How to take useful notes in a meeting

A few years ago, I discovered an organizational system that just plain works for me: David Allen’s Getting Things Done. You can read my GTD overview here. I really like this system because you can immediately apply bits and pieces of it without having to first master everything.

One natural effect of my GTD practice has been much better note-taking at office meetings and conferences. As with most of GTD, what I’m about to describe sounds pretty obvious… as in, “Duh, why didn’t I think of that?”

Use this tip the next time you are in a meeting and about to take notes in your planner or notebook (or maybe the little freebie pad if you are enjoying a wickedly interesting 8 hour conference in the “James Madison Room” of a Hilton Hotel).

Simply reserve 1 blank page for “next actions” and keep all other doodles and notes in a separate section. As you listen to the speakers, think about how to apply what they are saying in your own world. Wait for a thought to cross your mind such as, “hmmm… that’s a great tip about wearing headphones to stop time-wasters from hanging out at your desk for inane conversation.” Immediately write a to-do item on your Next Action sheet: “Buy headphones to wear at work.”

Sounds simple, right?
This will have a massive impact on your productivity after the meeting!

I want you to think about the last hotel conference you attended. You took copious notes on that freebie hotel pad, right?

Where is that pad now?
Did you even look at it after the meeting?


If, on the other hand, you had kept a separate sheet of next actions or assigned tasks, you will be far more likely to act on them. Burying your Next Actions in a bunch of marginally useful notes almost guarantees that your brain will be allergic to finding them in the future. And, if you aren’t going to act on any of the information gathered at the meeting… why did you attend?

Image by: Dan4th