Knowledge Management for Dummies: Turn Notes into Memos

The very simple task of turning meeting or law school class notes into concise memo-style documents improves knowledge retention and access.

Sam wrote a great post a few weeks back about knowledge management. This semester I’ve been working in my school’s in-house legal clinic, which has a, er, rather archaic filing system that’s the antithesis of a paperless workflow. While there are electronic copies of a lot of things, the primary case file is paper, paper, and more paper.

While it’s been fun using office equipment like two- and three-hole punches and binder clips in 14 sizes, it’s also very easy to get buried in the stacks of manila stuff. To combat the tendency for my desk to become a mountain, I’ve started memorializing everything. When I have a client meeting, take a client call, review a client file, or conduct research, I compile the bits of info that comprise file notes (on paper or not) into straightforward memos.

Benefits of Writing Memos to the File

This process, which does take time and discipline to execute, has several tangible benefits:

  • Less clutter: compiling notes and research paths into a single document saves desk, file, and brain space.
  • Better retention: typing up a sequence of events, summarizing multiple tasks, or boiling down a long conversation is an excellent way to remember the important parts of what’s going on.
  • Easier access: the point of knowledge management is to make stuff easier to get at – for yourself as well as for anyone who needs to come in alongside or after you on the same project. When you write a simple memo to the file, you’re creating a searchable, key-word optimized, appropriately-named and -dated document that represents the essence of what’s important. Or at least it should.

Memos vs. Notes

Notes are raw, short, and evocative of a larger universe of information. Memos are concise, clear, and sufficiently explanatory to stand alone. Important features of a file memo include:

  • Fully explanatory heading or title
  • Date
  • Author information
  • Purpose and intended audience
  • Organized narrative or bullet points highlighting key information
  • Short, active sentences
  • Status of circumstances as they stand now
  • To-do tasks going forward

The process of taking something that happened in real-time and recreating it after the fact in written form is extremely useful for students, too. This should be what you’re doing when you outline for class. Try making a weekly “memo to the file” on each of your classes. You’ll be amazed how much more you know about the subject matter when it’s time to get down to serious studying.

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