How much do you really recall from the meetings you attend?
If you’re like most people, you probably forget 56% of information within an hour and 66% within a day. When a meeting isn’t particularly memorable or fun, thinking of key points and action items is like trying to remember what you had for breakfast last week — a task that feels so simple and yet so impossible at the same time.
The human brain isn’t a storage closet. If you’re tossing in information like neglected holiday decor, it won’t come out the same in a week (much less a year later). To make meetings effective, you need to jot down notes that allow for easy reviewing when you need them most.
We’ll introduce you to five note-taking methods that can help you keep your meeting takeaways accurate and organized.
5 effective note-taking methods
Effective note-taking isn’t a freestyle activity. The best notes are structured in a consistent way. Here’s what you need to know about five methods that can help you standardize your meeting notes and when to use them.
1. Cornell note-taking method
The Cornell method is one of the most popular note-taking systems around. It calls for a highly structured document that you can create in three steps:
Make a title section by drawing a horizontal line a few rows below the top of your document. This section can include the note-taker’s name and the meeting date, topic, and location.
Make a summary section by drawing a horizontal line 5-7 rows above the bottom of your document. This section can include a few key takeaways and action items.
Draw a vertical line to divide the middle of your document into two sections: a right column (for main ideas, keywords, or questions) that takes up 30% of the middle section and a left column (for your actual notes) that takes up 70% of the middle section.
Developed by Cornell University professor Walter Pauk, the Cornell note-taking method is mainly used in education. Still, it can be great for structured meetings (like board meetings) since it lets you break down your doc into a few main topics that makes your notes section easier to skim.
If you do use the Cornell method, it’s still best to use abbreviations to avoid overly wordy notes.
2. Charting note-taking method
If you love taking notes in Excel or Google Sheets, the charting method can be a good note-taking system for you. It allows you to break down your notes into a spreadsheet with a few key columns of your choice.
For meetings, you can use the first column to list out key topics or agenda items. Then, you can break down the rest of your chart into sections like “speaker,” “description,” “main points,” “action items,” or whatever makes the most sense for that meeting.
The charting method doesn’t offer a lot of wiggle room. Your columns must be set before you attend your meeting, which means it only really works if you receive a meeting agenda ahead of time. However, it can make reviewing notes easier if you don’t mind the lack of flexibility.
3. Outline note-taking method
The outline method is one of the most-used note-taking systems for meetings. Whether you’re running a staff meeting, attending a PTO meeting, or jumping into a virtual call, this note-taking method tends to be easy to use.
With this method, you’re not limited by space, which means you can even use the outline method for hours-long strategy meetings (which you’re sure to forget without great digital notes).
The outline note-taking method is all about breaking down your document into bullet points with a consistent hierarchy. Your notes — which should always be left-aligned — will typically include three items:
Main topics, which are headings that are furthest to the left of the page
Subtopics, which break up main topics and indented once
Key points, which are your main notes and are indented twice
Some note-takers prefer using a blend of Roman numerals, numbers, capital letters, or lowercase letters instead of or in addition to bullet points — it’s all up to you.
4. Mapping note-taking method
Looking for a less text-heavy way to record your meetings? Visual learners love the mapping method, which is a note-taking system that breaks down your notes into a diagram. It uses arrows and lines to represent the relationships between key concepts.
The mapping note-taking method creates visual hierarchies that make your meeting notes easier to digest. However, it’s not as limitless as the outline method. You’d need a really large sheet of paper to continue breaking down main points and subtopics indefinitely. It also works best for handwritten notes, so you’ll need a stylus and a tablet to go digital with this note-taking method.
Still, the mapping method is one of the best options for unstructured meetings. It’s a great method for creative strategy meetings, when you want to challenge your team to branch off of larger ideas.
5. Sentence note-taking method
The sentence method is the easiest way to take notes during a meeting. All you need to do is separate important points into their own sentences, which are each placed on individual lines. It’s that simple.
The downside is, notes taken with the sentence method are pretty difficult to review once after your meeting. You can’t skim through headings or subtopics to quickly find the sentence you’re looking for. Without any hierarchy, every sentence will look just as important as the last.
So why is the sentence method still considered an effective note-taking system? Sometimes, it’s the best back-up plan. When you enter a fast-paced meeting with no idea what’s supposed to happen, the simplicity of writing sentences can help you keep up with everything that’s being said.
You can always better organize your notes later on, but the sentence note-taking method will ensure you don’t miss any key points during a live meeting.
Take better notes with Anchor AI
More often than not, the meetings we attend are pretty forgettable. If you want to make sure the most important points from meetings don’t slip your mind, using an effective note-taking method can be key.
If you’re attending a highly structured meeting, you can use the Cornell or charting method to make your notes incredibly easy to review, even weeks later. Or, if you want a more flexible system for meetings with no clear schedule or agenda, the outline, mapping, and sentence methods can help.
However, the most convenient note-taking method will always be using AI-powered software that takes your notes for you. Anchor AI automates the entire note-taking process — even identifying speakers, decisions made, and action items, so you don’t get confused or forget your post-meeting to-dos. Once your meeting is over, you’ll get a searchable transcript (complete with timestamps!) that you can review at any time.
You can always take notes of your own, which you can send to your team members for easy review, but if you want to streamline note-taking, Anchor AI is all you need. Sign up for Anchor AI to be one of the first people to use Anchor AI.