Note-taking for me has been something of a thorny issue for many years. I’m always on the lookout for a quick and easy way to capture my thoughts when I’m out and about and away from my computer. I have tried more or less everything but after many years of struggle I have finally found the best solution, for me at least.

 

Tablets and Smartphones

I have been through a ton of these devices, from a Nexus 7 and iPad Mini to an iPod Touch and a Samsung Galaxy phone. I have tried them with their own notes apps, such as iOS Notes, with the big-hitters such as Evernote and OneNote, and a whole host of note-taking apps in between. Some of them have been pretty good. Some have been awful. Evernote started out really good and I used it for a long time but over the years it was progressively deteriorated with each update until I eventually found it unusable. It is a classic example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. They kept removing features I loved and adding ones I had zero need for. It is a shame; for a while it was my solution to note-taking.
OneNote kind of went the other way. It started off a joke on non-Windows devices but improved steadily to a point where it looked great on iOS and Android versions and the syncing between your devices was peerless. In the end though, I ultimately still found using it on a Smartphone was a bit of a faff.
Over time, iOS Notes quietly emerged as one of my favourite ways to take notes electronically. It lacks the bells and whistles of the big boys but it does work really well for quick notes. It is, however, highly Apple-focussed. You can access your notes in Windows through the browser app but Android users are still turned away from the party.

 

Audio recording

Some people swear by keeping a Dictaphone in their pocket. It is certainly a quick way to capture your thoughts. Just push a button and dictate! Smartphones can be used for audio recordings too, but are usually more of a fiddle as you have to unlock the screen and then find the icon for your voice recording app. But it is still an option that many people find useful.
I don’t. What if a great idea strikes you when you’re on a bus or train, or at a concert? It would take a special kind of self-esteem to whip out a gadget and start speaking into it in those circumstances. And some people simply don’t like the sound of their own voice anyway (granted, some do).
Another drawback is finding the note later. It is hidden away in your device, whether on tape or digital, and if you make a lot of recordings it would be easy to lose one or two. It isn’t for me.

 

The solution?

Brace yourself. It is called a notebook and pen. Okay, sit down for a moment while you recover from the shock. It is as simple as good old-fashioned writing things down. I always have a small notebook with pen attached in my pocket. It is by far the quickest way I have found of capturing thoughts and ideas. With my phone I need to swipe the screen and then try to get the thing to recognize my thumb print, then find the icon for the notes app, and then put on my reading glasses so that I can peck away at the tiny on-screen keyboard. There’s also the constant worry of battery life.
A notebook doesn’t need batteries. You just open it and write. I don’t need to put on my reading glasses because I can scrawl well enough without them. It is simple, fast, reliable. I keep a notepad by my bed in case I think of something in the middle of the night, and again, it is easier to scribble something half blind than trying to adjust your eyes to a glaring phone screen. Notebooks are wonderful.

 

But written notes can’t sync with my computer!

People get way too hung up on this. Notes are meant to be quick ideas and snippets. You’re not going to write War And Peace while you’re sat on the bus! When I return to my laptop and start writing in Scrivener I can have my notebook open beside me to refer to my notes. If they were buried somewhere within Evernote I’d have to keep switching between programs to refer to my moments of inspiration. With written notes I can glance at them even as I’m typing. I don’t need to transfer them to my computer. Even if I did, most notes apps these days let you take a snapshot of your hand-written page using the camera on your phone or tablet, but I rarely find need to do that. It is a system that works beautifully for me and I’ve been far more productive since I realised how simple and efficient it is. I recommend you give it a try. You too may find that tech for the sake of it is not always the best solution.

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