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I started working at a new job, and have made it a point to take notes at every meeting, of 2 to many people. So far it's worked well for me. It helps me organize and refactoring concepts, a useful exercise for a programmer. I take notes so often and end up rewriting them in e-mails or documentation that I have decided to buy a netbook/notebook/chromebook for this purpose. I recently had a conversation with a colleague about this and note-taking. He said that while he was working as a software consultant in the past, note-taking was frowned upon in some settings.

Why would this be? Using the machine as a distraction is one thing, but the benefits to taking notes are so many that I don't see why anyone would be against doing so.

Other considerations

In settings where there's a high value placed upon actual retention and learning from the discussion (e.g. a university lecture, requirements-gathering) taking notes is common and even expected. So is studying those notes later.

A lot seem to argue here in favor of pencil-paper vs. machine. There must be some merit to this argument. But by analogy, we could insist programmers develop w/ Notepad (instead of Visual Studio) and without an internet connection. That should remove distractions, but then it's questionable how much productivity is gained through limitations such as this.

From reading some of the answers/comments given here, it's interesting that one of the reasons note-taking is discouraged is when they don't want people to walk away with anything after the meeting, e.g. intellectual property that's worth holding a meeting on, but.

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closed as off topic by Jim G., DKnight, Yannis Rizos, JohnFx, Péter Török Dec 29 '11 at 9:48

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This doesn't seem to be specifically applicable to programmers any more than accountants, lawyers, or motivational speakers. As for why some might frown upon notes, maybe there are corporate secrets, or maybe they don't trust you, or maybe they want no paper trails because, hey, can't prove what's never logged! –  Anthony Pegram Dec 29 '11 at 5:29
Anthony thanks for your input. Before you vote to close this, however, consider other questions which might be applicable to those fields you listed, e.g. programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/24864/…, does that question necessarily need to apply to programmers? –  mathStudent Dec 29 '11 at 5:37
I would vote to close that, too (if I could, I do not have sufficient reputation on this site). No, that's nothing unique, and it is also a polling question, which makes it doubly unconstructive. –  Anthony Pegram Dec 29 '11 at 5:42
@AnthonyPegram You can always flag the question as off topic, if you think it is. –  Yannis Rizos Dec 29 '11 at 6:48
I know from my experience note taking that may contain intellectual property on privately owned devices can be frowned upon. This can leave that IP vulnerable and outside IT security policies. Most recent employer made me sign a waiver that if I do company work on my private PC it is subject to be forfeited for inspection and IT qualifications. IP is a broad net. Best practice? Use pen and paper if they haven't issued you a device to take notes with. –  Rig Dec 29 '11 at 7:40

7 Answers 7

Seems crazy to me.

For a consultant it is possible that records of IP or commercial secrets might be a cause of concern, however.

In general though, note taking should be seen as diligence and an aid for the note-taker. Memory is notoriously unreliable.

I'd be commending it, not taking anyone to task for it.

There is NOTE taking, and essay writing.

Writing essays is what you do later. Note taking means jotting down a few important points. If it runs to more than bullet point form, you are writing too much.

I'd also encourage paper notes, not using a machine of any kind. It enforces better discipline, discourages distractions (REALLY irritating to be in a meeting and have someone playing a game or reading their email). And paper records last as long as you want. I still have my paper records from 20 years ago. Some of them comprise varying levels of "smoking gun" that I retain for my own protection.

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Nice response. From the answers given here, it appears that the issue then is not really with note-taking per se, but the use of a machine which from some may serve as more of a distraction than a tool. –  mathStudent Dec 30 '11 at 7:03

I suppose it depends on the work environment, but where I work, it is actually frowned upon if you don't take notes -- it's like saying you don't care about the projects being discussed.

I can see how using a laptop/netbook can be seen as distracting and thus discouraged, using a pen and paper should not be a big deal. If you find a pen and paper lacking, I'd suggest what @jmoreno recommended: the Livescribe pen. I personally have used one before and the recording ability is quite useful (it records sound and also what you were writing at that time).

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I've seen already people who are against notes or, especially, audio recording of a meeting. There were three reasons for that:

  1. They have some corporate secrets they are free to talk about, but don't want any trace.

  2. They don't want to be accountable of what was said. For example when talking about the project requirements, it's not a good idea to take notes: only a written, signed document which lists the requirements has a value. What if a developer took notes which are different from this document? What if the work was done according to the interpretation given through those notes, and not the official document?

  3. When you write anything (e-mail, a written and signed agreement, etc.), you:

    • Think twice about what you write,
    • Have all your time to think about it, review and rewrite it,
    • Ask somebody, as your company lawyer, to review it.

        This is not the case during meetings. You just don't have time to think for ten minutes because others are waiting for your answer. You don't have an opportunity to consult your lawyer or your colleagues or to make a phone call to an expert in a specific domain. This means that you don't want to take the same responsibilities for what you've said during a meeting compared to what you've written in an official document.

   4.   It's difficult to formulate things correctly when taking notes. You interpret things the other people say, and you transcript this immediate interpretation through your notes. When thinking about it later, you may reinterpret what was said or see that you've misunderstood something. If you have notes, it's tempting to never change them, so the immediate interpretation will remain.

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+1 For people not wanting to be accountable for what they say. People who get upset about note taking for this reason are your typical BS artists who make a living out of deceiving others. Even worse are the people who are are setting you up for failure or to take the blame for something. If you are taking notes or keeping good records then you have proof to defend yourself against accusations and falsehoods. It is amazing how crooked some people and workplaces can really be. –  maple_shaft Dec 29 '11 at 12:54
Why isn't it a good idea to take notes at project requirement meetings? If you do, you're less likely to wind up looking at a document to sign that isn't what was agreed on in the meeting. –  David Thornley Dec 29 '11 at 15:45
+1 for sensible justification. –  mathStudent Dec 30 '11 at 6:59

Just to give some reasons for why I would be one to frown upon what you suggest:

  1. If you ask people to stop talking in mid-thought in order to make sure your notes are accurate, that could be seen as more than a little rude.

  2. If you don't pay attention to body language which could include facial expressions and hand movements as you are looking at your notes instead that could be seen as rude.

  3. If you'd usually talk with your hands but have to type as you speak so that what you say is written down, that could be seen as a negative point.

  4. How well do those in the meeting know you aren't using the machine as a distraction? How are they supposed to know especially if the lid is toward them?

Those are reasons for taking the other view of why someone with a netbook/notebook/chromebook may be frowned upon for bringing in a machine. In general, I'd be rather mixed about the idea as I have had meetings where someone just stared into their laptop for the whole meeting that struck me as beyond rude and so you may have to consider that while you could dictate, "This is my meeting and so I'm taking notes. So there!" kind of attitude, there may be some that internally are pissed with you for it though they may not openly express this hostility. I interpreted your question as wanting to know arguments from the other side which is why my answer is structured the way that it is and is rather lopsided.

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So do you mean to say that you are against note-taking in general, for these reasons listed? Or that this is a list of some reasons of maybe why. What if points 1-4 are addressed, then are you still against note-taking? Those seem doable. –  mathStudent Dec 29 '11 at 5:34
+1 for "Hold on, let me write that down..." in meetings is just absurd. –  Kirk Broadhurst Dec 29 '11 at 5:49

I take notes so often and end up rewriting them in e-mails or documentation that I have decided to buy a netbook/notebook/chromebook for this purpose

I don't generally have any objection to people taking notes. However, typing provides a distracting noise from time to time, and if you are taking notes, you'll be typing fast enough for it to be noticeable.

Secondly, having been in meetings with people armed with laptops, I get the impression they are concentrating more on what they are looking at on screen than on the discussion of the meeting.

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I would not recommend using a netbook in a meeting, it even if it doesn't take too much attention, it can certainly give the impression that you aren't attention to the meeting.

I would look for something like http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/ first if I was you.

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I like using OneNote. –  mathStudent Dec 29 '11 at 5:45

I never go to a meeting without a notepad. I generally try to jot down questions or ideas, depending on the type of meeting it is ahead of time. Even a few minutes of prep work before the meeting is a help. If the meeting is a discussion based on a particular issue that is to be addressed, that I'm for or against, then I spend more prep time before I go in.

I'm sure there are unique situations where it might be frowned upon, but I can't think of any valid reasons for not jotting down notes using some medium during meetings.

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