Just a better way of handling your notes

I do a lot of research. I have a wide variety of professional and personal interests matched with a rabid curiosity. Like most folks, I typically open up a browser, hit Google and start reading. As I progress, I open up links in new browser tabs. If I’m in serious information gathering mode, I open up a Word document in tandem and start copying and pasting bits of pertinent information for later processing.

Occasionally my notes are taken at project meetings, in training or at conferences and are scrawled in a book or worse, on pieces of paper. If I’m facilitating a meeting I usually can’t write or type anything meaningful so I record audio. If these artifacts are not required for meeting minutes, they’re usually filed away someplace often never to be processed again.

Here’s the thing:

  • I work across multiple computers and don’t always have access to the documents that I create. This is especially true when I am working on a client sponsored laptop or workstation.
  • Paper notes cannot be searched and are mostly inaccessible to me. It’s often easier for me to re-research the topic on the web than to have to hunt down where I stored my scrawls.  
  • I don’t like taking personal information into client sites even if it’s resident on my own laptop. Occasionally I experience a personal emergency and need access to information which is stored on a separate machine or network. I used to carry important personal information on a flash drive but this was also inefficient as I would forget to keep that snapshot updated.
  • In the past, I’ve blasted many artifacts off to a Gmail account to make my notes persistent and searchable, but the process is not slick enough to where I use it consistently.

Say goodbye to lost scrawls

I found “Evernote” while reading ‘office-in-the-cloud’ type blogs. This is a free, hosted, note management solution. You can capture or access your notes through a browser or a desktop application that stays synchronised for offline work. Your notes are then available everywhere on a multitude of devices (desktop, laptop, mobile phone, iPad…whatever).

Capturing of notes is efficient and I find myself keeping an Evernote page or client open all the time now. Amongst other things it allows me to quickly use my webcam to take snapshots of scrawled notes.  You can also use your mobile phone to take photos of business cards, whiteboards or travel receipts and instantly capture these as tagged notes. This allows the information to be saved and grouped in the right context at the time of the ‘transaction’ as opposed to doing it all retrospectively.  

Regarding written notes: Evernote offers native integration support for Livescribe pens so your paper notes go straight to your Evernote filing cabinet in the clouds. Sounds wicked but I’m ok with capturing the pages via my laptop webcam or mobile phonecam. Besides I have a Fisher Millenium pen that is guaranteed never to run out of ink and I want to get my mileage!

The search features work well and Evernote uses OCR to make the printed and handwritten text inside images searchable (with limited success on the latter).

It’s a good tool for team collaboration on R&D type projects, especially if the folks are not co-located though you do need to upgrade to the premium version for this (at a whopping $5/month…).

At the time of writing, Evernote has been picking up 10000 new users a day and there is a whole sub-cult being spawned around new ways of using this software.

Final tip: Dump the notepad feature (equivalent to folders) and capture the meta information in your note name instead eg. “Project/Category name_sub category_description”. This one was “Blog_article_Evernote”. Sounds trivial but dropping the folders makes mobile phone access more efficient by dropping a navigation step.

This entry was posted in Project management, Technology and culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Just a better way of handling your notes

  1. the valuable content you provided do help our team’s research for our company, thanks.

    – Lucas

  2. I have the same opinion with most of your points, but a few need to be discussed further, I will hold a small discussion with my partners and perhaps I will ask you some opinion soon.

    – Rob

  3. Salim Essack says:

    Just a note on your final tip. If you use the iPhone app, then you can browse by tags and the correct metadata tagging becomes indispensable i.e. naming conventions become less relevant.

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