One thing that has got me through most of my professional life is the ability to take good notes. The ability to read between the lines of what someone is saying and pull out the important information without writing everything they say. In the old days (even not so long ago), this task was someone's full time job, going to meetings and taking notes. In the legal profession there is a whole language dedicated to the art of note taking called 'shorthand'. But for those of us who have small businesses and rely on our notes to organise our day, or to organise others in our day, the art of good note taking is essential.
So below are a few tips that I've gleaned from my years taking notes:
Notes should be kept in a single place - use a note book, or if using loose pages, have a folder or method of storing them so they're easily accessible
Always date the page - at the start your day open your book and date the page you're about to use, and every other page you use that day.
Always number the page - together with dating the pages, numbering the pages helps you to know how to sequence the notes when you look at them again.
Write the location of your meeting (or where you are) - It's a great memory jog, being able to put yourself in a particular location when remembering the discussion and helps with context.
Record who is in the meeting - make sure you make note of all of the people involved in the meeting - and who arrives late.
Confirm notes - don't be afraid to ask a question or confirm a note you've taken during the meeting or discussion, as it's important you don't misconstrue something that was said or an action that is needed and people can have short/ selective memories when it comes actions that come out of meetings.
Action items/ identifiers - When going to meetings you invariably will be required to 'do' something after or between meetings. You need some way of remembering what your action points are. My method is to put a little box next to each line/action item, which I get to tick or cross out when I have completed the task (it is really satisfying ticking them off too).
Other peoples action items - if someone else is required to 'do' something that has an impact on what you're doing then make a note so you can follow up with that person.
Relying on meeting 'minutes' (notes) - in some meetings, there is an assigned 'minute' (note) taker. It's this persons job to take notes and distribute them to the people who attended the meeting. It is good practice to check your notes against the notes given by someone else and if there are any errors to make these known.
Review your notes - make sure you review your notes to be sure you don't forget something that is important and if you're changing note books transfer the outstanding task to the new book.