What Do I Do with Meeting Notes and Handouts???

“There’s all this paper everywhere, and it’s not even mine!”

~Anonymous client


Despite the predominance of projectors, laptops, iPads, and shared servers, there just seems to be no substitute for a stack of handouts sitting on a table when you walk into a meeting room.  There are reports to review, PowerPoint slides to follow, and articles to read.  Nothing produces a stack of paper more quickly than a meeting.

Should we make our meetings more paperless?  Absolutely.  Has every meeting organizer or participant bought into that yet?  Not especially.  So what do you do in the meantime?


It depends.


Sorry.  Annoying but true.  The thing “it” depends on is who called the meeting in the first place.  The rules are different if you called the meeting and are accountable for its outcomes versus someone else having that role.  Let’s examine both scenarios.


Tips for Managing Meeting Materials – When You Are Accountable for the Meeting Outcomes

  • Practice good meeting management in the first place.  Make an agenda, gather presentation materials, take notes, and distribute minutes after the meeting is concluded.
  • In your meeting minutes, make special note of action items, the name of the accountable party, and the date by which the action needs to be completed.  This way, all participants can transfer to-do items to their task list or planner.
  • Emailing handouts and meeting minutes to the attendees is common, but a better practice is to store all minutes in a shared electronic filing space and send links to the files.  In Outlook this is often done by clicking Insert – Hyperlink.  If participants have access to the materials, then they will have little need to keep duplicates.
  • Ask a simple question at the end of the meeting:  “Does anyone want me to recycle/shred your handouts for you?”  You send the message that the handouts have served their purpose and you relieve them of the obligation of storing/filing/maintaining them.  Nice.


Tips for Managing Meeting Materials – When You Are NOT Directly Accountable for the Meeting Outcomes

  • Remember that meeting handouts are most likely meant to be temporary reference materials to help you follow the discussion and glean the main points.  Treat them as temporary and recycle/shred the materials ASAP after the meeting – preferably before you reenter your office.
  • Understand that the only handwritten notes that have much value past the end of the meeting are those that tell you what actions/tasks you have to complete.  Transfer the action items to your to-do list and then toss/shred your notes as you will be able to refer to the meeting minutes.
  • If you need to keep meeting notes/handouts for your own reference, keep them together in a folder devoted to the topic and toss them when the information is no longer relevant to your immediate goals and priorities.
  • Remember that the meeting owner is accountable for keeping records of all decisions made in the meeting.  Your job is to review the meeting minutes for accuracy and make changes where appropriate.  Good minutes can eliminate stacks of handwritten notes and handouts from participants.  If your meeting owner isn’t taking minutes, ask that they do it.  After all, you’re taking your time to participate in the meeting.

Meetings are a great way to communicate information and track action steps among a group of people. But, be a discerning judge of what materials and notes you keep from your meetings. It can be very frustrating to have a stack of paper on your desk that’s not even yours!

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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


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