Meeting notes have become an important tool for me to stay on top of discussions and action items, and I’ve become a far more prolific note-taker as a professional that I ever was as a student. Unfortunately, effective filing of paper is not among my talents, so attests anyone who bears witness to my desk and the many paper piles. Miraculously, I’m often able to lay hands on paper notes written long ago, but I’ve long sought a digital solution to eliminate the paper.
In my quest for electronic notes I’ve tried several approaches that never quite caught on.
- Scan my paper notes. Refer to the neat pile of unscanned notes atop my document scanner.
- Optical pens that capture handwriting. I couldn’t get past their cost, their single purpose, and the need to always write on special paper in proprietary notebooks.
- Laptop. Having that screen between you and your colleagues is too much of a barrier, and I don’t always carry the laptop.
Revisiting an Old App
I’d been using my iPad for about a month when I went to a conference in June. Thus far I hadn’t figured out how to make the iPad my note taking panacea. At a conference session a woman sat next to me with her iPad and the dock keyboard. She was feverishly typing away during the session, and I occasionally looked over to see what app she was using. At the end of the session we spoke briefly and I was reintroduced to Evernote.
I say I rediscovered the app because I had previously tried and discarded the iPhone version of the app, long before the iPad was on the market. At the time I’d concluded the iPhone wasn’t a reasonable note taking device (no big surprise). Trying Evernote again on the iPad was a wholly different experience. Keeping notes with the near life size keyboard on the iPad wasn’t a breeze, but it was close enough to typing on a real keyboard. Though Evernote on the iPad is little more than a basic text editor (not much more than the built-in Notes app), its few advanced features, and price (free*) make it a great choice. If you’re a good touch typist, add on Apple’s wireless keyboard and you can record notes almost as fast as a court transcriptionist.
More Than a Notepad
Those advanced features I mentioned? The most important and transparent feature is synchronization. There are versions of Evernote for every device you can imagine, and they all stay in sync by uploading your notes to the Evernote servers. I can write a note on my iPad, read it on my work PC, access it on the go on my iPhone (works on Blackberry and Android too), and then update it on my Mac. If I don’t have any of those devices with me, I can log into their web page on any computer with Internet access.
All your notes are searchable, can have tags (keywords), and can be filed into “notebooks”. Clever tagging makes it easy to pull up all notes related to budget, for example.
You can also create more than text notes. On the iPad you can record audio while you type using the iPad’s built-in microphone, though I’ve found that audio notes cap off at 20 minutes. On the iPhone you can make text, audio, and photo notes. How do you search for a photo note after the fact? The Evernote servers “read” any words in the photo using Optical Character Recognition, allowing you to search for any text appearing in the photo (but you can’t copy the text out of the photo). You can also set tags for the photo. At a recent meeting I used my iPhone to snap a photo of a paper agenda passed out. After less than a minute the photo appeared in Evernote on my iPad, where I was keeping meeting notes.
If the features don’t sell you, the logo features an elephant. Go Jumbos!