The Forgetting Curve and meeting notes

Why are meeting notes important?

Its all too easy for us to get back from a contentious meeting, settle into our ergonomically perfect chairs and let our mind wander off to email or the next fire, or the next meeting.

I can write up all of our action items, decisions and minutes tomorrow, right?


Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve tells us we should probably think about those meeting notes or minutes a little more carefully.

(BTW, back-to-back meetings? Definitely a no-no according to time management guru Craig Jarrow)



According to research first done by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, it turns out we pretty much forget the majority of things we learn in meetings (or any other memory retention activity) pretty quickly. 66%, in fact, is forgotten within 9 hours!

So, if you think you can remember everything and then write it down tomorrow… that’s not going to happen. There really is no time like the present.

Block time for followup

This means…GASP! No back-to-back meetings!

The fact is, if you’ve invested time to meet, you should be setting time aside to properly follow up. The easiest way to do this? Block 15-30 minutes in your calendar immediately proceeding your meeting, and guard this time religiously.

Sure, we’ve met a few executives who’s calendars look like dumping grounds for meetings. This should be the exception, not the rule.

No time to follow up directly afterwards? There are a few tactics to address this.

Record your meetings

That’s right – record the audio for your meetings. The world’s largest hedge fund does.  When you forget (and you will forget), refer back to the recording. Ideally, you’d have some way to mark approximate times when stuff was said – Livescribe is a great tool for doing this. You can write notes right while you’re recording AND return to that location simply by tapping anywhere you’ve written.

Yes, it’s OK to have devices in meetings

Contrary to popular belief, its perfectly OK to bring devices into meetings.

After all, we’re all grown up’s here right?

Which means we have the ability to control what we do with our phones and tablets. We’re not all checking Facebook, our rankings in the football pool or peeking at our portfolio. If the meeting organizer is doing her job, she has everyone fully engaged.

Which means its OK for someone to be taking notes during the meeting. This can be done on a pad of paper, on a laptop or via tablet. As long as they’re captured.


So, the next time you feel like waiting a day or two to capture your meeting notes, action items and decisions, think again and remember the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.



Published by

Darin Herle

I call Victoria BC home, am a proud father of 2 and husband to 1. Trackmeet co-founder, Cub Scout leader and baseball fan.

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