meeting Notes - For me, about 4 hours

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  • The Half Life of Meeting Notes - For me, about 4 hours

    I'm wondering if those of you with meeting intensive jobs like mine have this same experience. I find that my ability to understand my meeting notes begins to seriously disenegrate within about half a day...if I wait a day or two later, then I'm really sitting there scratching my head.

    Of course, it would help if I were careful in my note taking...once in awhile I'll write something like "talk to Joe about..." - about what?? If I look at the meeting notes write after the meeting, I'll remember what it was, but two days later I'm in the dark.

    What I'm finding is that I need to try to process my notes as soon as possible after I get out of the meeting - ideally immediately. Waiting comes at a high cost. My thinking is that if it is important enough for a bunch of expensive people to spend an hour or so meeting about, it is important enough to give top priority to when processing (have you ever totalled up the hourly rate of the people in the room - yowsa).

    I find it takes A LOT of discipline for me to ignore the siren song of non-truly urgent emails, voice mails and people wanting to talk to me that have accumulated while I was in the meeting.

    If I'm not able to deal with my meeting notes right after the meeting, I try to do them first when I process my inbox. I'm finding that working my inbox in order from "conversational" material to "printed" keeps me out of trouble. So I'm processing in this order:
    1) things that people have said to me in passing or that are in my mind that I haven't written down - before I completely blank on it
    2) meeting notes
    3) voice mail
    4) email
    5) paper mail

    This, for whatever reason, goes against my natural inclination - I want to look at paper mail first, email next, etc....

    I shudder to think back on my pre-GTD when I would go DAAAYS without actually looking at my meeting notes and would go off my memory of what was said only too look at my notes later and realize I neglected an important (usually off topic) detail.

    It would also help if I could commit to fewer meetings! I get into trouble when my ratio of meeting time and time to actually do the stuff that comes up in meetings gets out of whack.

  • #2
    Take notes at the meeting...

    Well, I have taken a lot of notes at meetings like that (who hasn't) and my take on it is.. why not take your GTD notes right in the meeting?

    I usually just scribble an @XYZ in front of a point I have just taken or scribble an appropriate NA down on my paper. When I am taking notes, why not take the right ones?

    After the meetings, those identified actions go straight into Outlook, as do others that pop up during that second review.

    If I can't process the notes immediately, most of the items are already jotted down, so I do not have to worry.

    ::: emp :::

    PS: I have (pssst, be vewwy quiet) also taken non-work NAs down on meeting notes during...err sub-optimal meetings.


    • #3
      crete a template for meeting notes

      I have found it helpful to have a generic template for meeting notes and have made specific ones to take to meetings that are with the same people on a regular basis. I developed this appraoch because I had to obtain information in meetings and then transmit it to the people who reported to me and follow up on their compliance. The first part is the usual who?, what?, when?, and where? The second is a)why are we meeting? and b)why am I part of this meeting (what is my role and purpose)? The third is a list of categories for things I may have to follow up on. Finally, a line for recording the date of the next meeting and location. Usually at the bottom of the page I jot down at random my gut feelings are about various aspects. or things I observe or that my mind wanders to. One warning--this template thing has not fit in well with all organizational cultures and can be perceived as threatening. And, if you are in a key leadership role, some people think you are verging on micromanaging. If you have access to dictation service or use dictation software, you can dictate a very useful paragraph long note from the template, if the meeting is important enough.


      • #4
        I usually determine next actions while I'm in the meeting. At the end of the meeting I will announce to the group what my next actions are (if they pertain to the group) and I also announce what I will be expecting others to provide (and sometimes when it is due). I try to leave as little ambiguity as possible at the end of a meeting. This also a good way for others to see GTD in action!


        • #5
          Meeting notes template

          Thanks to all of you for your comments. And, thanks to Jamie Elis for the meeting notes template idea. I have already thought of some categories that will help me to streamline my notetaking.

          I tend to jot down notes on any notepad that I grab just before dashing off to a meeting. Sometimes, I scribble margin notes on handouts received in the meetings. A notes template will eliminate many of the problems that I have. Notetaking gives me a slightly frenzied feeling; I find it hard to keep up with the fast pace of my meetings, and still take notes that I can decipher later on. I think my notes will take on a more uniform appearance. The set format should force me to take neater, more meaningful notes; no more crazy-looking chicken scratch. Also, the template can be filed in a more uniform manner; no torn-out steno pad sheets waiting to be discovered between 8X11 pages; no notes losts because they're filed away in another folder with the handouts.

          I am often asked to "remember" somthing that went on in a meeting, and have to rack my brains, just to say what I "think" happened. The template will allow me to return to my notes, and say who, what, where, and on and on... I plan to create the template, and print out a few copies, filing them where I can grab one at anytime; this will also eliminate the multiple notepads.

          Not that I look forward to the many meetings I have to attend, but I can't wait to use my new notes template!


          • #6
            Taking efficient notes at meetings and processing them afterwards is also one of my problem areas. One simple but effective trick I've adopted is to mark any actions required from me with a special symbol in the margin (I use an encircled upper case "A"). This at least allows me to quickly scan my notes afterwards and not miss those actions.

            A point which is more problematic to me is that, next to actions, meeting notes often contain a lot of reference information. Safekeeping those for easy retrieval later is less obvious than processing the actions.

            So any suggestions on effective note taking and note processing are more than welcome here too...



            • #7
              Hi - thanks for your great ideas!

              What I'm realizing is that during my weekly review, I need to take notice of how many meetings I have and block out time for processing if my schedule is getting packed. For every 60 minutes I'm in a meeting, as a rule of thumb, I'd say I'd need to allow 15-20 minutes to process meeting notes and accumulated voice mail, email.

              Like the rest of you, I just find the SPEED of the meeting and the SLOWLESS of my writing to create less than readable notes. I do put a * in front of NAs in meeting notes which really helps. Perhaps creating a section for WF for each other people in the meeting might help, although I find just doing "*@WF Joe - blah, blah" works fine.

              Clarifying NA's at the end of the meeting as Rick menitioned is also critical and gives enough time to make they they are coherenty written. There needs to be a point in the meeting in which everyone slows down enough to make sure they have the key ideas clearly recorded.

              Susan, I found for myself that having just one notebook for any handwritten notes (meeting notes, voice mails, my own stray thoughts) helps cut back on that frenzied feeling quite a bit - that way I know where everything is. (this brings back a memory...I used to have a totally stressed-out boss who always had several legal pads going, then of course she'd lose one with critical info and spend the next 30 minutes frantically searching).


              • #8
                logitech io digital pen

                I've been using a Logitech io digital pen for about a year + now and I find it really helps me keep track of my meeting notes. Taking accurate notes is still a challenge, but at least having a copy of the notes on my computer helps keep things focused. It also helps that I keep all notes in a running notebook.

                Anyone else have any experienc with this? I'd love to hear how you've integrated it into your system.



                • #9
                  On the subject of using one notebook for all notes--do you then remove them and file where they go, or do you keep the notebook intact? Does that make sense? Also does the notebook serve as a sort-of "daybook" with everything that happened that day in it or just as a place for meeting notes? Must admit I'm one of the people with 15 legal pads and it's driving me crazy!!!! Would love more into on how to streamline for efficiency and effectiveness.


                  • #10
                    One notebook

                    Hi PBS - speaking for myself, I just keep a $2 clipboard with a legal pad that is three whole punched. If the notes pertain to a particular project, I put the notes in the project folder. Voice mail notes, etc. get put into a binder chronologically after I process them - I just throw them into a tray behind my desk and every couple of weeks during my weekly review I pop them in the big binder. I start a new binder each year.

                    I don't feel a need to look at my notes again during the WR - in fact, I very rarely look back at my notes once they are processed.

                    I think a person could just keep them in a running notebook and then file the book when full. I personally just like getting things out of my line of vision as soon as I'm done.

                    I take my clipboard home with me at night at keep it by the kitchen phone to capture things that pop into my head that I need to deal with at work, home voice mails, etc. So everything really is in one place.

                    It has been a big stress saver.

                    Elaine St. James - who has written a number of books on simplicity - suggested in her book "Simplifying Your Work Life" (or some title like that - great book) - that you just have one pen on your desk. I haven't gone that far!!


                    • #11
                      One Notebook = Daybook

                      Hi PBS,

                      I struggled with the "multiple pad" problem until about 4 years ago I switched to a single daybook.

                      My preferred book is by Oxford Stationery (see - no connection apart from being a satisfied customer). This has the advantage of both left and right hand margins.

                      I number each page and make notes as necessary, marking next actions with a big "A" in the right-hand margin. These are then transferred to my system after the meeting/discussion etc and the "A" crossed out in the book. Then, part of the weekly review is to check I've captured all the "A"s.

                      If more information is needed, I can cross-reference the next action with the page in the book. It can also be really useful to have a chronological record of when things happened!

                      Hope this helps.