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9 tips for taking better meeting notes

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah Laoyan
January 15th, 2024
6 min read
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Taking good meeting notes is an important project management skill to have. By providing your stakeholders with good meeting notes, you’re offering clarity into important conversations and key decisions being made, even if they’re unable to make the meeting. In this article, we discuss different note-taking techniques so you can create effective meeting notes.

Meetings are an important part of projects—they are where decisions get made and team members connect with each other. While meetings are a key step to making good decisions, where do those ideas go? If it’s not clear whose responsibility it is to take notes, ideas and action items can get lost.

The best way to ensure the crucial information and context is documented is through meeting notes and meeting minutes. We detail both of these types of documents in this article.

What are meeting notes?

Meeting notes are the key points of information you jot down during a meeting. Good meeting notes help you remember the important details from a meeting and any action items that you or other team members need to complete before the next meeting.

Meeting notes have no set structure or format, and note-taking techniques can vary by individual preference. 

What are meeting minutes?

Meeting minutes are a formal note-taking format that can be used as official documents by auditors or court proceedings. Meeting minutes have a set structure for what needs to be included. Those requirements include:

  • Date and time of the meeting, plus the time the meeting started and the time the meeting ended.

  • Names of meeting participants and individuals who were invited but unable to attend.

  • Topics discussed during the meeting.

  • Key decisions made, such as outcomes of elections, and motions accepted or rejected, and the date and time of the next meeting.

  • Action items for the next meeting.

The term "meeting minutes" comes from the latin phrase minuta scriptura, which translates to "small notes." While it can be helpful to dictate real-time minutes into your meeting minutes, dictating what's happening down to the minute is not the intention.

Create a meeting minutes template

What's better—meeting notes or meeting minutes?

If you’re a project manager, it’s most likely that you will be using regular meeting notes. For situations such as project kickoff meetings, project plans, or casual 1:1 meetings, notes will do just fine.

When you have a more formal meeting that needs to be recorded and documented, such as a public hearing or company meeting, meeting minutes are more appropriate.

Why use meeting notes?

Meeting notes can come in many forms, and there are several benefits to creating them, regardless of which method you prefer. Here are a few reasons why meeting notes can bring more clarity to your team. 

Document decisions

While some people have razor sharp memories, others may quickly forget what decisions were made in a team meeting. Creating written records of notes enables team members to reference the decisions that were made at a specific point in time. Meeting notes also help maintain accountability, and can be helpful to reference later in a project. 

One way to ensure that everybody on the team can reference notes later on is to keep them in a designated space as a central source of truth. Compiling all meeting notes and agendas in the same place can help provide important context to conversation, in the event that somebody is ever out and is looking to catch up on what progress the team made

Offer asynchronous participation

In the event that some team members are unable to attend the meeting, sharing past meeting notes can help bring them up to speed while still allowing them to process the meeting’s decisions on their own time. Some team members may not have the ability to participate due to scheduling conflicts, but sharing the meeting notes gives them the opportunity to participate in the decision making process async.

Read: Asynchronous communication isn’t what you think it is

Improve recall

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted some of the first experiments on memory and recall in 1895. In this study, he developed the forgetting curve, which shows how information is lost quickly over time if there is no effort to retain the information. 

Effective note taking can help you recall information faster as things are retained over time. The more that you interact with notes—like reading over meeting notes a day later—the more likely you are to remember the decisions made during that meeting.

9 tips for effective meeting notes

Taking better meeting notes can help you stay on top of actionable tasks and key deliverables. Any important discussion that happens will be documented in your meeting notes so you or your team can refer back later. Here are a few tips on how you can make sure that your note-taking methods are effective.

1. Choose a note-taking method that works you

There are several different note-taking methods out there, and it's important to find the one that works the best for you based on your role and personal learning style. Some of the most common note-taking methods include:

  • Cornell method: In the Cornell method, your notes take the form of two columns: one small column on the left side and a larger column on the right. The left column highlights key ideas from the meeting, while the right column drills down into the details of the key ideas. Conversation will naturally shift from one topic to the next, so catching the key idea on the left, and drilling down finer details on the right can help you stay organized.

  • Outline method: Ideally, your team shares the meeting agenda beforehand. If they do, use that as an outline for your notes. List those key points out based on the agenda. Then, as the meeting progresses, take notes underneath each agenda item. 

  • Quadrant method: Separate your notes into four different quadrants, and label each section as general notes, action items for self, action items for other team members, and questions. In the general notes section, jot down key points and important details from the meeting. The rest of the quadrants are reserved for the items that fall underneath those headers.

  • Slide method: If your meeting is a presentation, ask the presenter if they're willing to share the slide deck with you ahead of time. You can then add any notes you have to specific slides as the speaker is presenting.

2. Ditch the laptop—use pen and paper instead

Research shows that taking notes by hand is better for remembering conceptual information long term. When taking meeting notes, you're more likely to focus on the key points of the meeting since it's almost impossible to write everything down verbatim. Not having your laptop will also prevent you from trying to multitask during the meeting.

3. Don't write everything down verbatim

Trying to copy meeting notes down word for word is a waste of both time and energy. A meeting consists of a lot of conversation—but not every part of the conversation is necessary for those reading meeting notes later on. Write down the key points that are discussed, the outcomes of that discussion, and any next steps so that you can focus on the actionable work that matters most. 

If you're hand writing your notes, use shorthand, symbols, acronyms, or abbreviations to get common phrases or ideas onto the page quickly. Just be sure to create a legend or a key beforehand so you know what your shorthand means later on.

4. Use a note-taking template

Whether you're using a meeting note template or a meeting minute template, using a pre-built template can help expedite your note-taking so you don't have to prep or format as you go. Regardless of who is taking notes, all of your meeting notes will follow a consistent structure and everyone on the team will know what information to expect.

Create a meeting minutes template

5. Assign a specific note-taker for the meeting

If you're leading a meeting, it can be challenging to simultaneously take notes and facilitate the conversation with other team members. If you’re taking the lead on an important meeting, ask one of your team members to take notes for you. If you have a regularly occurring meeting, rotate who the designated note-taker is so that everyone has an opportunity to join in on the conversation.

6. Transcribe conversations with recording software 

With many teams working remotely, it can be easier to record and share a video recording instead of writing meeting notes. Use integrations like the Zoom + Asana integration to transcribe the conversation so team members can read the conversation later. By reading a transcription of the meeting, you can easily parse out the regular conversation from the key points and action items at a glance.

Before recording, it’s important to alert everybody on the call that they will be recorded, and what the recording will be used for. Be sure to share both the recording and the transcript in a central location so that everyone on the team has access to it.

7. Highlight important points of contact

If someone brings up something that may require follow-up later, make sure to write their name by that point. This way, if you have questions, or need to sync up with them later, you know exactly who to talk to about this specific topic.

This technique is also helpful if two stakeholders disagree on a topic. By documenting both of their opinions, you can use those arguments as groundwork for the decision you ultimately decide to make. 

8. Share your screen so that everyone can see your notes

If you work on a distributed team or working remotely, you’re likely to be in a lot of video conferences. Sharing your screen while taking notes can be helpful for your team members. If you miss anything, your team can help jump in and suggest points to add in real time.

9. Share your meeting notes with all attendees

Following up after a meeting is a good way to ensure that all stakeholders have clarity on the decisions made. If anyone misses the meeting, they can catch up asynchronously by reading your meeting notes. Plus, if any points were missed, your team has the opportunity to add them to the follow-up notes. 

When you follow up with stakeholders after the meeting, ensure that the document is easily shareable and accessible. Work with your team to create a communication plan, so that everyone knows exactly where this information is stored and how to access it at a later date.

Read: Why a clear communication plan is more important than you think

Centralize actionable meeting notes

The best way to keep your project and meeting notes organized is to create a centralized space where all due dates and action items live. Using a work management tool can help keep your team members organized and ensure your meetings are productive. Interested in trying a tool out? Bring your team’s work together in one shared space with Asana.

Create a meeting minutes template

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