Why I don’t take notes in meetings and you shouldn’t either

I have a healthy disdain for meetings. I’ve often said, “You’ll never struggle to get me out of a meeting.” But this is 2014, so it’s not always possible to pick up the phone, Skype, text, chat, email, record a video, use meeting applications or software. Instead, it’s more practical to carry ourselves across town in hunks of metal and plastic, like new-age Pilgrims.

Regardless, I’ve dutifully remembered to take my notebook and pen with me to any meeting. I’d look at things like Field Notes and ponder buying one (I haven’t). I’d sit there after all the usual introductions and agenda-passing and listen to people. On average, I’d write about 2-3 lines worth of stuff.

By the end of the meeting I’d have a few disparate words and incomplete sentences written down. I’d use an entire sheet of paper for what would reduce down to, “Email so-and-so link to such-n-such”.

“Who are these people writing down pages of notes at meetings? What am I? A reporter?” This isn’t high school anymore, either. This stuff won’t be on the test.

One day, I just stopped carrying a notepad. I sometimes carry my iPad, but that’s usually so I can show a website or some other file to someone. Most of the time I carry my phone if I need to jot down a task to do. And I put that to-do in my to-do list with all my other to-dos. What a concept, huh?

Steve Jobs once said about meeting note-takers, “If it’s important, you’ll remember it.” If it’s not, well, it probably wasn’t important anyway.

So stop taking notes in meetings. It keeps your attention on your guests, it allows you to absorb more, you’ll listen more carefully, you’ll give more input, and you’ll keep things short and to the point so everyone remembers what they’re there for.

Today, I don’t even own a notepad. When I go to meetings I bring myself, I shake hands, sit down, kick back, give input, and listen. I’m better off for it.

(As an aside, the above photo is a notebook I used up and stashed away for whatever reason. It dates back to as early as 2005. In it, I list ideas for iOS Apps. The top 5?

  1. An app to scan barcodes at conferences.
  2. A parking app for Downtown Indy or IUPUI, to show where open spaces are.
  3. A virtual tour guide, so you can take photos of things around town and get information about them.
  4. Bulk vs. original size calculator. To answer the question: “Is it cheaper to buy that roll of toilet paper at Costco, or elsewhere?”
  5. Free, online, to-do lists. No logins, no passwords, easy to share.

If those sound familiar, it’s because you commonly refer to them as “QR Codes”, “ParkIndy.net”, “Augmented Reality” or “Google Street View”, and “Wunderlist”. As for item 4, I’m sure it exists in some fashion.

Too bad I had those ideas in 2008 and never executed any of them. So another reason not to take notes: you won’t feel bad in 5-10 years for not doing stuff.)

About the author

Justin Harter

3 Comments

  • Hey Justin!
    Thank you so much, this is just the article I was looking for.
    I keep lots of notes that I take from reading books, watching videos, etc.
    I value the information that I write, and I was considering writing them as notes in Word documents, that I would keep in a cloud. I already have tons of articles, videos, books that I keep that way. I also receive articles, videos to watch every day in my mailbox.
    I think I don’t have the time to process all that information, even if I do find it all interesting.
    What would you suggest. How do you deal with this kind of stuff?
    Thanks a lot in advance for your response.

  • Yeah, that doesn’t work for me; not taking notes. I have always been a visual learner. Not taking notes for me is disastrous. I will forget. I must see things written down; not just on the Power Points off the presenter. I have to write it down on something I will take home or to my desk and be able to look at whenever. Meetings tend to be complicated. They tend to tell employees new methods of doing things and they expect you to remember. It seems most people are oral/hearing oriented. They hear it and they remember it. I am not like that. With simple things, yes, but when you’re talking about something with more than two steps involved, I will forget. Then I will be accused of not having listened. I can listen all I want. I still must write it all down. People don’t get that.I may retain it for a day, but then will lose it all the next day. That is what the pen and paper is for. If I forget, (and I will), I just look at the paper. And if I don’t forget all the steps, I will certainly mix them up. If I remember step one, two, three, and four, I might mix them up and remember them in the wrong order, two, four, three, and then one. Then I will get in trouble again, because I did it wrong, and again will be accused of not having listened to what was said at the meeting. Only after having later, over the course of time, performed the actions over and over multiple times, will I then be able to retain the information. So, yeah, I’m sticking to my notes.