Tricks To Taking Work Notes That Increase Productivity

This is a great video to understand the distinction between taking notes for personal projects vs work.

Do you struggle with taking notes for work? Do you want to learn how to create clear and actionable notes that help you drive your projects forward? If so, this article is for you.

In this article, I will share the note taking technique I developed specifically for work over the past seven years. First as a management consultant, and now as a product marketer at a large tech company. Then I will share templates and examples you can use right away. Let’s get started.

Why You Need a Different Note Taking Technique for Work

You may think that note taking is a universal skill that works the same way in any situation. However, there are three main reasons why the note taking technique you use for work needs to be very different from the way you take notes for personal or academic use.

Number one, often the company you work for has limitations on what apps you can use for note taking purposes. If you work at Microsoft, you’re probably not going to be able to use Notion no matter how many nice features it has.

Number two, you’re usually under a lot of time pressure to take accurate notes in one go. So it’s not like you can ask your colleagues or clients to slow down or repeat everything they just said after the meeting.

And finally, in today’s interconnected world, the nature of note-taking is now inherently collaborative. The notes you take have to be easily shareable so that others can provide feedback as quickly as possible.

The Three Types of Notes You Need for Work

To address these challenges, I use three different note-taking templates based on the specific situation that I’m in.

• First, meeting notes for myself. This is when I’m the primary audience of the notes and I need to capture key takeaways and action items from a meeting with someone else.

• Second, team meeting notes where only one team is involved. This is when I’m part of a team that meets regularly to discuss topics related to our work and I need to capture what each team member shares and what we agree on as next steps.

• Third, cross-functional team meeting notes where there are multiple teams present. This is when I’m part of a team that meets with other teams to coordinate on projects that involve multiple stakeholders and I need to capture what each team shares and what we agree on as next steps.

As you can see, I use different templates because the dynamics of these three situations are inherently different. And although I use Google Docs and Google Sheets, you can adapt my note taking technique to any application used for capturing text.

How to Use Each Note Taking Template

Now let me show you how I use each template in practice.

Meeting Notes for Myself

This is probably the default note-taking setup we are most familiar with and it does work very well when we ourselves are the primary audience of the notes.

Diving right in, I split this first page into three different sections.

• The first part, key links, this is where I hyperlink to folders and documents I’m currently working on. And this part should be updated as new projects are launched and completed ones are archived.

• The next section I like to call it top of mind because I’m usually working on four to five different work streams at once, and this allows me to prioritize my action items in the short to midterm. I particularly like the outstanding questions prompt here because when I think about next steps, I often realize there are things I need to figure out before I can take that next step. So I note down those questions here.

• And this last part is just a notes template. I copy and paste every time I start taking a new note.

Oh and pro tip, if you see the numbering is a little weird here, you can actually just right click, restart numbering press. Okay, and everything should be fixed.

Onto actually how I take the notes in this example. Let’s say I’m having a meeting with Satya on Q3 planning.

Before the meeting even takes place, I make sure to have the date, the topic and the person I’m meeting with all typed out beforehand.

I would also list the objective of this meeting no matter how obvious it may be to make sure I don’t let the conversation go off topic. I might even include some questions here that I want to ask in the meeting as prompts to myself.

And then during the meeting, I would simply type out all the notes in a simple bullet point format.

After the meeting, I would usually spend five to 10 minutes to summarize my notes in the key takeaways section here. So I can quickly review the highlights if I need to down the line. And usually I would send the key takeaways in a follow-up email to whoever I was meeting with just so we’re all on the same page.

As you can see, nothing revolutionary here, but it doesn’t have to be as long as the main user of this note-taking template is ourselves. It would work in a variety of different situations.

Team Meeting Notes Where Only One Team is Involved

This is where it starts to get really interesting. As you can see, I’m using Google Sheets instead of docs and there are very good reasons for this change.

• Number one, since there are now multiple contributors to the meeting notes, the formatting of the app needs to allow for this. For example, for this May 3rd meeting, Tim wants to debrief everyone on Apple’s successful spring loaded event, and Warren wants to share his investment strategy. Now, because these two are on different rows, it’s very clear to us that these are two separate topics. Who is going to share what the estimated time they’re going to take and any links to external documents or websites that they want other people to reference beforehand.

• Number two, as these sharings are taking place, it’s best practice to have one person be responsible for taking notes each meeting. And I usually write that person’s name to the left hand side here. For the team that I’m in, we have a rotational setup, so we have a different person taking notes each week. Yes, it’s a little awkward to take notes all one cell here, but I think it’s worth it because the presenters should have the main takeaways prepared beforehand, making the note taking a little bit easier. And the action items are going to be super clear because they’re highlighted in a completely separate column.

So how do you actually use this template? Let’s say this week is over and someone has a topic to discuss next week, well, they’ll first just highlight the header row and the row right below it. Press command C to copy, with the top empty row highlighted command option plus a couple of times to add a few empty rows and command V to paste the two rows with the exact same formatting so it looks clean and consistent.

I can simply delete the content now, change a date to next week and add the person whose turn it is to take notes. Let’s say it’s Tim, the agenda is, I don’t know, Tesla and Apple hybrid car discussion. This is clearly a joke. Please don’t sue me.

The owner is me because it’s my topic. The time needed 15 minutes.

And let’s say someone wants to add a topic below mine, very simple highlighting empty row below mine. They’ll just press command option plus to add another row. If you see the formatting’s a little weird here, no problem. You can simply with this highlighted across the board, go down one command D to paste all the formatting down one row and then just simply delete the content. Now the formatting should be fine.

Notes Template for Meetings with Multiple Teams

And again, the layout and setup is going to be slightly different.

So every Monday the product marketing team, which is the team that I’m on, would have meetings with these three different teams: product, sales and specialists separately, because there’s a lot of content to cover at the same time.

There’s a lot of synergy among the four teams, right? That’s why it’s best to let each team see what’s going on with the other teams when we’re taking the notes. And that’s why we have three teams worth of notes on the same tab.

Operationally, the POCs from each team would be responsible for inputting the agenda items before the meetings and marketing would be responsible for taking down the notes and summarizing action items because we are the ones calling for and leading these meetings.

If you wanted to add a new section for next week, it would be similar to the process before. Simply add a bunch of empty rows up here. Copy and paste it over to delete any unnecessary rows, update the date.

And yes, it can be a little annoying to have to empty and delete the content inside these cells. But again, in my personal opinion, this trade-off is definitely worth having all the cross-functional team meeting notes in one tab.

Conclusion
All three of these templates are linked down in this article below. But I do hope the main takeaway for you is the thought process and rationale that went into this note taking technique.

It’s not perfect, but I can easily see this working for OneNote, Evernote Notion and many other apps.

Let me know in the comments if you end up using this method for taking notes at work. And check out this video

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