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SubEthaEdit for meeting notes and light project management

SubEthaEdit’s document-sharing functionality must be seen to be believed. Groups of Mac users—in the same room or scattered across the world—can view and edit a single text-based document at the same time. In practice, this has some powerful applications, such as pair programming and shared conference notes. I’ve also had great luck using it as a unified project management tool, where a team’s meeting participants share notes, capture TODOs, and even provide back-channel information all in one or two simple text files.

A few tips

Here are some ideas and suggestions for using SubEthaEdit in your next meeting.

  • Use structured text. I prefer Markdown, but Textile is great too. By using a transformable text structure, you can easily turn all the notes into a beautiful styled XHTML document at the meeting’s conclusion. If you’re using Markdown, remember to leave a couple spaces at the end of each line for which you want to generate a <br />.
  • Agree on basic vocabulary and term usage. Do we call it a “task” or a “todo?” Do we use participants’ first names or last names? Stay consistent so that anything you share with people outside the group will have one voice.
  • Agree on the division of labor. It can be much more efficient to agree ahead of time who will be responsible for recording different aspects of the meeting. For example, one user might concentrate on documenting TODOs while another is focused on noting budget and scope issues for contract purposes.
  • Provide a glossary. Make a section near the bottom of the document for new users to refer to. Include any special terms, conventions or codes that your team employs. To this end, it can be handy to use a “hamburger helper” template for generating new SEE meeting documents.
  • Capture buzzwords. If you notice the client or other folks outside your team re-using terms that have special meaning to them, make sure to note it in a “Buzz Bin” section near the bottom of the document. This helps your team jog their memory between sessions (and provides the “secret codes” you’ll want to insert in communications like proposals and slide shows).
  • Be careful. Be cautious about typing anything you’re not comfortable having people outside your internal team see. If you take and share notes that are sensitive, consider doing it in a shared document that's separate from your main notes—just to be safe. Having said that, this is a very powerful, AIM-like way to share back-channel information with your team on the fly.
  • Develop a set of simple line codes, and use them consistently. More below.

Simple Codes & the 30-Second Deliverable

You can create an attractive client deliverable in the meeting by using the tips above and, most importantly, employing a few simple codes to mark lines containing trackable action items. By adding a 3-character code to the beginning of a line, you create a scannable, GREP-able, sortable list of any items that need to be shared with the team or the client.

While working with Adaptive Path last year, we evolved a few of these simple codes to use in our shared notes (special thanks to Jesse James Garrett for much excellent input on this). The basic structure is to include as many of these items as necessary, per-line, in order:

  • tickbox or follow-up code
  • responsible party
  • date due
  • details

So this would be a TODO for Jan that’s due this Friday:

[ ] Jan Brady - 2004-10-08 - Send Fonzie comps for new ramp

While this would be a captured TODO that was completed (perhaps in the meeting)

[x] Peter Brady - 2004-10-06 - Order Arnold a new camping lamp

Note the parentheses to indicate that this is a client TODO

( ) Potsie Weber - 2004-10-11 - Review spec for roast and send to Sam

Other codes can also be used to generate internal questions or informal followup

??? - Where can we rent a ramp and some sharks?
!!! - Why wasn’t Ralph Malph here?
XXX - FixMe - It sounded like Alice said “Sit on it” when we came back from lunch. Did I get that wrong?

You get the idea. Come up with a system that’s intuitive and fast for folks on your team to use.

When the meeting’s over use SEE's GREP search or BBEdit (great use for Text Factories here) to copy out the lines containing your special codes, sort them, and you’ve got yourself an attractive punchlist for both teams to take away. If your notes are vanilla enough to share with the other side of the table, just run Markdown on the whole document and add a stock style sheet to pretty it up. 30-second deliverable.

Give it a spin in your next meeting. For myself, I think it’s a great tool and stress-reliever. With everyone sharing responsibility for the team’s notes, you get a faceted view of the project as well as a fascinating insight into how your colleagues are thinking.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




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