I'm developing a system for taking notes, by hand and on my laptop. The note taking usually happens in a meeting or during a presentation.

Manually

For notes taken by hand, pen on paper, I use the following system:

  • A title containing a date, plus a few words about the meeting or whatever. For example, "2015-03-16 Backend architecture design".
  • A series of bullet points. The shape of the bullet point has meaning.
    • A standard bullet point: a note about something I should remember, or something that was brought up in the meeting.
    • A small square: an open action item for me. This may be something I've explicitly committed to, or an idea for me to pursue after the meeting if I decide to.
    • A small square with a tick mark: an action item I've done. The tick may be added after the meeting, as I do the action.
    • A dash: something I want to bring up in the meeting.
    • A plus (dash plus vertical line crossing it): something that's already been brought up in the meeting.
    • A cross (large X) over a square or dash: I've decided not to do the action or bring up the point.
    • A circle around a standard bullet point, square, or dash: I've transferred this to my digital GTD system.
  • I leave a bit of margin on the left and right side of the page, and try to do notes with an empty line or two between them, to allow later additions and remarks on the notes.
  • I try to start each title on a new right-hand page, so that I can, if need be, rip out the notes for a specific meeting, but only those.
  • When I process my notes, I either mark individual points (see above), or I draw a diagonal line across the whole page, to indicate I've processed the notes and there's nothing remaining to do. The diagonal line still leaves the page readable later, if need be.

Digitally

I take notes digitally on my laptop, using a text editor to a text file using Markdown. Since typing is faster than longhand, I tend to add more detail, and add subtitles etc.

Notes from a meeting tend to have the following structure:

  • Date and title, summarising the purpose of the meeting.
  • People present.
  • Bullet points of notes from discussions, decisions. I go into as much or as little detail as is necessary.
  • A separate list of actions to take. I usually only note actions that are mine, or that I am blocked on, unless I'm writing full meeting minutes to be shared.

I keep these notes in my digital journal.