Going paperless: 9 tips for paperless meetings

After having gone paperless for a while, one of the big payoffs I discovered was the ability to have “paperless” meetings. I don’t know about you, but my days sometimes feel like they are mostly spent in meetings. Years ago, while driving into work, back when I lived in L.A., I heard a great quote about meetings on the radio. It went: “A meeting is a place where minutes are taken and hours are lost.” Today, I find myself in countless meetings at my day job. There are also meetings related to my freelance writing. And then there are those annual or semiannual meetings with accountants, financial advisors, teachers, etc.

I always try to come to meetings prepared. Before going paperless, that often meant digging through files, or printing out emails or slides. Sometimes getting together the material I needed for a meeting took as long as the meeting itself. Then I would try to take notes during the meeting. But even there, problems arose. If the meeting was simple it was easy enough to jot the notes down on a pad of paper. But if I needed to refer to those notes later on, I often couldn’t find what I did with that paper. And then there were times when I made notes in slides and diagrams or on printouts of spreadsheets, all of which were part of the same meeting, but it was impossible for me to tell where the notes originates–if I could find the document to begin with.

Going paperless allowed me to make some key changes to the way I handled meeting that made it much easier to gather what I needed for the meeting, capture notes during the meeting, and have ready access to those notes after the meeting. Here are some of the tips I have for paperless meetings.

1. Prepare ahead of time by adding meeting materials as attachments to your meeting note

Here is what I do:

  1. Create a Note for the meeting.
  2. Drag any meeting materials (slides, spreadsheets, PDF files, etc.) to the note
  3. Sync the note before I go to the meeting
  4. If I am going to be someplace where I won’t have WiFi access, make sure that my notebook containing the meeting note is available offline1.
  5. Review the material and decide if I will need to make notes on any of the attached files directly.

2. Scan in handouts after the meeting

Sometimes, you go to a meeting and the person running the meeting will pass around printed out handouts. I’ll still do my best to take notes directly in Evernote, but I may end up scratching out a note or two on the handout during the meeting.

When the meeting is over, I’ll scan the handouts into Evernote and toss or shred the original.

3. Use GoodReader to annotate PDFs directly and send them to Evernote later

Sometimes, there are documents which it is useful to annotate directly. Perhaps there is a slide deck that I want to take notes on. I’ll convert the PowerPoint slide deck to a PDF and then attach the PDF to my meeting note. I can open the PDF in GoodReader, annotate it during the meeting, and then save it and, after the meeting, replace the original PDF with the annotated version (at present, the Evernote-GoodReader integration does not allow you to do in-place saves directly in Evernote, as far as I can tell.)

This adds one extra step, but allows me to keep my annotations with my other meeting notes.

4. Use meeting templates for some standard meetings

Some meetings are pretty standard and straight-forward. For these meetings, I try to use a meeting template. Here is how I do it.

  1. I have a Notebook called “Templates” that I keep in my “Reference” notebook stack.
  2. I store all my note Templates in this notebook.
  3. I find the note template that I want, let’s say, “Weekly Tag-Up Meeting”
  4. In the Windows or Mac client2, right-click the Note and click Copy Note…
  5. Select the destination notebook
    Copy Note.PNG
  6. Uncheck “Preserve created and updated dates” (because I want the date of the new note to reflect the date it was created, not the date the template was created)
  7. Check “Preserve Tags” (this is just a time-saver).
  8. In the new note, I’ll update the title, e.g. replace “Weekly Tag-Up Meeting for [mm/dd/yyyy]” with “Weekly Tag-Up Meeting for 07/31/2012”

The new note will contain any text or documents that my “template” note contained. This is useful for meetings that follow a standard, like these weekly tag-ups of mine. Here is what the template itself looks like:


5. Use Penultimate for capturing free-form meeting notes

I’ve been taking meeting notes for a long time and have it down to a kind of science with a personal shorthand that helps to speed things up. But sometimes, text alone isn’t enough. Sometimes, I need to sketch out something, rough diagrams, story-boards for an application, formulas, etc. In these instances, I’ll use Penultimate to capture my rough notes and then the resulting sketch or notes to a note in Evernote. Here is a recent example:


6. Use checkboxes to indicate Action Items that I need to track

About the only time that I use checkboxes in Evernote is in my meeting notes. I will usually have a section of my note for a given meeting labeled “Action Items.” In that section, I will use a checkbox list for any action item that I have to track, either for myself, or for someone I need to follow-up with. You saw this in my “Weekly Tag-Up” template above.

Each of my meeting notes gets a rather generic “meeting” tag, regardless of what notebook it is filed in. I use this, in combination with the status of the checkbox to create a saved search that shows me meeting notes with incomplete action items. This is what the saved search looks like.

tag:meetings -todo:false

This type of search can be modified for meetings in a certain (project-specific) notebook; or for a given date range. For instance, if I wanted to find action items for just my Conference Services project in the last 7 days:

tag:meetings -todo:false -created:day-7 notebook:"Conference Services"

Depending on the importance of the action item, I will sometimes add these to my master to-do list.

7. Send my notes to others

If I am responsible for sending out meeting notes, it is very easy to do. I can almost always do it as people are walking out of the meeting room:

  1. I open my meeting notes for the meeting.
  2. I tap the Send To icon at the bottom of the note
  3. I select “Email”
  4. I add the addresses to which I want to send the note and then click Send.

Usually, meeting attendees will have the notes before they are back at their desk.

8. Searching notes

Searching my meeting notes becomes easy:

  • I can narrow searches just to meeting notes by filtering on the “meeting” tag.
  • I can further narrow the results by adding in a date range
  • With these two items, I can also search for specific text in my notes, or within any PDFs attached to those notes

I can usually find exactly what I am looking for in a few seconds.

9. Use note links to link back to other notes or meeting minutes

If you are taking a laptop to a meeting instead of a mobile device like an iPad or an iPhone, you have a little more capability. On the Windows and Mac clients, you have the ability to copy note links and then paste them into other notes as links. Note links are like URLs but the appear as “evernote://” instead of “http://”. Clicking on a note link will open that note directly in the Evernote client. For instance, for some meetings I will add a note link back to the previous meeting’s notes so that I can jump to them in an instant, instead of having to search for them. Other times, I note link might point to a related document.

Unfortunately, the Copy Note Link function isn’t (yet) available on the iPhone or iPad, but if the note link already exists in the note, clicking on it in the iPhone or iPad will jump you to that note. So I sometimes go back to my laptop client and add note links in after the meeting to help better link and organize related material.

Those are my tips for paperless meetings. Of course, if you have some tips of your own, I’d love to hear them. Leave them in the comments.

And as always, this post and all of the Going Paperless posts are also available on Pinterest.

  1. For the last year or so, I’ve gone to using my iPad for meetings in which I am not the presenter, instead of my laptop. I’ve found only one or two circumstances during that entire time in which I felt my laptop would have been better. Of course, if I am presenting, then I have to use my laptop.
  2. Currently, there is no ability to copy a note from inside the iPad or iPhone apps. But since I am generally doing this while sitting at my desk before the meeting, it isn’t that big a deal.


  1. Great tips. I still find that when I bring a tablet to a meeting, people are distracted and interested in it, make comments, etc. Looking forward to when it is as natural as bringing a pad of paper. I guess I’m a pioneer out here.

    1. Tyler, I find that happens more in meetings outside my work environment (where people tend to be tech people). If I’m sitting in a homeowner meeting with my iPad, I get those kinds of comments.

  2. I went paperless at university this past year (and like the commentator above me, I get looks too), but I’m still looking for ways to be more efficient. Great tip with the templates. Thanks.

  3. great! I have two questions:
    1. in Nº 3- You can open files directly from Evernote attachment, using Quickoffice, and save it back… no need of extra steps…
    2. in Nº 5- why you use penultimate, instead of Skitch, which already comes with Evernote, and allows you to annotate even photos or images?

  4. Great tips thanks, especially like the ideas for saved searches.

    In exchange, try Slideshark for presentations from iPad – I’ve used it and it works very well. Means I never take the laptop out of it’s docking station now.

  5. Good stuff. As an alternate to creating a TEMPLATE on a laptop prior to the meeting (item # 4), I’ve used the SHORTCUT feature built in to both Android and Iphones. My shortcut for a meeting is “mtgT”. Its tied to the following text… “attendees:, agenda: background:, Topic:, Topic:, Topic:, Next Steps:…”

    Now, I just create a new everNOTE, type the for letters above and the shortcut kicks in (using an Iphone). Bing-bango, I’ve got standard structure. This can work for any template.

    The benefit of your method is that it preserves formatting and tagging, making pre-meeting setup a breeze…so I’ll definitely create it for those times when I’m at a computer prior to the meeting. However, if you’re without a PC, mine show up just as you see it above (minus the commas). So, I have to FORMAT headings, add bullets, Tag, etc.. A few more steps, but it allows consistency on the fly.

  6. Another alternative to creating the meeting note ahead of time is to keep multiple copies of your meeting template in your templates notebook. Then you just go ahead and use one from your iPad without worrying about having to make a copy. Just move it into the appropriate notebook and you’re good to start editing on it.


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