Which Is Better – Hand-Written Notes or Digital Ones?

Take a look around you the next time you’re sitting in a meeting. You’ll mostly see tablets and laptops and maybe a smart phone or two. This trend to rely on an electronic device for note-taking in a meeting, seminar, conference (or anywhere else) does not appear to be slowing down. The days of taking notes using an old-fashioned notebook or lined notepad seems to be fast disappearing.

Compare that to taking hand-written notes and deciding what to do with the notes after the session and you are back at your desk. What happens to the notes? If you are like most people, you toss them onto a stack of paper on the desk or credenza because you have no idea where else to park them. And that’s where they stay. However, with a tablet or computer, the notes will not be lost, especially if they are electronically tagged. There is definitely less paper clutter.

Moving the notes to the Cloud with programs such as Dropbox and Google Docs is another reason to take electronic notes. These programs are reliable, excellent storage spots and the data are safe. Coffee won’t spill on the pages.

A final reason to opt for electronic devices is that most people type faster than they write (unless you peck away) so electronic notes contain more information than the hand-written versions. We’ll soon see, however, that typing quickly and efficiently is not as much of an asset as we might think.

With all of these “pluses” for taking notes on electronic devices, experiments in June, 2014 showed that hand-writing notes wins hands down (pardon the pun) over a tablet or computer. Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer* learned that students who write out everything by hand actually learn better. They remember more details, process and understand the material better and can explain it better. Even though hand note takers end up with fewer notes because they cannot write as fast as they type, they still integrate the information better.

How could that be? Quite simply, the learning process is different. Writing by hand requires the note taker to put the content into his/her own words. That requires listening closely to the material presented, translating the information so it is personally meaningful, and capturing the intent of the speaker. Hand writing notes requires the brain to pay attention, stay focused and interpret the meaning of the words. Even after a period of time, hand note-takers retain more. This action is far more effort than simply typing the words without filtering them which is why better learning takes place among people who hand-write their notes. There are many cues that help the reader remember what was said such as the way the content is worded, the use of short-hand symbols and conclusions the note-taker draws while actively listening. These cues are not evident from electronic notes.

On an electronic device, something else happens: the note-taker is easily distracted by new email pings, texts and the urge to surf the web. Even though the note-taker is listening, he/she is multitasking and not paying complete attention. Some of the information will not be captured. How can it be when your mind is switching back and forth from task to task?
And, finally, while electronic note-takers have less of an incentive to look at their notes once they are filed away, manual note-takers often have a different point-of-view. They refer back to their notes to organize and review them and perhaps even rewrite them more coherently. The act of rewriting means focusing on the material again. Learning occurs each time the notes are read. In fact, neuroscientists have discovered that an area of the brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) lights up and activates learning.

In summary …
… if you prefer taking notes by hand and didn’t understand why, it now may be clear why you resisted the urge all this time to follow the lead of your co-workers and use an electronic device.
… If you currently take notes with a tablet or computer, try showing up for your next meeting or conference with a low-tech notebook or notepad.

You may be very pleased with how much you remember just by hand-writing the meeting or conference notes. That plain old white pad will help you focus on what’s happening at the meeting. You’ll walk out of the meeting understanding exactly what happened and what you need to do to follow up. Your co-workers may not be so fortunate and may even look to you for guidance. Go ahead – it’s OK. Let them in on the hand-writing secret.

*Scientific American http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/ 6/3/14.

Tips for an Effective Meeting


Is it acceptable to start a meeting on time even if people are late? The answer is usually yes. If attendees know a meeting will not start on time, they may be purposely late.  They may take advantage of the “extra time” they now have to make a last-minute phone call or write a quick email. By waiting for the latecomers you are tacitly giving them permission to arrive whenever they choose. Even beginning 10 minutes late is wasted time for the on-time attendees and the company.

Let’s not allow the late-to-the-meeting attendees to get the upper hand. Have you ever thought about giving an incentive for people to arrive on time? There may be hope after all for the people who are ready to start at the appointed hour. Snacks and/or drinks definitely help!

There are other ways to encourage people not to be tardy. Try emailing everyone attending the meeting a few days ahead requesting that they please arrive on time. Or, remind them a few times as the day gets closer (just like an Evite). Perhaps stop by the offices of people you know are often late and remind them that it is rude to make others wait for them.

Or move the meeting to a different location.  An attorney told me that he did just that with a staff member who consistently showed up late. At the beginning of the meeting, the attorney invited everyone to a nearby coffee shop. Over drinks, they held the meeting. Imagine the surprise on the late person’s face when he saw everyone hard at work and also enjoying their favorite beverages. He got the hint. The attorney acknowledged the late-to-the-meeting person and suggested that he ask another meeting attendee to fill  in later on what he missed. Now, that’s a creative way to motivate people to arrive on time!

Here are tips to handle the meeting smoothly:

Include everyone in the discussion. Use a stopwatch and allow everyone two minutes to express an opinion on the proposal being discussed. Follow up with one minute for questions and answers. Try a round robin so everyone contributes. Often, people who hesitate to speak in front of the group end up making excellent contributions. Or, ask quiet people ahead of time for a specific contribution.

Take accurate, detailed minutes. Sometimes decisions are made at meetings and no one remembers why a few short months later. Good notes are often a life-saver because they remind everyone what was decided and why. It also makes it easy for new hires and those just promoted to catch up on a specific topic quickly.

At the beginning of the meeting (or beforehand), appoint a person to take notes that will include the names of the people responsible, the specific action and due dates. I even highlight the person’s name so that he/she can easily transfer the action items to their task list. If the meeting is important – and long – consider recording it with audio or video to ensure that no important information is lost.

Another possibility now available is to use tools such as SubEthaEdit or EtherPad. These apps allow multiple people to edit and collaborate on the meeting notes simultaneously. Everyone will stay engaged in the meeting and no one needs to spend time writing up the meeting notes because they are completed by the time the meeting is over. This is a good idea as long as people do not lose focus on the discussion and become too distracted by the note-taking.

Stay on track. Stick to the agenda and follow the estimated time allocation for each item; that will make it easy to identify issues that are dragging on longer than necessary. Keep the meeting moving and use the agenda as a roadmap – it is particularly handy if the discussion veers off-course. If that happens, try and stop the tangent right away. Otherwise, before you know it, the meeting has been derailed and is moving in an unplanned direction. Assign a committee to iron out details, if necessary.

Use meetings to discuss, maybe even argue as long as it is done fairly. It is ideas that are being discussed. The point is not to personally attack other people in the meeting.

End on time (high marks for this). Conclude a 60 minute meeting in 50 minutes and watch everyone’s face light up. That will give people an extra 10 minutes to get somewhere else or prepare for something coming up. And, they will be more likely to attend other meetings if they know their time is valued. If the meeting goes over the allotted time, the take-away message is that their time is not important. Meetings often run longer than they need to says Steven Rogelberg who teaches industrial/organizational psychology at UNC. He attributes it to Parkinsons Law that tasks last as long as the time allotted. So, if the meeting is planned for an hour, then it will take an hour.

After the meeting: Distribute the minutes asap. The person responsible for the minutes should file them  in a location (preferably electronic) where they are readily accessible. Keep track of the tasks in your planner or task list and follow up with the individuals who were assigned the tasks to make sure they are completed.

Running an effective meeting takes planning and organization but is definitely worth it. The meeting will go more smoothly and the outcome is likely to be better. Give these tips a try!






Start Meetings on Time With Everyone Present

It is frustrating to be on time for a meeting and then sit and wait for the stragglers. Whether those stragglers have had a genuine emergency or are simply exerting their power over the group, the punctual attendees are punished and the tardy ones are rewarded. One client told me: “I have to wait and make small talk with the rest while we wait for the ‘power trip’ guy to show up.”

Let’s not allow the late-to-the-meeting people to get the upper hand. There may be hope after all for the on-timers. The next time you are in charge of a meeting, think about trying a few of these ideas to help round up everyone in the same room at the same time.

Before the meeting send a meeting invitation through Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. Include an agenda listing the topics, the persons responsible, and the time people will be presenting. Put late offenders at the beginning of the agenda. Include these words on the meeting invitation: Please note that this meeting will begin and end on time.

Confirm the meeting by email a day or two prior to the meeting. Remind participants about the purpose and anticipated outcomes of the meeting and what they will be contributing. Set up a tardiness fine of $1 for every minute a person is late and specify that the money will be donated to charity. Mention this in advance so no one will be caught off guard. Another technique that a client shared is that she gives people points ranging from ½ to 2 points depending on how late they are to the meeting. If they miss the meeting altogether, they receive 3 points. Altogether, they are allowed five points; after that they are disinvited to the meeting.

Provide a limited number of snacks at the meeting. A friend shared with me how he insures that people show up for his meetings on time: “I found a strategy that worked with one group of doctors: I brought too few donuts to each meeting. It took the group a couple of months to realize that when they came late there was no food. I never said anything to the group, but it worked.”

Start the meeting on time. Why should those who are on time be penalized? Despite what the latecomers may think, no one has time to spare. Do not count people being on time if they walk into the meeting room, put down their stuff, and leave to get coffee. They are still late if they do not return before the scheduled start time. Continue the meeting even as latecomers enter the room. Acknowledge them with a nod and keep going. There is no need to review what had been discussed before their arrival. There is no need to reschedule the meeting if people, especially the key players, do not show up.

Lock the door two minutes after the start time. Employees at a high-tech company in California started to do this so their boss would get the idea that his late arrival was not appreciated. Of course, they opened the door when the boss knocked. While this radical approach is not for every boss he/she will get the idea quickly.

End the meeting on time. This sends a clear message that you are respectful of people’s time. If you are running over, discuss with the group ways to handle the issues that will not be discussed due to lack of time. Often it helps to form a subcommittee to look into an issue and report back to the group. Oh and don’t forget to thank the persons who donated money because they were late.

After the meeting set a time to talk with your boss if he/she is always late. Meet with her at another time. Ask her opinion about starting the meeting without her. Check if a different time would fit the boss’ schedule better so she could be there at the start of the meeting. What if the subordinate is always late? Speak to the subordinate privately and try to find out why the person is chronically late for meetings. Explore how you can help and the types of resources that would be beneficial. Maybe a time management class or maybe, ahem, a productivity specialist can help. Warn the person first if he continues to be tardy for meetings; if the situation does not improve, you may need to initiate a performance improvement plan.

Make the Most of Every Meeting!

If only businesses put time and energy into training executives to maximize meeting time and make them as productive as possible! Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Meetings have a bad reputation, often deserved. Very little is accomplished and attendees often walk away annoyed (or even angry) that they wasted valuable time. They’re not the only ones who squandered their time and resources. Companies fare no better. It’s a financial and time drain to tie up people in a room for any length of time.

On the other hand, if handled correctly, meetings serve an important function and are often key to the success of a company. They are an ideal time to brainstorm and make collaborative decisions. And that’s not all – meetings provide a forum where strategies are formulated and decisions are made on how to achieve them. By setting goals and establishing the outcome ahead of time, a meeting can function at a high level and be productive. Meeting attendees will feel appreciated and the company benefits from the high level thinking and the creativity resulting from the meeting.

Would you like to know how to set up your next meeting for success?  Here are several tips:

Invite the people who count. Meeting organizers tend to invite more people than necessary out of concern that they do not want to exclude anyone and hurt their feelings. But best practices advise otherwise — the fewer people, the better. Keep the meeting small, inviting only those who can help accomplish the meeting’s goals. Usually these are the key decision makers who will help ensure the success of the meeting. The one exception is when opinions are needed. Then, a larger group may be better. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

Bring in the group that can accomplish the task. Once key decisions have been made, it makes sense to bring in a larger group to be introduced to the strategy. This can be as many as 25-40 participants. Once everyone is familiar with the assignment, the group can break into teams and execute the ideas.

Create an agenda. It sets the tone for the meeting. Meeting attendees are more likely to take the meeting seriously when they know the planning behind it. They also are more likely to be active participants. Suggestion: before the meeting, ask attendees for discussion points to make sure that their pertinent points are discussed and to gain their buy in.

Send the agenda and material you want read ahead of time and as early as possible. Be clear about location, date, time and objective of the meeting. Use specific verbs. For example, instead of discussing next year’s trade shows, make the agenda item measurable and specific such as: “choose three trade shows.” Do you want participants to read additional material before the meeting? Tell them so they will have a chance to prepare, thereby reducing wasted time during the meeting. If the meeting is short, skip the attachment and include the agenda in the email. Even if the documents are not thoroughly read, meeting attendees will probably scan the agenda while the email is open whereas they are less likely to click on an attachment.

Start the meeting on time. When a meeting starts late it is usually because attendees – often decision makers — are not on time. Now everyone’s schedule is thrown off.

Use the agenda as a roadmap to stay on track. Do not ignore it. Refer to it throughout the meeting, especially if someone brings up an item that is not on the agenda. When a meeting attendee goes off-topic, the person running the meeting needs to take charge of the situation immediately. Tip: Schedule the most important items first when meeting attendees tend to pay closer attention.

Allocate a specific amount of time to each agenda item. This will help keep the meeting moving and will prevent subjects from dragging on longer than they should. Does this mean you can never discuss something that is not on the agenda? No, but it is an opportunity to stop the discussion and refer to the purpose of the meeting. Ask if the topic should be discussed now or perhaps should be tabled for another time. With an agenda, it will be obvious where to pick up if the meeting does become side-tracked.

Before moving on to the next agenda item, make sure that the topic has been sufficiently covered. Ask if there are additional comments before closing out the subject. Attendees will feel that their thoughts are appreciated.

End the meeting on time. If not, meeting attendees will be very unhappy — now they have to scramble to recover lost time and get back on track to accomplish the tasks they set out to do that day. Nor does the company fare well. Just imagine the cost of bringing together several executives for an hour’s time!

Your meetings will be successful and productive (and attendees will be most appreciative) if you follow these suggestions: 1) invite key executives who will make decisions; 2) create a clear agenda with times allocated to each topic; 3) start the meeting on time; 4) stick to the topics and 5) end the meeting when you say you will.


Maximize the Work Tools on Your Desk

Tips to Maximize the Work Tools on Your Desk

What do these items have in common?

  • task list
  • calendar
  • computer and other electronic devices
  • current projects (sitting in an organizing unit holding files)
  • telephone
  • a few office supplies
  • a few personal items
  • an inbox and outbox (maybe)

You may have guessed it — they are essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you efficiently plan and manage your work day.

These work tools will help you focus on the task at hand and help improve your productivity. Each one is used often and needs to be within reach. Everything else, such as paper clutter and miscellaneous items, are distractions and should be moved. 

Limit your desk space to the following items: 

Task List: A to-do list is a must. This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check it several times a day, at least. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all tasks in one place and handy. Tip: some people like to print it out if it is electronic. 

When you think of a task, enter it immediately so it doesn’t take up space in your head. And forget about grabbing a sticky note or the back of an envelope. Sticky notes don’t always adhere and the back of an envelope is known to disappear when you need to return a client call and can no longer find the number. Once the task is written down in the same place as all of the others, it is reassuring to know that the task will not be forgotten. And what a great feeling to ü a task once it’s completed.

Note: Some prefer to use a calendar as a combination task list and calendar. That way tasks are designated to a certain date and time and are less likely to fall through the cracks. Statistics show that there is a 75 percent greater chance of a task being completed if it is scheduled on the calendar rather than in your task list according to Sally McGhee in “Take Back Your Life!.”  As long as there is a system in place that you are comfortable with and can count on, it does not matter if you use a separate calendar and to-do list or combine them.

When we interviewed 75 productive and organized executives, we discovered that all of them use and depend on to-do lists. It was one of the systems that they had in common. While they set up the lists differently (that was to be expected), each one told us that it helps their productivity to use a to-do list.

Tip: Decide the two or three to-dos that must be done that day. Brian Tracy from “Eat That Frog” calls these your MITs, Most Important Tasks. While there are many more tasks that you would like to accomplish, concentrate first on the ones you identified and get them done. One of these tasks must be related to your goals. Then you can move on to other tasks. At the end of the day, it will feel good knowing that you focused your time and energy on the tasks that matter.

Calendar: As soon as you know about a meeting, add it to the calendar pronto! That goes for personal and business meetings. One calendar is all you need. Otherwise, it is too easy to miss an appointment because it wasn’t in the calendar you were looking at. In Microsoft Outlook, you have the ability to color-code appointments to differentiate personal from business. One quick glance at the calendar and you know your schedule for the day.

Active Projects:  What are your current projects? Reserve the organizing unit on your desk for these projects and for reference materials such as a company directory. Keep other projects in your working files drawer close by.

Telephone:  Keep a phone log or spiral notebook beside your phone to use as a record of voice mail messages.  Or, record the information into a to-do list on your computer that synchs with your cell phone for easy callbacks.

If the caller is someone you will need to call again, take a minute and add the information to your contact list. The next time the person calls, their ID will come up and you can decide whether to take the call.

Supplies: Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet or an extra drawer. Save your desktop space for more important items.

Personal Items: Of course, a few photographs or mementoes are a given. They will remind you why you are working and give you a good reason to go home at night. But, only a few.

What’s on the top of your desk? Are they going to help you stay productive and efficient throughout the day?

Not Getting Enough? (Part 1)

We’ve all heard it:  Americans are sleep deprived. Recently I listened to a sleep expert address sleep deprivation and decided I must learn more about the topic. I must confess: I am the poster child for sleep disorders. Not the medical kind – called sleep apnea. Just the kind that manifests itself with a cycle of falling asleep and waking up a few hours later one night, not being able to sleep the next night, and no defined “sleeping times”.  Admit it — you know what I’m talking about.

So, here is what I learned. Many Americans seem to thrive on the fact that we can “get by” with so little sleep. We talk about it too! In every elevator in every office building we overhear,  “OMG – I worked so late last night answering emails from my important client in Japan and with the time change, I only got 4 hours of sleep, but that is about the standard for me today”  while  holding a giant cup of coffee in hand. Often we wear this fact like a badge of importance or pride.

Why are we, productivity and efficiency consultants, writing about sleep? We certainly value time management and tout the benefits of effective calendaring, project and task management, etc. However, we also know that good health impacts overall success. When we interviewed successful, productive executives and professionals many stated making time for exercise and putting a priority on good health was an important factor in their success.

What are the causes for sleep deprivation? Lots of reasons: caffeine, watching the late night news, stress, and technology. We seem to have problems “turning off.” Many of our clients say the only time they have time to deal with the emails is after the rest of the family has gone to bed. We sleep with our cell phones next to our beds. Yesterday a friend told me she was up at 4 AM as she had received a text message – that was sent in error no less – and it woke her. When I asked why she didn’t turn off that alert at night, she said she might get an important text! That’s crazy. If there is an emergency in the middle of the night, and we hope there is not, chances are you will get a phone call — not a text. We don’t take sleep seriously; we don’t make it a priority. We don’t have a routine. We don’t have good sleeping habits.

OK. No routine. No habit. The cost of sleep deprivation is enormous. In 2013 the  country’s top sleep researchers and corporate leaders came together at the Corporate Sleep Health Summit, hosted by Harvard Medical School,  to discuss the latest research and the impact of sleep deprivation on the American work force and corporate bottom-line.

Most of us have heard that the cost of not enough sleep results in a number of health issues such as:

  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

The mental costs are just as insidious:

  • Impairs memory
  • Dumbs us down
  • Causes accidents
  • Impacts creativity and innovation
  • Lowers job satisfaction
  • Compromises decision making
  • Limits your ability to think on your feet

Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls innovation, self-control and creativity. A 1999 study found that just 24 hours of sleep loss impairs innovative thinking and flexible decision making.

Two-thirds of Americans report that getting too little sleep was a major source of stress for them in the past month, according to a recent HuffPost survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults. And the effects of both stress and sleep deprivation could be seeping into their work lives.

Sleep Deprivation And Stress Are A Vicious Cycle.

“In the sleep world, stress is to sleep as yin is to yang — opposite forces that are forever linked,” Chris Winter, M.D. told The Huffington Post in April. “Stress prevents sleep. Sleep deprivation increases stress and its consequences.”

So our work lives are causing us to become stressed (eight in 10 Americans are stressed about their jobs), and in turn, we are less able to get our work done because we’re not getting enough sleep. One study found that 24 hours of sleep deprivation can significantly raise stress hormone levels.

24/7 Jobs Are Taking A Big Toll On Sleep Health.

Changing work cultures and constant connection to smartphones and digital devices is wreaking havoc with many Americans’ sleep patterns. The cost of more flexible work schedules is that many of us find that we never really turn off, responding to emails past midnight and working through weekends and vacations. According to new sleep survey data presented at the Summit, 72 percent of American workers polled said that they sleep with their smartphones next to their beds in the on position, and 45 percent send emails and texts often or always right before they fall asleep at night.

Today I spoke with two employees at a large law firm who shared the following: They receive an email from a partner stating that work must be done by early morning. They are expected to delegate the work – even in the middle of the night – so the partner’s request will be met. Then come early morning, the partner in question never acknowledges the request; it is expected that their requests will be met 24/7 without any additional thank you.

“As a result of us being so connected, we’re not only having a negative effect on ourselves, but we’re having a profound effect on those with whom we work,” said Leslie Perlow, Harvard Business School professor and author of Sleeping With Your Smartphone, in a 2012 Harvard Business Review webinar.

Now that you know the “cost” of sleep deprivation, try to get to sleep and in our next blog we will give you practical advice – from the experts – as to how you can learn to become a better sleeper.  Good night!