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Why Aren't You Taking Notes?

As I speak to organizations around the country, I’ve heard a consistent frustration from business leaders that interns and new graduates don’t bring paper and pen to meetings, nor do they seem to take notes at all. Interestingly, this is one of those areas where the experts giving advice on the topic show a huge generation gap. Those of us who’ve been around for more than a couple of decades were raised believing paper and pen were mandatory for all meetings. Those of us trying to be a bit more modern and technical might even bring a laptop or tablet to meetings to take notes. But no notes at all? Or notes on the phone? Does that work?

Lucid Meetings points out the usual reasons for taking notes: keeping track of what happened, collecting consistent information for all participants, and building commitments to clear outcomes. And this has been the wisdom of the ages in business. Popular career advice sites such as The Muse also share the consistent wisdom of keeping accurate notes to improve work performance. So there is a strong belief system out there that taking notes is critical for career success.

There is even significant research demonstrating that taking notes with pen and paper promotes retention and understanding better than taking notes on laptops. Knowing this, I tried to set a policy in my undergraduate course that all notes must be written by hand, and technology is not allowed during class without a documented need for accommodation. What I didn’t expect was the large number of students who were so unaccustomed to long-hand that they not only couldn’t write fast enough to take notes effectively, but they also couldn’t read their own handwriting when they did attempt to take notes on paper. In the end, I had to adapt my policies to allow for the realities of the worlds in which they were raised, and notes on computers and phones are now allowed.

More interesting, though, are the messages being given to young professionals by popular media leaders. The Huffington Post encourages young people to stop taking notes immediately to get more results at work. The argument is, especially if you are a woman, being a note-taker in meetings can brand you as more of a support person than a leader.

Instagram icon Mel Robbins has an entire video titled “Women, stop doing this in meetings” about how taking notes during a meeting can stall a woman’s career. And others like her argue that you can easily record meetings on your phone, privately upload the recording to YouTube or a transcription service, and then you have a verbatim transcript of the meeting which will be more accurate than any notes.

Young people raised in the digital age also argue that all you need for a meeting is a phone to add items to your task list or look up answers on the web. Extensive notes are unnecessary and take your focus away from the other meeting participants.

Ultimately, note taking is a dying art, and companies, like universities, may need to adapt to this new reality. Clear conversations with new employees about your expectations from them in meetings are critical. If you want them to bring paper and pencil to a meeting, ask yourself what your goals are for this, and be open to alternative ways they can use technology to meet the same goals if necessary.

If your employees find a good way to keep track of information that is consistent for all participants and builds commitments to clear outcomes after a meeting, it doesn’t matter if the notes are taken on paper, on laptops, or recorded on a phone. The goals of the meeting have been met, and everybody wins!

Written by Jamie Belinne for the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

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