One of the first lessons I learned when I started out as an agency intern was about taking good notes. After leaving an exceptionally long meeting one day, a mentor of mine gave me very detailed instructions about how I should send my notes to the team. Instructions I still think about today.
Before we get into why your notes are actually representative of what makes you a good (or shitty) marketer, let’s go back to college for a moment.
I Took Notes in College…
I took notes in college and high school. We all did. So when it came to taking notes at my first agency job, I didn’t think much of it. I’d just scribble down the things I found interesting with no real rhyme or reason.
But here’s the key, I was used to taking notes for myself, never intending them to be helpful for other people.
Remember missing a class in college and then borrowing a buddy’s notes to catch up? If you do, you remember how totally unhelpful they were to you. Just a bunch of chicken scratch, doodles, and random quotes from the lecture. Your friend’s notes weren’t helpful because they were never intended to be helpful…for you.
The Hit-By-A-Bus Test (For Clarity and Comprehensiveness)
Now, back to my mentor’s lessons. She said “everything in this business is about clear communications and when necessary, over-communicating. The test of good note taking is: if you get hit by a bus tomorrow, can someone else on your team read your notes and easily pick up where you left off?”
At the time, I thought she was just talking about note taking, but she wasn’t. Quick background on this mentor of mine. She’s a PR professional who held senior level communications positions at some of the biggest companies on earth. She knows what high level executive teams at Fortune 500 companies expect, and knows how to communicate within (and between) teams.
What I learned from her is that clear and actionable written communication is an often overlooked aspect within most teams. And whether it be notes, an email, a Basecamp message, or a creative brief, clear and actionable communications are the mark of a true marketing professional.
You Work In The Communication Business…You Shouldn’t Suck At This
We’re so bombarded with emails, social media messages, Slack chats and text messages every single day that we have lost some of our sense for appreciating clarity in messaging. For marketers this is unacceptable (because of the whole “communication is your job” thing).
We’ve substituted one clear and detailed message for the brute force of high volume text messages, emails, and even Slack chats. We try to make up for a loss in detail and clarity with sheer volume, where directions need to be continually refined over and over again throughout the day, continually providing additional clarity.
Unclear Communication is Symptomatic of a Larger Problem.
If you can’t communicate clearly with your team, how will you communicate clearly with your clients? And if you can’t communicate clearly with your clients, how will you do your job (as a marketer) to communicate clearly to their customers? See the domino effect there?
Clear Communication Saves Time
Ever assign someone work, but they don’t do the work because they didn’t know what to do? Or possibly worse, they did do it, but they did it wrong? Happens all time.
Here’s the bummer about clear communication. Sometimes, clearly communicating takes more time upfront. And you’re busy right? You have no time to write detailed instructions, to give examples, and/or go have a face-to-face chat. So you just give some basic directions, throw shit over the fence, and move on to the next task.
But then of course, the work is not done as well as you had hoped. So now you take additional time to provide some additional direction in order to “clarify.” So your teammate has to go back and re-do the task. So congrats, you’ve now wasted their time and yours.
We marketers often find ourselves “clarifying” after the fact. Here’s the unfortunate truth we generally deal with in marketing:
“There’s never enough time to do it right, but somehow there’s always enough time to do it over.”
Pop Quiz: What Do You Do Immediately After a Meeting Ends?
Remember the last meeting you were in? Let’s say it was a great meeting, you covered lots of ground and you have some definitive action items. What’s the first thing you do when you walk out of the meeting?
A. Check your email
B. Run to your next meeting
C. Start working on another project
D. Organize your notes while they’re fresh in your head and get all action items relevant to the meeting scheduled out.
There’s no way it’s D, right? I mean come on, that’s crazy talk. Who has time for that madness? No one ever.
Obviously it should be D, but of course, it’s not. You likely run out of a meeting and start some other task/meeting/project and make a mental note to organize your notes later. But here’s the crazy part, if you’re going to invest 2 hours of your time and energy into a meeting, why not invest 10-15 more minutes after the meeting to organize your notes and next steps while everything is still fresh in your head? That is the time when you can squeeze the most value out of those 2 hours you just committed to the meeting.
Here’s a Tip
Schedule yourself a 15-minute block after every meeting to organize your notes, thoughts, and next steps. Then you can get everything squared away and not have that little nagging thought in the back of your head that you need to remember to do this exact same thing later on. Finally, make sure those notes are clear, actionable, and pass the “hit-by-a-bus” test.