You’ve been holding your pen wrong your entire life (AKA how take awesome notes in meetings)

October 8, 2015

Hear me out, it’s not as dumb as it sounds.

So, if like me you spend a lot of time taking notes in meetings, sketching thoughts and diagrams, doodling mildly offensive cartoons of people all day long you’ll appreciate the humble pen is still one of the most powerful tools we have.

The problem with many peoples meeting notes is that they get lost, or shoved in a pile to be forgotten. Maybe you wander back to your desk, check out your Facebook, eat some crisps and some point later on desperately try to decipher what the hell you wrote during that meeting last Tuesday about that thing.

I’m a big advocate of removing tech from meetings. Sitting with a pad and pen helps focus your thoughts, channels your creativity and helps you to not get distracted. Unless you’re presenting, ditch it.

Frankly there’s nothing worse than ‘that guy’ (or gal) – you know the one – who sits silently during a meeting slapping away at his or her keyboard in the corner. I don’t want to hear your Evernote excuse, I don’t buy it – for all I know you’re playing Minecraft, feverishly trying to mine some platinum ore before the Zombies come to eat your brains. You have 13% attention on the meeting and 87% on other stuff. We could be missing valuable nuggets of insight.

So more pens, less PCs. Pens are great. I have a pen fetish. It’s not the worst vice in the world, you don’t see me looking hollow eyed slouched in the corner shooting up Parker Quink – but nonetheless it is an odd obsession.

So during a recent quest to improve my own handwriting and meeting note taking I stumbled across a few things I found interesting and useful.

Taylor Swift’s weird alien pen grip

Taylor Swift's weird alien pen grip

Uh huh. Yeah – exactly. What IS that all about?

Why she hold her pen so funky?

I like Taylor Swift, she’s a successful business woman, driven, generally liked, some talent – not unlike myself. I can see a little bit of me in her. So it turns out she’s holding her pen ergonomically. Go ahead, try it. Move the pen over by one finger.

So I’ve been trying this out and it actually works, look:


The first line is essentially the ramblings of a mad man, the second line is actually legible. OK I exaggerated but try it, it means you can often write neater, for longer periods of time with far less hand fatigue. Seriously, try it, people may laugh at you behind your back but they do now anyway.

Read more…

The right pen and paper make a big difference

Rocking up with a scrappy half chewed Bic biro means you are under prepared for your meeting. That along with the scraps of paper you filched from the printer on the way just show you’re not taking this meeting seriously.

You may as well not wash. You’re better than that.

I’ll keep this real simple, this is the essential pen and pencil set you need:

What we have here is, from top to bottom:


  1. The Uniball Signo 307 (we have Protocol branded versions too). So these are the AK47 of the pen world. Skipfree, writes on anything, fade proof, waterproof – they work 100% of the time. When you absolutely, positively have to take every note in the room? It’s the Uni 307. And it clicks really nicely 🙂 Clicky-click-click. If you need more convincing, watch this.
  2. The Koh-I-Noor Dry Marker – for highlighting notes like a pro. It’s a dry marker (this version in our hot pink brand color) which means you don’t bleed through the paper or smudge your notes into a mess.
  3. The Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil. It looks damn sexy with its wedgy eraser thing but more importantly it just writes so smoooooothly.
  4. The Koh-I-Noor 2mm mechanical clutch. This one pre-loaded with red graphite, great for sketching wireframes or designing scamps. And it feels beautiful to hold.
  5. The Lamy Fountain pen. Buttery smooth nib, great for when you need to make a good impression.

And the paper, it has to be Rhodia or yes, a Moleskine. The thing with a Moleskine is, it is very expensive. So you tend to be more mindful when you use it – the paper may not be great but there is something about its permanence.

Have a meeting note system

I think it’s really useful to have a way to structure your rambling thoughts. I use an adaptation of the Cornell System, you essentially divide your page up at the beginning of the meeting: top section being topic, date, attendees, the right section being general rough notes, doodles and scribbles – random thoughts. The left is for key points and the bottom is next actions and steps, thus:


You don’t have to draw an owl but I like to. The point being, my meeting notebook (yes I have a dedicated meeting notebook) will always follow the same format – I can quickly skim back through it and find what I need quickly.

Use a Dictaphone or Voice Recorder

I do this a lot these days, they’re cheap, have infinite storage space or you could just use your phone. Especially in large brainstorm sessions or workgroups it can be hard to capture everything. Just make sure everyone knows they’re being recorded, ask permission else you’re being a bit creepy.

Improve your Handwriting

I’m not saying mine is that good, few people like their own writing anyway but I hope most people could decipher it.

We recently ran a workshop and one of the breakout sessions included the completion of a hand written form (we originally planned an online thing but time ran out).

We spent about a day trying to decipher what people were trying to say, which makes me wonder whether writing really is a dying art.

Try reading this great book:


For Brits you can get it on Amazon here.

Finally, I am actually a huge advocate and fan of Evernote and love the fact you can photograph pages, store and tag them.

Best of both worlds. 🙂

Stay awesome.

Share this Post