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I started working at a new job, and have made it a point to take notes at every meeting, of 2 to many people. So far it's worked well for me. I take notes so often and end up rewriting them in e-mails or documentation that I have decided to buy a notebook/chromebook for this purpose. I recently had a conversation with a colleague about this and note-taking. He said that while he was working as a consultant in the past, note-taking was frowned upon in some settings.

What are some valid arguments others have against note-taking? What arguments would you give in defense of note-taking?

Other considerations

In settings where there's a high value placed upon actual retention and learning from the discussion (e.g. a university lecture, requirements-gathering) taking notes is common and even expected. So is studying those notes later.

A lot seem to argue here in favor of pencil-paper vs. machine. There must be some merit to this argument. But by analogy, we could insist programmers develop w/ Notepad (instead of Visual Studio) and without an internet connection. That should remove distractions, but then it's questionable how much productivity is gained through limitations such as this.

From reading some of the answers/comments given here, it's interesting that one of the reasons note-taking is discouraged is when they don't want people to walk away with anything after the meeting.

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I think the problem is not very clear here. This could make a lot of subjective argument. –  Hoàng Long Jan 1 '12 at 13:37
    
Only reason I could see people frowning on electronic note taking would be if they think you're checking email or doing something else instead of listening. Keyboard taps can also be loud and distracting. –  Adam Wuerl Jan 4 '12 at 3:54
    
Excellent podcast on note taking: manager-tools.com/2007/07/how-to-take-notes –  sam Jan 9 '12 at 13:50
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6 Answers 6

Always take notes. Taking notes on paper will be more effective than using a netbook or laptop. I suggest using a system called the "Cornell System", google it for numerous discussions and sources for templates. ("Effective" in this case means maximum value for minimum time invested, and without reducing the personal interaction that is the major reason to have a meeting instead of exchanging email or phone calls.)

You need to capture tasks and deadlines for yourself, and commitments from other people that affect your deliverables. Additional notes for reference may be helpful, but for most business meetings attempting to keep minutes of who said what is a waste of time.

To circle back on the question of arguments for or against: see the second paragraph above. If you're in a meeting where there aren't any tasks being allocated or information being delivered that you will need later, why are you there? (That's a meta-question, not to be answered here!)

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In general, you're right about discouraging note-taking when it is undesirable that people walk away with anything written down after the meeting. In most cases such situations consider ethical or private issues.

Here are my examples of situations when note-taking is rather undesirable:

  1. Discussion of salary issue between manager and subordinate (not only undesirable to write down figures, but also both manager's and subordinate's arguments)
  2. Discussing personal traits of other people. (It will be awkward if someone will see what you're written down, especially when somebody's weaknesses have been discussed)
  3. Discussing personal matters (health problems, family issues, etc)
  4. Discussing issues which involves trusting relationships of participants.

In case you're uncertain about situations when note-taking is appropriate, always request permission from all the participants or at least from a meeting host.

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I believe both sides should be prepared before the meeting is started. And all the notes they will use they will have with them. Remaining part is the matter of pure discussion, as I see it. Anyway, that's my personal vision of how these things should be done. –  altern Jan 1 '12 at 22:25
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It appears you are looking for arguments for and against note-taking. Not sure what would constitute a right answer, given the question... but my two cents is:

Someone who is serious about their job and is detailed oriented is going to take an appropriate level of notes, depending on the context and nature of their job/role. A project manager will be more interested in timelines and people and will take different kinds of notes than a business analyst or developer who is looking at gathering requirements. If we are making decisions or discussing business and I don't see the other party taking at least a few notes, it makes me question their diligence.

People who frown on note taking are generally the people who are either too lazy to keep notes themselves or don't want their words/interpretations to be used against them or their interests at a later date. In some contexts, keeping detailed notes will protect you, demonstrate your competence and/or professionalism and can serve as a legal record. In other cases the frowning party may be protecting the privacy of an individual, corporate entity or interest should notes on confidential matters not be housed appropriately.

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Note taking is essential part of business, and I, personally, just can't avoid it. The only consideration is paper vs digital. When using electronic stuff (laptop/tablet) it's harder to keep interpersonal contact, so I'm using paper for meeting notes.

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Definitely take notes at every meeting which involves significant items. Where actions come from the meeting, be sure to share the minutes with relevant individuals and get them to confirm the content.

This will save your skin at some point where a client/co-worker/boss/vendor denies something or argues that something else was discussed. If you have minutes agreed, then this just won't happen (or is at least easy to settle)

I tend to discourage the use of laptops though - they are a bit intrusive. Paper and pencil works well and also means you have to review in order to enter them into a computer, which gives you a good sanity check.

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My decision whether or not to take notes at a meeting is based largely on how long I will have to retain the information covered at that meeting and whether the notes will be required at some later date.

For example, when I meet a new client, I take detailed notes regarding their personal history. As a defense attorney, it is very important for me to know who my client is, whether they have physical health issues I need to address, mental health concerns, etc. But, I will often not meed to review that information until, and if, the case goes to sentencing. This is often months, if not well over a year later.

On the other hand, if I am meeting with a client to inform them about what will happen at an upcoming hearing and he or she just has a few questions, I will not take notes about that.

Finally, if I believe that my notes will be needed later I take notes. These cases are ones where I am working with another attorney who is not present for the meeting or other professionals who will want to know what happened.

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