Writing vs. Typing Your Notes

Over the weekend, I read an interesting Twitter exchange about how VC investors can make meetings more pleasant for founders. One of the discussion points was whether you should take notes by hand or use a laptop.

I must admit: it’s tempting to bring a laptop or tablet to meetings. Typing your notes will make it much easier to decipher them, share them with colleagues and store them in a CRM or whatever system you use.

But what’s the point of having these notes if the meeting failed to deliver?

In a previous blog I wrote:

Great listeners understand that they’re easily distracted and they’re not afraid to demand the right circumstances to listen.

If you want to be effective in meetings, you have to be aware of internal and external distractions. In the latter category, screens are among the worst. If you type your notes, there’s a big chance you’ll get caught up in what happens on your screen (especially when you haven’t switched off your email notifications) and miss important points.

Plus: academic research indicates that writing by hand is better for retention.

Are you ready to ban laptops from your meetings? Here are a few quick tips for taking better notes by hand:

  • Focus your preparation on what you want to get out of the meeting, so it’s easier to decide what’s important or not. Some people develop a form of shorthand to speed up their writing, using keywords and symbols. That could work, but it’s even better to take fewer, more relevant notes.

  • The first thing I try to do after each meeting is to go through my notes and add whatever context is needed to make sense of them later. This also provides a good opportunity to highlight important points and connections.

  • A smart pen might be a good solution if you want to easily digitize, store and share your handwritten notes. Examples are the Moleskine Smart Writing Set and reMarkable, which uses a paper tablet. (Disclaimer: I haven’t tried these products myself, so please don’t consider this a recommendation.)

  • Divide up the roles. When doing the meeting together with a colleague, discuss in advance who’s going to take the notes so the other person can be more engaged in the meeting.

  • If you feel you really, really have to type your notes (for example because you are working off a longlist and are still in the phase of meeting dozens of founders), make it a habit to put aside your laptop and listen intently for the first 5-10 minutes. That’s the least you can do.

The Twitter thread I followed mentioned the term ‘founder NPS’. I like that.

Even if you are a listening Jedi and don’t feel distracted by your laptop, you have to consider the other person’s point of view. How would you feel if you were looking at the back of a screen while pitching the most important idea in your life?