One task that many of us are confronted to in our office life is taking notes. Taking notes in a meeting is a daunting task and doing it efficiently requires some experience.

Some times notes are an important part of establishing accountability in a project and you must ensure messages are clear for people to act on them.

Here I share my tips to take effective and efficient notes.

Go digital if you can

There are many tools out in the market that will facilitate your life.

Some prefers Evernote, others will make excellent notes with Notepad, but the key point is efficiency. If you can type short and concise notes already in a digital format this will save you a lot of time if you have to send it later to any audience. In brief, half of your work is already done.

Personally I don’t have a preferred method, but I tend to use paper notes when the meeting I attend is a generic refinement, such as a brainstorming session or a meeting that lead to points on which I need to act myself with little or no involvement by participants. This helps me to recall better.

I go digital when I know that the notes will be distributed to a larger audience and more people need to act on it.

Use shorthand

This point is applicable to both paper and digital notes. 

Brevity in writing notes is key to write notes and minutes very efficiently and shorthand form is your silver bullet.

Choose your symbols and acronyms to record a fact, a risk, a decision, an action point.

You must leave out all the clutter of discussions which do not lead to anywhere: you are not a journalist that records every single word in a speech. If this is your case you better use audio recording.

In my case today, I concentrate on decisions and risks, in the past I used to be involved mostly in fact finding. 

I use a $ symbol to record a fact, an asterisk * to record a decision, an exclamation mark ! to record a risk. For the action points I use “AP” followed by the name or initials of the person to act. This leads us to the next tip.

Appoint 1 person to act

I always try to conclude my meetings with action points.

This helps everybody in understanding who will do what and have clear tasks. 

Then when recording action points you want to have a name associated to it. Avoid group names or team names: “everybody” is nobody and always leads to misunderstandings. 

Having person names appoints a specific human being to act and will help you in inviting the right people in the next meeting.

Clarity is also important. Try to write actions as clearer as possible, with subjects and verbs in the right way. Use the autocorrect if needed.

Use numbered lists

When recording facts, decisions, risks and action points I use numbered lists. This works better on digital, in paper you may skip that.

The reason to use numbered list instead of bullet points is that a follow up, a comment or a review can be easier when pointing to a number rather than a line in the middle of a text.

In my case I can use the digital notes in a online conference and pointing participants to “point 3” and attention will be immediately focused on it. I find it quite effective when dealing with people on the move and dispersed teams. 

Set a due date on action points

Action points must always have a due date by when it must be completed.

If the action point is not having a due date, then it is most probably something not really important. Either you to take it out or rephrase it.

I hope you find these tips valuable.

These make my life easier and I believe it is a good method to speed up your note taking. In facts, the faster you take notes the more you will focus on the conversation and natural flow of the discussion.