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How to take meeting notes that really work

Jeff Taekman, M.D. | April 17, 2013
We all have to go to meetings. Some of us have to take notes on those meetings. Here's one workflow for making sure those notes are as useful as possible.

Each line after that first one is preceded by a hashtag, which is Markdown code for a heading; the hashtagged lines show up as bold text in Markdown-based applications. The JMT in the initials section is me; presumably, I'm present at any meeting where I'm taking notes.

Because I synchronize TextExpander snippets among my Mac, iPad, and iPhone using Dropbox, my template is available on any device I carry to a meeting.

When I'm ready to take notes at a meeting (or on a teleconference), I launch TextExpander first, then Drafts. I expand my template (in my case by typing .mtx), fill in a title, and am ready to go. If I'm preparing for a meeting in advance, I type in my reference material under the appropriate heading, then fill in the remaining fields during the meeting.

When the meeting is over, I choose the Send To Notesy option in Drafts. That meeting's notes then synchronize across all my devices via Dropbox. In other words, I use Notesy as a conduit for notes, but rarely for writing them.

If I want to take meeting notes on my Mac, I use nvALT, a great text editor with a lightning-fast search function. I have both it and Notesy configured to store notes in the same default folder in Dropbox. When nvALT launches, I just start typing; it automatically begins searching that folder of notes for the text string I type. So by typing meetx, I'll find all my meeting notes almost instantaneously.

Using this workflow, I can take notes in Drafts on my iPad (or, in a pinch, on my iPhone) or in nvALT on my Mac, and they're synchronized among all of my devices. Thanks to TextExpander, they're formatted consistently and in such a way that they're easy to search.

Action items

The next step is to make sure I do what I need to do after the meeting.

The key is OmniFocus and its Mail Drop service; put simply, that means I can email to-do items to myself. For this to work, I sync OmniFocus with the Omni Sync Server. You have to apply to use the Mail Drop service; when I did, I received my invite in a matter of minutes. Once accepted, I set up a unique email address that is my direct link to the Sync Server.

Using the latest version of Drafts, I configured a customized email action called 'Email to OmniFocus Mail Drop'. This action sends a given note to my personalized OmniFocus email address using the first line of the note as the subject.

When the meeting is over, in the notes document within Drafts, I select my customized email action. When I next open OmniFocus, the item is waiting for me as an action in my inbox. Even cooler, the complete meeting text is available in the action's Notes field. If multiple actions are embedded in the original meeting notes, I spend a few minutes processing the set into individual unique actions.


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