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Mobile App Review: Notetakers, Part 1
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Mobile App Review: Notetakers, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Mobile App Review: Notetakers, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Mobile App Review: Notetakers, Part 1

Most of us have some physical, real-world version of a carryall, a container for things we might need later but don’t have time to deal with now. On our desks at work, it might be a manila folder labeled “to file,” or in our briefcases and backpacks, it’s a pocket reserved for receipts, business cards, sticky notes, and other saved reminders. Many people carry a bound journal of blank pages, such as a Moleskine, or a spiral notepad) for scribbling reminders, interesting quotes, and quick doodles, or they just use their camera phones for capturing anything they want to save for later, including quick photos of websites they’re looking at or to-do lists jotted quickly on whiteboards.

The mobile notetaking app is a version of the physical carryall, with most of the drawbacks you’d expect in not being physical containers, and with many of the advantages that come from being mobile and digital. With notetaking apps, you can get back to your desk with your collection of newly acquired business cards, spend a few minutes taking photos of each, and then throwing the cards away so they don’t accumulate the way they always do. Thoughts you scribble during impromptu meetings can be tagged for quick access later, and then filed or discarded as necessary when you’re finished with them, or shared with others for review and collaboration.

There are so many things we collect (URLs, lists, reminders, brainstorming, doodles, phone numbers, business cards, receipts, recipes, quotes, photos, driving directions, entire magazine articles) that a good notetaking app will either attempt to structure itself to accommodate all the specific anticipated uses, or it will provide nearly no structure at all, letting the user sort through the collection as needed, providing a means for organization (tagging, filing, and binding) that’s customizable but not use-specific. Either way, it can be overwhelming to figure out what you really want to do with a notetaking app, so the best advice is to take a look at what’s out there, ask a few friends what they use, and then go all-in on one, giving yourself a fair amount of time to get used to it. Find one or two good, early uses of the app, and really use it. Then, as you get comfortable with those uses, add one or two more, exploring what else is offered, perhaps by asking around again. Whenever you find yourself saying, “I wish it could do…,” make a note of that for later. When you’ve become something of a pro with the one app, take a look around to see if other apps feature items on your wish list. For this review, we’ll focus on apps that come with a lot of structure.

The two monsters in the notetaking space are Evernote and Microsoft OneNote. In application and basic structure, they are very similar. Each has a desktop app, a web interface, and a mobile app for any platform you use, and chances are good that your desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet already came with one of them pre-loaded. Each has a free version, with extra features available for annual fees, each handles multiple file types, including image files and PDFs, and each syncs across platforms, so all your notes are available wherever are. Each has available templates for specific uses (lists, for example, or reminders). In all your general-use ways, they are pretty close to identical in function, so if you don’t have an early preference, use whatever came with your platform, and then you can try the other and compare. If you’re already familiar with one, it won’t take you long to get used to the other.

As carryall apps, they work quickly and well, once you’re used to incorporating them into your workflow. From your computer, you can copy and paste a URL for future reading, or you can highlight a block of text you wish to save, copying and pasting the selected text into a new note. Another, often quicker idea is to install a browser plug-in that lets you highlight text, click a button, and watch as your notetaking app automatically creates a new note with a clickable link and the text you highlighted. From your mobile device, it can be even quicker: you select the text, use whatever “send” or “share” gestures are resident in the system, and you’ll see Evernote or OneNote as a sharing option, right there with options to send as a text message or email.

Neither option has a built-in advantage over the other: the real differences come down to preferences and current workflow. If you’re already using a ton of MS apps, including OneDrive, OneNote is probably the better choice, at least for starters. Evernote’s fans tend to be a bit more fanatical, almost evangelical, and seem happy to share the exciting things they’ve done with it, so if you’re the type to pick up tricks from friends, Evernote might be the better place to start. Premium accounts also include integration with Feedly.

Whichever you get started with, your experience will be enhanced with three additions to your flow: first, commit to a certain length of time, during which you’ll use it as much as possible, after which you will evaluate your preferences and compare it with other options. Second, find a few friends with whom you will discuss, on a regular basis, how you’re using the app. Third, spend some dedicated time weekly (or every other week) just for organizing your notes, even if all you do is go through them and keep or discard them. Like that “to be filed” folder on your physical desk, it can become an intimidating, messy pile you’ll avoid if you let it get out of control. Take the time to file, tag, discard, or otherwise review your notes on a regular basis, and you’ll discover new uses for the app. Chances are excellent that a good notetaking app is something you didn’t know you were missing for years.

 

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Mobile App Review: Notetakers, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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