A lot happens in your meetings. You generate ideas. You share insights. You collect feedback. You ask questions. You make decisions. You assign tasks. You learn lessons.
But what happens if you don’t have a safe place to put all of that information? Well, it quickly gets lost and forgotten. All of those action items and brilliant nuggets of wisdom you hashed out in your meeting might stay in people’s brains for a little bit, but it’s never long before they fall off the radar entirely.
There’s a better way — and it all starts with understanding how to take better meeting notes. Doing so gives you a helpful, reliable, and actionable log of your meeting. Whether you can’t remember what decision was made or who’s responsible for what, your meeting notes are a resource you can return to so you can get clarity, move forward, and get the most out of every single meeting you host.
What are meeting notes?
Put simply, your meeting notes are the written record of your meeting. They’re a document that accurately captures what happened in your meeting in an organized, digestible, and actionable way.
Meeting notes are generally pretty informal — they summarize the key points from the conversation, rather than providing a huge level of detail or a verbatim record.
However, as you learn more about meeting notes, you might also hear the term “meeting minutes” come up. Meeting minutes are a specific type of meeting note and they’re typically used for more structured and formal meetings like board meetings. Meeting minutes capture the motions that were accepted and rejected by the board, and most states even require certain corporations to maintain adequate meeting minutes in order to stay compliant.
When most people mention meeting notes, however, they aren’t talking about those overly rigid and stuffy documents. They’re simply talking about a brief and well-organized written log of the major points of a meeting.
What do meeting notes look like?
As you might guess, exactly what meeting notes look like will depend on a variety of factors — like the type, length, and topic of the meeting.
But if you’re eager to get a general idea of what meeting notes might look like, here’s a quick example of what your meeting notes might look like if you wanted to summarize a team meeting about an upcoming product launch.
February 1, 2023
|Key Points/Agenda Items||
Agenda Item: Product Timeline
Agenda Item: Marketing Update
|Follow-Up Topics (discuss in future meeting)||Creating “collections” of products on the website|
Keep in mind that’s only an example — not a set of rigid rules to follow. Meeting notes really do run the gamut. When it comes to the best way to take notes in meetings, the important thing is to find what works best for you and your team.
Why is it important to know how to take good meeting notes?
There’s a lot to get done in meetings. So having to take notes on top of that? It seems like yet another — and potentially even unnecessary — to-do.
Despite the groans or complaints, knowing how to take notes in a meeting offers plenty of advantages, including:
Putting things in writing inherently reduces confusion. People can revisit or review your meeting notes and immediately get an understanding on what was discussed or decided.
Similarly, most meeting notes will include a section for action items. This clearly states what needs to happen and who’s responsible, so people can immediately take ownership of their assigned tasks.
You don’t have to go far to hear the complaints about meetings being a redundant waste of time. Meeting notes give you reliable records of every single meeting so that you can avoid miscommunications, rework, and repetitive conversations.
What if somebody had to miss your meeting because of a conflict or a sick day? Or what if someone from a different team needs to be kept in the loop but doesn’t necessarily need to attend the meeting? Your meeting notes are a valuable resource to share with people who might need visibility into the topics you covered.
10 tips for taking better meeting notes
Knowing how to take notes during a meeting isn’t quite as simple as writing everything down. For your meeting notes to be as helpful as possible, they need to be concise and well organized — and, ideally, not a total pain to put together.
Wondering how to make that happen? Here are 10 steps to help you understand how to take better meeting notes, regardless of what meeting you’re in.
1. Understand the purpose of your meeting notes
The first thing you need to understand before ever putting pen to paper (or your fingers on the keyboard) is why you’re creating meeting notes in the first place. What exactly do your meeting notes need to achieve? Do you need to:
- Have an accurate log of the key points?
- Have a verbatim record for compliance?
- Have a resource to share with people who couldn’t attend?
Something else? There isn’t one right answer here. Rather, the point is to get clarity about what your meeting notes will be used for. That alone will guide a lot of your decisions about methods, formats, and more.
2. Decide on your note-taking method
Similarly, when it comes to your approach, there isn’t one best way to take notes in meetings. Some people prefer to bring a laptop along to their meetings and take notes that way. Others would rather jot things down with pen and paper.
Each of those methods has its pros and cons that are worth considering. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most notable ones:
Keep in mind that you have some flexibility here. You might choose to do handwritten notes for some meetings (like brainstorming sessions, for example) but bring your laptop into other meetings (like project kickoffs, project status updates, or team meetings).
Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what approach works best for you — and even for specific types of meetings.
3. Remember the nuts and bolts
When you’re working on meeting notes, it’s tempting to jump right into the meat and potatoes, such as the discussion topics and action items.
However, effective meeting notes — whether they’re digital or handwritten — should start with the most basic elements of the meeting, including:
- When: The date of the meeting
- Why: The topic of the meeting
- Who: The people who attended the meeting
You might think that information is obvious or unimportant, but it’s crucial context to have when you revisit your meeting notes in the future. Plus, having that fundamental information at the top makes it easier to find the exact record you’re looking for — particularly if you have a lot of notes to sort through.
4. Come up with your own shorthand
Even if you aren’t responsible for typing out a verbatim record of your meeting, there’s likely still a lot that you need to get down on paper. It might be more than you can reasonably write out, especially while you’re still trying to actively participate and contribute to the conversation.
That’s why it can be helpful to develop your own code or shorthand for your meeting. This could include things like:
- Abbreviations: The sky’s the limit on the acronyms and abbreviations you could come up with to represent different teams, projects, and concepts.
- Color-coding: Perhaps you’ll highlight action items in pink, questions in blue, and ideas in yellow.
- Symbols: Maybe you’ll use a star to indicate action items, an exclamation point to indicate a decision, or an upward-pointing arrow to indicate an update.
These can be effective ways to save time, whether you’re writing your meeting notes digitally or by hand. Just be cautious not to come up with a shorthand system that’s so complex it only causes more confusion. Like with anything, it’s best to keep it simple and intuitive.
5. Create a meeting agenda
Figuring out how to take good meeting notes actually starts well before your meeting ever kicks off — it starts with your meeting agenda.
Having an agenda not only helps you host a more productive meeting, but it makes taking your meeting notes far easier. With the agenda by your side, you’re able to follow along with the various discussion topics and understand what’s coming next.
Put simply, your agenda is almost like the outline of your meeting, and then you can fill in your notes from there.
6. Use a note-taking template
Even with an agenda, you might find it helpful to use a meeting notes template. This is a resource that you can copy and use over and over again to keep your meeting notes consistent and avoid having to start from scratch each time.
You can create and customize your own meeting template — whether you want to create it in a simple document, a digital whiteboard, or even your project management platform.
But if you’re not sure where to get started, there are plenty of existing templates for meeting notes that you can use.
Meeting notes templates
- Google Docs meeting notes template (go to Google Docs and click “template gallery” in the right corner)
- Microsoft Word meeting notes template
- Miro meeting notes template
- Wrike meeting notes template
Even if you don’t want to use one of the templates as is, they can provide some inspiration as you figure out which meeting note structures are the best fit for your team and your meetings.
7. Stay focused on key points
When you’re taking meeting notes (rather than a word-for-word record of your meeting), you need to stay focused on the key points. There’s no use stressing yourself out by trying to capture every direct quote or tangent that was explored. Instead, stay zoned in on:
- Ideas that were generated
- Decisions that were made
- Questions that were asked
- Action items that were assigned
During your meeting, you’ll get a good gut feeling of what’s important and needs to be documented — so trust yourself.
8. Use recording software
If you do need a verbatim log of your meeting, then it’s a smart move to record the meeting in its entirety so that you can get a transcription of it later. That allows you to focus on the meeting itself, rather than feverishly trying to write everything down as it happens.
Here are a few popular options for both recording and transcribing your meeting:
Some of these tools also offer browser extensions to help you save even more time and hassle.
You might want to record your meeting, regardless of if you need a verbatim account or not. That recording can be helpful as you return to your meeting notes to clean them up.
9. Remember to clean up
Speaking of cleaning up your meeting notes, that’s an important but often overlooked step.
When you get done with a meeting, your notes probably look like a jumbled mess — random scribbles, highlights, and reminders. Sure, they make perfect sense to you. But if you need to share them with other people, you need to translate them into a format that everybody can understand.
Taking some time to clean up and organize your notes should be part of your workflow. If you took your notes by hand, this is also your opportunity to convert them to a digital format, whether that means transferring them to a shared document or inputting them into your collaborative work management software.
10. Name and store your notes
Your meeting notes don’t do anybody any good if nobody ever gets to see them — or if nobody can ever find them to reference them again.
When your notes are all polished up, send them to anybody who could benefit from receiving that recap. That should include all of the meeting attendees, but could also include other stakeholders or managers who need to be kept informed about decisions or progress.
Even if you’ve sent the notes to everybody, don’t assume they’ll take care of putting them somewhere safe that they can access in the future.
Name your notes something specific and intuitive (“01-15-23 ProductXYZ Launch Meeting Notes” is far more helpful than “Meeting Notes”) so that they’re easy to search for and find moving forward. Then, store them somewhere accessible that makes sense — such as a designated spot in your shared drive or a folder in Wrike.
When you send the notes to anybody who needs them, also include a brief mention of where they can find them in the future.
Make the most of your meetings (and your team)
A lot gets done in your meetings and your meeting notes should do all of that hard work justice. They should serve as your organized and reliable resource for capturing everything that happened in a meeting.
That might sound like a big job, but it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Implementing the above tips will help you figure out how to take good meeting notes, without stress or a pesky hand cramp.
Want to take your meeting notes (and your team’s overall productivity) up a notch? Wrike can help. When it comes to leveling up your notes, Wrike allows you to:
- Attach your meeting notes file to a specific task, folder, or project so your notes are always easy to find
- Create tasks from your meeting action items and assign team members and due dates so nothing gets lost in the shuffle
- Use AI subtask creation, which will automatically sort through your meeting notes, pull out the key action items, and create subtasks for them
- Start with an actionable meeting notes template so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel
And even better, Wrike improves clarity and transparency so that you can limit the number of meetings you need to have in the first place. It enables seamless remote and asynchronous collaboration so you can spend less time in meetings and more time on what matters: getting projects over the finish line.
Ready to make the most of your meetings and your team? Start your free trial of Wrike today.