The Yes Blog

Meeting notes by hand

A Common Notetaking Practice Makes For Poor Meeting Outcomes

Come on… Surely technology has taken us beyond the point where we need to use a quill and ink to take meeting notes. Wait a sec, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

We all have heard a bajillion times just how expensive meetings are, that there are too many of them, that people hate them, and that they persist.

Meetings are necessary. I won’t call them a necessary evil because they don’t necessarily have to be evil. That said, we’ve all attended more than our fair share of evil meetings.

There’s a lot you can do to vanquish evil. In this article, one change you can make to put evil on the run in your meetings and make it lurk in the shadows.

Change the way y’all take notes in your meetings. You can have both better meeting notes and better meeting outcomes.

“Small potatoes,” you say? Even, “there’s nothing wrong with the way we’re taking notes…”

Check it out.

The Meeting Notes Mistake

How many meetings have you been in within the last week wherein someone was taking notes on their computer? And how many people in each of those meetings were taking notes on their computer?

The science says, computer notetaking is inferior to handwritten notes. You’ll get better participation and better meeting notes, leading to better meeting outcomes.

And when you’re engaged in such an expensive initiative (and every meeting is an expensive initiative), better is important. Better is valuable. Conversely, worse is costly… Worse is worse.

So, we recommend you make it a rule… Laptops closed!

Reasons for Handwritten Meeting Notes

  1. Your laptop is a distraction machine: It makes beeps and boops. It even makes toast and other alerts — email notifications, red dots of attention-seeking, etc. Your laptop contains all of the work that you know needs doing. You may be able to resist the temptation to do the work that’s calling to you from the depths of your computer. You cannot resist hearing the siren song of all those incomplete tasks and projects. The value of a meeting is having all of our collective attention on the same thing at the same time. Your open laptop dilutes that value.
  2. TLDR — Too long, didn’t read: We can type fast. So we can take copious typed notes. Many of us do. I’ve seen meeting notes that read like transcripts of the meeting itself. That becomes a tough data-stack to sort through later, so it creates a waste of time for people who are trying to sift through the long notes to find the important detail-nugget they’re trying to remember. When we recommend to people that they stop taking meeting notes by computer and write them longhand instead, they often say, “I can take notes faster by typing.” Exactly. That’s not a benefit. It’s a problem. There are two categories of information that should go into your meeting notes. 1) Decisions made. 2) Tasks assigned — who does what by when? That’s it. You can keep up with just that longhand.
  3. Brain says, “What was that?” The research is clear… When you take notes by hand, you retain and comprehend far more than you do when you type your notes. Period. While there may be exceptions, the chances that you or anyone on your team are exceptions to this bit of brain science are slim… Even if you believe it to be otherwise.
  4. Brain says, “Who, me?” When someone is typing notes, they contribute less. The note taking, the screen, the digital glow… consumes their attention. The meeting note taking becomes captivating instead of ancillary. So the notetaker’s participation is diminished in two ways. 1) The quantity of their contribution declines. They don’t speak up as much, as often, or at much length. While that may help the meeting move along quicker, it destroys the value of the diverse perspectives in the room. 2) The quality of their contributions declines. When the screen has their attention, the processing power of their brain is not on the content of the meeting. They’re not as creatively available. Their thinking about the question at hand is shallower.
  5. Multiplicativity: Ok. Multiplicativity may not be a word. Still, the concept applies. If I take away $3 from each of 4 people in the meeting, then I’ve taken $12 from the meeting. That’s an additive cost. If, however, I take away a meeting-contribution that itself is worth only $3 to the company, then the $12 idea someone else was going to build on top of that $3 idea will never arise. And without that $12 idea, it’s $100 addendum never shows up either. Multiply this kind of snowballing cost chain across all the people in your meeting who have their laptops open, and then across all the meetings each of them participates in… Laptops are creating an awful lot of waste in meetings.

The Counterarguments

  1. My handwriting sucks: It doesn’t have to be good. Your meeting notes only have to be legible. And if your handwriting isn’t legible, that’s ok. You only really need one set of notes from the meeting anyway, recording… What decisions were made, and what assignments taken up — who does what by when? Have a designated note taker for the whole meeting who shares their notes with everyone in attendance. Which leads us to…
  2. Digital notes are easy to share: Admittedly, handwritten notes are a little harder to share. And harder doesn’t have to mean hard. Take a picture with your phone of what you’ve written on paper. Share the photo. Or, take notes on a tablet with a stylus and share the file. You can easily digitize your handwriting.
  3. Defensive protest: I’ve heard other counterarguments to the idea that meeting notes are best taken by hand. And while I imagine there are some good ones out there, the others I’ve heard haven’t stood up to careful, scientific scrutiny. Got a good one? Let us know. We’ll add it to this list.


Sure. There are exceptions. Even I sometimes type my meeting notes. You’ll make exceptions too. There’s no shame in that.

There is, however, cost.

When you make exceptions, there’s a cost to your meeting. Understand that. Consider the cost.

We all do things that are less than ideal — all other things being equal — and all other things are rarely equal.

When you’re doing your cost-benefit analysis, bear these ideas in mind. Most people — even those who already have some awareness of this science — underestimate the cost of laptops in their meetings. That underestimation skews the cost analysis.

Consider carefully. When in doubt, hand-write it out.


Interested in other sure-fire ways to power up your meetings for greater effectiveness and impact? Let’s talk about it. Meetings can rock.