Note taking 2.0

I am, by all accounts, a rabid note taker.

I scribble barely legible scrawls on scraps of paper at Starbucks while meeting with potential clients over a decaf latte. I pound away on my iPad during conferences to capture the words of wisdom being spouted from the front of the room, and I keep extensive handwritten and online lists on everything from business development to-do’s, to actions I need my assistant to execute.

However, all this list making and note taking can take its toll. At one point, I had so many notes in so many different places that finding what I needed was like locating a needle in a haystack. I knew I needed help; I just wasn’t sure where to get it.

A recent report by Forrester Research on the note-taking habits of American information workers (employed adults who use a computer for work) concluded that while 87 percent of workers make use of handwritten notes, 75 percent see value in the ability to computerize, index and search handwritten notes and associated audio.

The survey also found that 38 percent of workers use handwritten notes to organize their priorities through to-do lists and 67 percent of workers felt that better note taking would improve both their personal job performance and decision making within their organizations — my thoughts exactly.

So it was with traditional pen in hand and hope in my heart that I set out to find a few tools I could easily (and quickly) integrate into my data-filled day to transform my note taking from chaotic to the composed. Here’s what I found:

Evernote: This is the cloud software solution that has as its tagline “Remember Everything,” and using Evernote, I do. The system, which functions as a digital filing cabinet, allows you to capture in one easy-to-search digital storage location all the notes you create for any topic, client, project, idea, etc.

It also enables you to add snapshots of web pages, link a URL to a particular note and attach audio files and photos. It’s set up to constantly synchronize across all platforms, so it’s accessible wherever you go. If all the above is not enough to make you click on the live link, consider this — it’s free.

The Livescribe Pen: I came across this at a conference recently when I saw a colleague holding an intriguing pen-like object in her hand. When I inquired about this high-tech device, she told me it was an Echo smartpen by Livescribe.

The pen, which has a built-in microphone, can capture meetings and lectures and then, via a USB connector, transfer both the audio and corresponding written notes (penned on special paper provided by the company) to your computer.

On the spot, I sent myself an email to look into buying one. As serendipity would have it, I was invited to attend a press conference two weeks later revealing the results of Forrester’s note-taking survey hosted by the study’s sponsor, none other than Livescribe. I asked for and received a pen to take home and test and was hooked from the first demo.

Today I never go to a meeting, interview, conference or seminar without it, and my ability to focus on what is being said, rather than worry about getting every detail nailed down, has been vastly enhanced. Cost: US$99.95

Zenbe Lists: Billing itself as “simple, shared task lists,” this app was built so that you can easily share your grocery list with your spouse or collaborate with a co-worker on a project. But what I like best about Zenbe Lists is its simplicity.

I’ve used other similar to-do programs in the past and always found them too cumbersome or complicated. When it comes to list management, I am a firm believer in the K.I.S.S. method. This app automatically synchs across all platforms and has the basic key features I need such as due dates, priority and custom sorting. Cost: US$5.00

Today, with these three technology solutions, instead of emailing myself a to-do or scribbling my brainstorm on a Starbucks’s napkin, I can note what I want to note in simple 2.0 style.

What’s your biggest note-taking challenge? We would love to hear your comments.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group, where she helps businesses negotiate the wired world of today’s media landscape — social and otherwise.

9 Comments

Karen Francis
June 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Thanks for sharing the info Karen.

I also find writing notes of such importance, even if I never read them again, it helps the retention of what you are learning about. However finding them when I need them can be painful indeed.

I’m personally using a To-Do List app on my phone for all sorts of items, but really can only be in summary. Digital pens are an excellent way to go, even in every day business use.

simPRO interfaces with digital pens for business, as well as interfacing with Xero.

Here’s a video on the pens in business use.
http://www.youtube.com/user/simPROsoftware?ob=5#p/u/3/_b3FKAWatvc

And here’s a blog post in Xero of the pens interfacing.
http://blog.xero.com/2010/03/simpro-and-xero/

Karen Leland
June 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Toby, Karen – thank you both for the recos. So many great products, so little time!

Vince
June 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Great article Karen!

Diane
June 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Have you tried Springpad? I’ve been adie-hard Evernote fan for a few years now. I have 1,200+ notes in there, and I use it every day. BUT Springpad has a vastly different, maybe better approach… I suggest checking it out.

Mark Haller
June 6, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Hi Karen

Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks so much for sharing :-)

I’ve got a conundrum at the moment that’s bugged me for many weeks and I’d like to sort – I run a web design/development company here in the UK. I often attend client meetings and, like yourself, write heaps of notes and diagrams, mindmaps, anything really during the meetings.

When I return to the office, I want to share all that info with the team – so I scan the page into our HP printer/scanner and it automatically email sends straight into our own custom CRM, where we can choose the client/associated proposal/project/etc – which is fantastic!

I’ve even taken it a step further, by templating blank paper – I print a small footer bar on every page with a box for client name, meeting location, date, people present!

My conundrum? Making my illegible scribbles legibile and indexable! I could use my iPad in the meetings instead, but then it would slow down the fluidity of a blank piece of paper … and cease diagrams!

Any thoughts? :-)

Karen Leland
July 7, 2011 at 2:05 am

Oh Mark;

Do I feel your pain. I have the most illegible handwriting on the planet. In truth I have done exactly what you just suggested, I now use my ipad for note taking. By the way I
have found that my finger pad action is now as fast as my writing, but as a bonus I can read it afterwards. Hope that helps.

Karen Leland
July 7, 2011 at 10:02 am

Diane;

I have not tried Springpad. Thanks for the heads up, will check it out!

Ken Stover
July 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Karen, you need to try out Springpad and update this post. I am really interested in your professional opinion and commercial comparison.

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