I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me, but I have a natural habit of carrying a notepad with me when I work. I carry it with me to meetings and always have it with me at my desk.
When I take it into meetings, there are occasions where I don’t need to take any notes, but more often than not, I come out with some type of action item or write something down that I want to remember later.
I once worked with a co-worker who was just the opposite. He regularly attended meetings empty handed. Every once in a while, he’d get assigned an action item or need to write something down and would borrow a piece of paper and a pen from someone to take notes.
I’ve also worked with people who refuse to take notes. I suppose they figure if they write it down, they are committed and will be responsible for it. Their favorite statement when an action item came up in a meeting was to turn to someone and say “Write that down.”
There are also people at the other end of the spectrum. They bring the laptop and you hear them tapping away at a transcript of the entire meeting.
There is a middle ground for note-taking in meetings where you write down the key decisions, action items and salient points made without getting every detail that no one will read later.
Benefits of taking notes
There are many career boosting benefits to taking notes in meetings.
You remember it better. I learned in high school and have reinforced to myself throughout my career that I’m more likely to remember a point if I write it down. Perhaps it makes me think about it more if it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. Taking notes allows you to refer back to it if you for some reason forget the details. But taking notes helps you avoid forgetting even if you never refer back to the details.
Advantage over those who didn’t. When you take notes and document what is decided in a meeting, if there is a dispute with someone who did not take notes, you always have your notes as proof. They can claim that that’s not how they remember it, but it becomes an argument of your notes over their memory.
It forces you to listen. Related to remembering it better, when you’re taking notes in a meeting, you are much less likely to space out and think about your weekend plans or what is for dinner tonight. In fact, when I’ve found myself stuck in a meeting that I don’t need to attend but can’t escape gracefully, I’ll start taking notes just to force myself to pay attention. If you’re not taking notes, you are much more susceptible to assuming the role of a disinterested bystander fading in and out of meeting consciousness. Take notes and you will be more engaged.
Maybe you were raised not to worry about what people think. But in the business world, you don’t have that luxury. If you’re in a meeting with your boss or a client, the perception of walking into a meeting without any means of taking notes – whether that is a pad and paper, laptop or tablet – the perception is that you aren’t prepared for the meeting. When the time comes for you to take an action item and you turn and ask the person next to you for some scratch paper, it gives a bad perception. Remember that kid in school who always needed to borrow a pencil, eraser, or some other basic school supplies? Don’t be that guy in the business world.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.