The Great Paper Chase

By Heather Baldwin

Does this sound familiar? You’ve got a year of highly productive sales meetings under your belt, but you’ve also got a year’s worth of unprocessed meeting notes stuffed into file folders, drawers, empty desktop space – anywhere they’ll fit, really. If so, you’re not alone. David Allen, CEO of The David Allen Company, a management consulting, coaching, and training company based in Ojai, CA, says at least 80% of the professionals with whom he works have pockets of unprocessed meeting notes nested away in various places.

To take charge of the paperwork your meetings generate, Allen recommends you first determine actions required, then transmit and store the useful information. Start by figuring out what needs to happen based on the meeting, says Allen. What actionable items were generated from the meeting and who is doing them? Enter and track those things on your reminder system. Next, determine whether anyone who was not at the meeting needs to be updated on what occurred there, and pass on that information. Then review your notes to see if there was information shared at the meeting that “doesn’t have action tied to it, but possibly needs to be retrieved in the future,” says Allen. “If so, put it in your reference system – into support or info files organized by project, theme or topic.”

To help you do all this, set up system for systematically reviewing and processing your notes. If you write notes on pads of paper, tear them off as soon as you’re finished with the meeting and toss them into your in-basket until you can go through them to review the action items, determine whether anything needs to be filed long-term and toss out the rest. If, as many executives do, you use a spiral notebook for chronological journal-writing, “you must be in the habit of reviewing those notes regularly and having some way to code that the notes have been processed – either by crossing out the paragraphs or putting checkmarks in the margins, drawing lines across the page between meetings or thoughts or captured items,” Allen says. “It needs to be visually clear what’s been processed and what still hasn’t yet.” If you use a loose-leaf planner, Allen recommends you take notes into a tabbed “notes” section and “at least once a week clean out all the previous pages to start fresh.”

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