“Ding!” The notification on my phone appears reminding me of an imminent meeting… another one – slim or fruitless looking agenda with no clear objective and… I digress. Setting good meeting agendas is a whole other story. Dismissing the notification I grab my iPad, notebook, and my trusty pen (which is starting to die on me – I know, the irony of it all – put them in my bag and go.
The meeting has been setup as a discovery workshop. When I arrive I see two of my colleagues and the customer mingling about, engaging in shallow banter (as you do). Eventually we settle into our chairs – me and my two colleagues on one side of the table, the customer (two people), on the other. Looking around I see one of my colleagues has brought their laptop along. He opens it and launches Microsoft Word. I tilt my head confused at what he will do next with it. Is he about to write a letter? Draft a proposal? Write a novel? My other colleague opens up a small notebook, as do I. Across the table someone opens an iPad and I recognise Apple Notes on the display. Not my first, second or even third choice for taking notes, but better than some alternatives. The other person sits with an A4 spiral notebook in front of her, closed, with her phone resting on top – very practical.
Before things get too detailed I quickly open Evernote on my iPad and find my project index note relating to the customer’s account and their current project. I now have quick and easy access to everything I know about the project so far.
Leafing to the next blank page in my notebook I write the customer’s name at the top and then today’s date in the top right corner. I always make sure I use an international format for dating. This stems from my background in web programming. I still find it much more practical since it allows easy comparisons of dates. The format YYYY-MM-DD is used heavily in programming since dates in this format allow for chronological sorting of data even when the date value is a text string. OK, enough tech talk.
My colleague kicks off the meeting by introducing everyone and what he believes the objective of the meeting is. The customer soon begins to open up about their current status and future requirements. Glancing to my left, I notice my colleague with the laptop typing a couple of disjointed notes and then clicking around to add bullets and some highlighting. My other colleague opts to clarify something the customer said and only then makes a note by scrawling something in his notebook. Using my sketchnotes method I draw a quick picture identifying the concept being discussed and label it. Across the table I notice the person with the iPad has a heading labelled “discussed” and a single bullet/dash below it noting the area of their business that was just discussed. We are all finished our notes before Mr Word creates a new bullet.
The conversation starts to flow freely and I find myself feeling the participants of the meeting beginning to interpreting things quite differently from one another. It’s time, I think, to bring everyone together.
Putting down my pen I reach into my bag for my pack of four whiteboard markers, then make my way to the whiteboard. Without saying anything I start to mind app the current conversation, adding diagrams wherever possible. Glancing around the room I can see heads beginning to nod, and eyebrows starting to crinkle. Then the questions start to flow, both from myself and my colleagues. The customer also adds their own questions, many of which are directed at themselves as they begin to understand the complexities of what they’re looking for.
As the conversation begins to wind down I move on to a new section of whiteboard and write a heading: Next Actions. “OK, so where do we go from here?” I ask, and then start to note down the next actions required from both us and the customer. I use a simple open square as a bullet, followed by an acronym for either the customer or us to indicate ownership of the action. The action step itself immediately follows this.
Ending a meeting with this style gives a great impression. All parties will acknowledge that the session was productive, that progress has been made, and it makes it very clear who, and what, is responsible for driving the project to the next step.
With the meeting now over I know that my notebook contains details from only the first part of the meeting. I take out my phone and launch the Evernote app. Selecting the document camera option I line up the whiteboard notes and snap a photo. The document camera will generally detect the edges of the whiteboard and then automatically crop and adjust the photo. Because the document camera adjusts the image, it’s best to use highly contrasting colours in the board – use blacks and blues, and avoid oranges and yellows, for example.
The customer also jumps up and snaps a photo of the whiteboard – this is always a very good sign that you’ve uncovered something the customer was not previously aware of. Kudos to you if this happens.
After the customer and us part ways my colleague, Mr Word, turns to me and asks for a copy of my notes and the whiteboard, stating that he lost the conversation while fixing a table in Word. What on earth was this guy doing? In any case, I agree. Later I add a photo of my notes from my notebook to the same note that has the whiteboard photo and then share this note with him.
But let’s assume for a second that Mr Word manages to keep up with the conversation and creates a simple bulleted list from the meeting. What next? He saves this Word file to his Documents folder and gives it a name that matches the customer’s name. He perhaps has hundreds of other Word documents in the same folder. How would he find and recall specific information? What next… let’s say two weeks later Mr Word’s computer is infected by a virus from an email he received. The virus has destroyed all his files and of course, Mr Word has no backup system, at least nothing current.
Meanwhile, all my items in Evernote are safely backed up to the Evernote service. If my computer ever had an issue I could grab any other computer, or even make do with my iPad and phone, and still have access to absolutely everything I need to stay productive. Mr Word should have looked into either using Evernote, or if he is stuck in the land of word processing for everything, at least he should have been using a cloud storage service such as Dropbox, Box.net or Google Drive. At least that way as soon as the virus made itself known he could disconnect from the internet, switch to a new computer and then restore any files that may have been affected, since many of the cloud storage services will keep revisions of files in case you need to go back in time to grab them.
Meanwhile, my other colleague with the notebook returns to his desk and reviews his notes from the meeting. The next few minutes is prime time to transcribe handwritten notes into something more permanently and add more detail where possible since all the discussion is still top of mind. He write these notes into Springpad which he then also uses to manage next actions and adds his photo of the whiteboard. And of course, everything added to Springpad is safely backed up to the cloud.
Looking back at this whole event, it was very obvious that the big no no when taking notes in a meeting, or lecture, or presentation or anything like that, is messing around with features. It’s so important to focus on the content that is being discussed and use the most efficient way you can that captures the information you need and allows you to connect and relate different ideas together. Unnecessarily dealing with features of apps at the same time will only cause distractions. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Using quick and simple note taking methods eliminates those distractions and gives your mind that focus.
What do you use or do to take notes when you also need to focus? Are you Mr Word?