My Guide for Good Meetings: Good Note-Taking, The Research Life.
A quick guide to focused meeting notes from a highly introverted academic.
I often prefer writing over talking. That’s just who I am. But, in my day-to-day workflow, conversations are important. For example, meetings often require a lot of talking.
Over several years as a graduate student and now postdoctoral researcher, I’ve developed a loose set of meeting rules that help me to have effective meetings. The most important rule that I have is to draft meeting notes before the meeting. The notes help me plan what I need to say during the meeting. My meeting rules are best summarized in three parts — what to do before, during, and after the meeting.
My Rules for Effective Meeting Notes
Before the meeting — prepare
The most important step of having a good meeting is knowing what you’re walking into. At a minimum, I try to have a list of talking points and a general sense of the people to expect at the meeting. I typically draw out something like this in a physical notebook like the Midori MD.
If I’m going to a one-on-one meeting, I might send the person who I’m meeting with a simplified version of my meeting notes so that we’re on the same page. Ideally, I send them a copy of the meeting notes at least one day in advance. With Craft Docs, it’s incredibly easy to separate meeting items from my detailed meeting notes. You can find a sample screenshot of my meeting notes template below and copy the Craft Docs here.
You’ll notice that the meeting notes template is pretty barebones. The magic of it, for me, is in the backlinks that I add to the summary (meeting date, week number, people in the meeting, and sometimes, specific project pages). Check the image caption for more info.
This preparation allows me to feel at ease going into my meetings. It helps me to (1) organize my thoughts in writing, (2) help the other attendees know what to expect, and (3) loosely script what I need to say during the meeting.
During the meeting — actively listen
When the meeting starts, I actively listen by taking careful notes in a physical notebook. I do not write down everything said during the meeting. Instead, I write summaries on the meaningful content that I’ll need to remember later, and possibly clarify during the meeting.
To be sure that I’m clearly communicating with attendees, I ask clarifying questions. For example, if we discuss working on a project, I might ask if there’s a specific due date and other details of the expected deliverables. To have successful meetings, it’s important to clarify expectations. Time is a nonrenewable resource. You don’t want to waste time working on a low priority project when there is a more urgent or more important one.
A quick tip for other highly introverted humans: you don’t have to always take meaningful notes when writing. Sometimes we might just need a break from looking at screens or faces. There are a few simple ways that we can take mini breaks without causing much disruption. For example, drawing a quick sketch, doodle, or diagram are all low energy and low attention activities that don’t take us away from the content of the meeting.
That doesn’t mean that we’re not paying attention. It’s just a quick way to forge a break away from paying attention to faces while prioritizing listening to what’s being said (vs looking at the person saying it). To help deal with Zoom meeting overload and eye strain, finding low effort ways to look away from screens from time to time has become a necessity for me.
Post-meeting — reflect
The last part of meetings are my favorite — the post-meeting reflection. At the end of my meetings, I try to take a few minutes to clean up my notes and make sense of them. Basically, I want my notes to be quickly skimmable if referenced later. The first summarization stage is on the left-hand side of my notes in my physical notebook. Then, I go through my notes and list post-meeting actions or tasks that I should schedule soon. I add a short description at them at the top of my notebook page. Then, I write a quick analog summary that’s usually ~1 to 2 sentences.
In the second summarization stage, the notes are logged as digital summaries in Craft Docs. The digital summaries are formatted within my meetings template in Craft. Sometimes this happens at the end of the meeting. Other times, I don’t get to the digital summary until my weekly review. And this only happens for my most important meetings, like those about interesting projects with my supervisors or colleagues. Eventually, any important notes are summarized in Craft Docs, and any unfinished tasks are added to their respective projects in Things 3.
Taking notes and organizing information can make meetings feel more fun. Since I’ve gradually returned to keeping a physical notebook, I’m finding note-taking even more enjoyable. My Midori MD notebook and Craft Docs are my current meeting companions. This system lets me have more good meetings than bad ones. I hope this helps other introverted humans and anyone else who needs a little more organization in their meetings.
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Originally published at https://www.emilyhokett.blog on November 19, 2022.