Should You Take Notes in a One-on-One Meeting?

Recently I met with some young, green entrepreneurs to discuss their business idea. I gave them a bunch of feedback at the end of the meeting. They nodded hungrily and said they appreciated it.

One problem. Neither took a single note during the meeting. As I read off a list of 6 or 7 specific things I had written down in my notebook, they nodded but did nothing else.

I’m a notebook-and-pen kind of guy. I try to carry a notebook around with me everywhere because I never know when a good idea will strike me, or when someone will tell me something I want to remember. In meetings, I not only take notes to remember things — I’ll trust paper notes over someone’s memory any day of the week — but also to signal respect to the person talking. I want to show that I value their ideas.

I apply this value the other way, too. That is, if I give someone specific, responsive feedback over several points, I appreciate it when he writes it down because it shows he’s taking my time / ideas seriously.

Here’s the catch: sometimes there’s rationale not to scribble notes in a meeting. If you’re trying to build a personal relationship with someone, or are out with a friend, sometimes taking notes can make the interaction seem too transactional. Also, if you are taking notes but your partner is not, a subtle power dynamic can emerge (ie, the person taking notes is less than the person not taking notes).

In the end, it’s a personal choice. I take notes all the time, regardless of situation. There’s no worse feeling than trying to remember that golden nugget of wisdom that you didn’t write down. I also try to signal that I value my partner’s time. But I can appreciate the perspective that in certain non-professional interactions taking notes can be weird and maybe counterproductive in the long-run.


One logistical note: sometimes a “notebook and pen” can be digital — ie, your PDA. I use my T-Mobile Dash to write down blog posts, quotes, etc. that come to mind during the day, and then transfer to my computer at the end of the day.

Here’s Tim Ferriss on “how to take notes like an alpha geek.” To me, this is over-optimizing the organization part of it (which is a central problem I have with many productivity hacks — over-optimization), but it’s worth a read to see different people’s systems.

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