How to take flawless meeting notes (Free template included)
Do you ever refer to your team meeting notes only to realize you’ve written pages of nonsensical scribble? You’re not alone.
Jotting down key points while everyone’s trying to have their say can be difficult. Ideas often get missed, action points get lost in translation, and your handwriting is sometimes plain old illegible.
Worst of all, when it comes time to do the work, you can’t recall the details you need to execute your tasks.
Learning how to take meeting notes effectively might seem like a thankless exercise, but it comes with big benefits. And we sit through a ton of meetings.
Data from Attentive shows there are an estimated 11 million meetings taking place every day. Exceptional meeting notes can make all the difference.
Not only will they help you stay on top of key details, but they’ll also save you valuable time and boost your productivity.
What exactly defines meeting notes?
Meeting notes aren’t the same as meeting minutes.
While meeting minutes provide a formal, structured recap of a meeting, team meeting notes are your own personal reference of the topics discussed.
Minutes are created to share with everyone involved, but meeting notes are often for your own, individual use. That’s not to say you can’t share them around, but you want them to be legible before you do.
Meeting notes vs. meeting minutes
For the sake of clarity, here are a few differentiators between meeting notes and meeting minutes:
Meeting notes are informal; meeting minutes are formal
Meeting notes don’t need to be signed off; meeting minutes do
Meeting notes document key points; minutes document as much of the meeting as possible
Why it's so important to learn how to take meetings notes
There’s nothing worse than leaving a meeting, feeling great, and completely forgetting what transpired when it comes time to focus. This is a problem since you really need those details to get the job done right.
We’ve all been there. It's easy to get frustrated and even desperate to find out the information we need without looking careless or inattentive.
This is why team meeting notes are so important—they take the pressure off of memorizing details and make it easier to stay present (and more productive) both during and after the meeting.
Download the free note-taking template here and select Make a copy to create your own version!
Done right, meeting notes allow you to:
Record information in your own words. Noting down ideas and key points in your own words makes it easier to understand and retain information.
Absorb real-time information. Writing or typing out your notes helps you absorb the information and retain it for longer.
Make meetings more productive. Accurately documenting any ideas, action points, and objectives discussed in the meeting increases your focus and helps you stay present.
Store and share records. Keep notes safe and make sure they’re legible for sharing around with the rest of your team and stakeholders.
Maintain an important reference. Look back at your notes after a meeting to see if the goals discussed have been reached (or if you need to circle back to anything that’s been missed).
What meeting notes should you take?
It’s easy to try and write down everything mentioned in a meeting—but do you really need written evidence of what head designer Tim did over the weekend?
No, you do not.
Jotting down only the most useful information makes your note-taking efforts more effective and easier to sift through ideas.
Here are the kinds of notes you should consider taking:
1. Agenda threads
Summarize the key points from each item on the agenda, including what was discussed and any outcomes that were mentioned. Try to keep each point short (less than three sentences) for brevity.
2. Action items
The action items are what turn a meeting from a team chat to a productive part of your schedule. Note down each action point, who it’s assigned to, and its due date. Even better, add these action items straight into Teamwork to notify relevant team members in real-time.
3. Team ideas
Meetings often bring up fresh ideas, especially if you’re collaborating with multiple departments at the same time. Note down any particularly good ones that you can follow up with later.
4. Key questions
What important questions cropped up during the meeting? Note these down, as well as any answers that were provided. If there are open-ended questions that require follow-up on your behalf, make a special notation so you remember to add related tasks to your to-do list.
5. Main decisions
Decisions are the meat of your meetings. Details will slip to the wayside, but it’s important to keep track of what was decided, including the next steps and any outcomes.
How should you take meeting notes?
Knowing what to take notes on is one thing. Knowing how to take meeting notes effectively is a tougher egg to crack.
Like most productivity hacks, it all comes down to planning and structure:
Start taking notes before the meeting
Taking a couple of minutes to get your ducks in a row before you go into a meeting can make a world of difference.
Put together a meeting notes template with all the details you want to make note of. This is particularly helpful when you’re in the throes of a meeting and struggling to remember what you want to get out of it.
Your meeting notes template might include:
Date and time of the meeting
Purpose of the meeting
Any questions left answered
Action items and next steps
Deadlines and milestones
Having these sections listed out before you go into the meeting makes it easy to drop your notes into the relevant areas as you go along.
Choose your note-taking method of choice
The purpose of taking meeting notes is to stay organized and remember key points discussed. Following a methodology that doesn’t work for you, therefore, is pointless. We all take in and process information in different ways, so your notes should reflect what feels most natural to your unique process.
For example, some people prefer color coding their notes, while others prefer to jot things down in a list. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
But there are some popular methods you can use as inspiration.
The Cornell Method
The Cornell note-taking system calls for note takers to write down basic notes on the right-hand side of the page and key takeaways on the left.
This helps you quickly scan the most important points while still recording important background information.
There are five main steps in the Cornell Method:
Record: Write down key information
Reduce: Summarize key information using keywords
Recite: Rewrite the key information in your own words
Reflect: Figure out how to work with the recorded information
Review: Look over notes periodically after the meeting
The Quadrant Approach
This simple note-taking method instructs you to divide your page into four sections and fill each with:
Questions that crop up during the meeting
Ideas that come to mind during discussions
Personal to-dos, including deadlines and milestones
Tasks that have been assigned to others
The Mind Mapping Method
Notes in a listicle format (like the preceding two methods) aren’t for everyone.
If you’re more visually inclined, try the mind mapping method, where you create a graphic representation of ideas and concepts.
Key pieces of information are connected in a diagram format, providing a quick, birds-eye-view of the meeting. According to one study, nonlinear note-takers had a 20% higher comprehension rate compared to linear note-takers.
Take care of your notes post-meeting
Have you ever stuffed your notebook in your bag after a meeting only to come back to a dog-eared mess? Or opened up your computer to find unorganized notes saved in different places across multiple platforms?
If the answer’s yes, you simply need to indulge in a bit of post-meeting note care.
The more time you take after a meeting to summarize, store, and action your notes, the less time you’ll spend trying to sift through jumbled information down the line.
After the meeting, consider:
Typing up any handwritten notes
Adding your notes to your CRM
Turning action items into tasks in your project management tool
Adding reminders and due dates to any tasks
Storing your notes in the relevant folder or adding them to your project dashboard
Sharing your notes with relevant team members and stakeholders
Quick tips for taking stellar meeting notes
Practice makes perfect when it comes to taking meeting notes. The more times you do it, the easier it becomes, and the quicker you’ll find a method that works for you.
Try out these top tips to get the most out of your note-taking efforts.
1. Record meetings
Ask permission for meetings to be recorded so you can revisit them at a later date. This is particularly useful for in-depth meetings where a lot of important information is shared. Use software like Zoom or a simple recording device to capture key points and listen back to the meeting as needed.
2. Structure your notes
Use one of the note-taking methods mentioned above, or create your own. The more structured your notes are, the easier it is to stay organized and make the most of them when referring back.
3. Make your notes accessible
Don’t let your notes gather dust. Keep them relevant by making sure they’re accessible to everyone involved in the project so that you and your colleagues can reach your goals on time (without missing any important pieces of the puzzle).
4. Add links and relevant attachments
Turn your notes into an engaging resource by adding relevant links and attachments in your CRM or project management tool. By collating your resources in one place, all team members can easily access the tools and information they need to get the job done right (and on time).
5. Don’t capture everything
Avoid writing down every single thing that’s said in a meeting. Instead, stick to the main points, like the key ideas discussed, any decisions that were made, the action items agreed upon, and any important questions that cropped up.
6. Consider the main purpose
The purpose of the meeting will influence the kind of notes you take and what you do with them afterward. If you’re in a brainstorming session, for example, writing down every single idea isn’t necessary. Instead, it’s more productive to shortlist the best ideas instead of transcribing the ones you know won’t pan out.
On the flip side, if you’re in a 1-to-1 meeting, most of the talking points will likely be highly valuable. In this case, writing down what your manager (or team member, if you’re running it) says is likely worth remembering.
7. Take consistently good notes with a template
Make life easier for yourself by using a premade meeting notes template. This takes all the guesswork out of note-taking by providing relevant prompts and helping you structure your notes in a memorable, easy-to-digest way.
Download our simple meeting notes template and customize it to suit your needs.
Create a copy of the document and start making notes right away. Alternatively, customize the sections to best suit your needs and create a template you can use over and over again.