In this post, I'm going to show you how the best way to take notes and have them always available at your fingertips, wherever you are.
If you haven't already done so, take a look at how I setup apps on my phone which will make implementing the advice I give here easier to do.
We All Take Notes — But Is There a Best Way To Take Notes?
We all find ourselves taking notes. I grew up making notes in small notebooks. This system had some useful benefits.
There were some disadvantages too.
My Taking Notes Workflow does include a process for handling paper-based notes because from time to time you will be left with no alternative to paper and pen.
The core component of the workflow though is based on electronic capture and storage because losing your notes is such a big downside of an analogue system.
When To Use This Workflow?
This Workflow should be used whenever the possibility arises that you want to make a note of what happens. That sounds self-evident, doesn’t it?
But just a moment, when are the times you might need to take a note?
- At a meeting.
- During a presentation.
- While reading a book.
- After watching a film.
- When hearing some exciting new music.
- When you’ve been given directions.
- Grabbing a quick note of someone’s contact details.
- Noting down a particularly delicious menu choice at a restaurant.
You get the idea. We very frequently need to take notes. Ask yourself this question:
"Do you have a safe and reliable place where all these notes are stored, with clearly identifiable dates and times built in, and which you can search and look at whenever you want?"
To begin with, my notes were sprinkled across a whole universe of different places both analogue and electronic. Frustratingly the time when I really needed the information on a particular note was often the time when I couldn’t find a scrap of paper I’d jotted it down on. Or else I had to trawl through two, three or even four or five electronic locations to find it.
Try another question:
"If your note contains actionable information (check supplies in freezer, call Bob to check timings etc) will that task appear when and where you need it to take action on it?"
I frequently found myself forgetting to do things, which I have clearly intended to do – I’d made a note after all – but I had no reliable way of ensuring that all these tasks appeared when I needed them to.
Aware that this was a problem I would occasionally transcribe actions into a folder that I would maintain on a bring-forward basis.
Remembering which notes I’d taken and where I’d put them was a big problem with this approach, and usually, there was so much friction involved that I just couldn't trust it sufficiently.
Analogue Or Digital?
The first decision you have to make is whether your note is going to be recorded in a physical place with a pen or pencil.
If your choice is to write a note on a physical piece of paper, go right ahead.
You can still get your handwritten note into your paperless system. You might want to do this because it contains information that you need to take action on, or you might need it later for reference.
Follow these steps.
- Open Evernote on your mobile device and press the add new note icon.
- Tap the camera icon, and your camera will then activate.
- If you take a photo now, the image will be stored in Evernote for you.
- Now go to the note you have just created and quickly edit anything you need. For example, you might want to say what it is about or make some checklists.
- If you have made any checklists, tag the note with “taskclone”.
- Finally, decide whether you need to share it with anyone via email (or anything else) via the share icon (square with an up arrow through it).
How To Use An Apple Pencil
If you’re an iPad Pro user, you might be tempted to use your Apple Pencil to capture notes. If so then you will want to download Nebo. This is definitely the best way to take notes using an Apple pencil.
Nebo offers the best solution for confirmed Apple Pencil users. It has a clear way of organising your files in a directory structure. It is also able to convert your pencil input into text – provided you write reasonably clearly.
Follow these steps.
- Open Nebo and make your note.
- Tap Settings (…) in the top right corner and then tap on Convert All.
- Make any corrections which haven’t been transposed correctly.
- Tap Settings again and then Share As Text.
- In the memo that appears, tap Evernote and your note will find its way into Evernote.
- You can then share your note straight out of Nebo if needed.
What To Do On iOS
The best way to take notes on your mobile device is by using Drafts. This is because Drafts provides such a flexible way of moving your short notes into whichever app is bested suited to the purpose you have in mind.
Using Drafts enables you to do everything which requires text entry on one app. This includes:
- Text messages (SMS)
I really encourage you to establish this as a habit because using a single app like this will develop your muscle memory and make capturing your thoughts, ideas, tasks and memories second nature.
Follow these steps when taking notes in Drafts.
- Open Drafts – a new note is instantly available for you.
- If you need to add to a previous note, they are all available for you behind the icon in the top left corner (page with an edge folded over).
- Once finished decide if you want to send the note to Evernote and/or OmniFocus.
- Tap the action button (top right), and a drop-down menu will appear.
- Select your app of choice and tap it.
- Your note is now on its way.
This ability that Drafts has to quickly and seamlessly take action on your notes is why it makes so much sense to use it as your text input app for iOS.
Although all of your notes are kept in the cloud and on your device, there is no Drafts alternative for OSX. If you have been following this workflow that shouldn’t be an issue because you’ve been sending your notes through to Evernote.
There is an alternative strategy to get your notes synced to your MacBook which makes use of nvALT. This is a stripped down, super fast note taking app for OSX. There are complete instructions for connecting it to Drafts here.
What To Do When On OSX
The OSX workflow is hopefully pretty obvious.
- Open Evernote.Write your note.
- Add any checkboxes or calendar entries (prepend with “sch”).
- Tag it with “taskclone”.
- Share it via email or any other route by clicking on the Share button.
- Fill in the drop-down menu and click Share.
It's entirely possible to combine dictation into Siri as part of your note taking workflow. In fact for some people, dictation is the best way to take notes.
Here's what you need to do.
- Visit the IFTTT (If This Then That) website and sign up. IFTTT is a service which links different applications together.
- When you've done that navigate to this page and follow the instructions.
- The next time you need to dictate a quick note it will capture it in Siri, place it in reminders, which IFTTT will automatically sweep up and out into Evernote.
The Drafts app is not available on Android so you will not be able to use Drafts as the ubiquitous text input mechanism.
My advice if you’re in that environment is to create a “Notes” Book in Evernote which you will use as your repository for all of your notes. You can take action on them by using an additional step within Evernote itself. The advice about using TaskClone to link Evernote with your task manager is still relevant.
Now that you've nailed the best way to take notes the next step is to tame your email monster.