I started coding when I was 7 years old and until I was 29 or so, my whole professional life was coding. Then, the startup I co-founded had to hire some people because it was doing well and I became a manager. I discovered I love managing as much as coding, but there was an ongoing issue: at the end of a day coding, I could look back at my code and feel productive, whereas at the end of a day managing, mostly meetings, I felt exhausted and with nothing to show for.
I’ve been managing for 10 years, taking over and building teams from scratch, being hands on and hands off and that feeling of not being productive is rarely there and I think there’s one habit that I have that helps a lot and I highly recommend it to all managers: write down notes.
I go into every meeting with some note taking tool. If the meeting is face to face, I prefer to stick to pen and paper, because a computer can stablish a divide. The other person doesn’t know what I’m typing, I may be chatting with a friend. With pen and paper it’s immediately obvious I’m taking notes and there’s no wall (the screen) between me and the other person.
But now we are all remote, and the notes are digital. This is so much better because it cuts down (but doesn’t completely remove) the need to process notes post-meeting. Depending on the type of meeting, I even share my screen so the other person can look at the notes I’m writing. You have no idea how many misunderstandings were caught this way. They said something, I misunderstood them, wrote it down in front of them and they corrected me. If you are not sharing notes, repeat what you wrote to the other person to have the same effect. This is similar to active listening.
There are a few more things that I do with my notes that I highly recommend.
I try to make all my meetings 50 minutes long, with 10 minutes to review and action notes. If we reach the 50 minute mark, ideally, I want to just book another one to continue. Having meetings overrun and everybody being late to the next meeting is very bad to the morale of a company but being the only person enforcing the strict end of meetings can be hard.
When I review the notes, if the meeting was just the two of us or sensitive, I write them down on an email and I send them to the other people in the meeting. This helps have a shared record of what happened. Otherwise I write them down on a public record in a centralized documentation system, like Confluence or Notion.
Once a week I go through my week worth of notes to see if I have missed something. If they are written on paper this is when I digitize them for permanent record. This also informs the report to my boss about what happened that week. Looking at my written notes gives me the same feeling of accomplishment than looking at my written code. I’ve done something.
If you found this valuable, you may be interested in my book: Building and Managing Distributed Teams.