In 2015 we have so many options available to take notes. Laptops, iPads, iPhones, smart pens and the like. Almost the every other app in the productivity section of the App Store advertises some type of life changing note taking experience. I'll admit I've been on an extensive journey over the past few years to discover what works best for me. What does that mean, "best for me"? Everyone is different. I'm not going to tell you that this is the way it should be done or the "best" way to take notes. This is what works for me. If it works for you that's great. Perhaps there is something that you can use in your workflow. I take notes very seriously. When I'm with a customer or a colleague my notes are usually the only take-away from the interaction that I will take action on. I want my notes to come out, almost artful.
When the iPad came out I had visions of it taking over my note taking experience. I envisioned either typing notes onto the iPad or using some sort of stylus to capture handwriting. For me after several years of trial and error, neither is perfect. Typing requires a lot of concentration (mostly focused on hitting the right keys on the virtual keyboard). Some of the best apps for capturing handwriting with the best stylus ever manufactured for the iPad still doesn't capture my writing in a way that makes me happy. There's also a lot of fiddling to make it just right to get a good final product. When I'm meeting with someone I want my attention to be on them and the conversation, not managing the technology.
About six months ago I came to a realization. It occurred to me that the real reason I wanted to digitize my note taking was for storage, search and portability. I realized that I could have that without taking my notes in a digital medium. Let's come back to that in a moment.
Many studies have shown including my experience that your mind is able to retain information faster when you write it. I remember my 4th grade teacher making us hand write out spelling words to help commit them to memory. I've noticed that notes I've taken by hand verses notes taken via typing are much more at the front of my mind. I find it easier to remember people's names and the spellings of their names when I've written it, by hand.
The conclusion was that I should go back to using a pen a paper for taking notes. Yes I'm aware how "90s" that is of me. I get the product I want plus the speed and mental cognition benefits. Also it's faster to start taking a note. I've found that I'm notebook fickle. Sometimes I like a legal pad, sometimes sticky notes, sometimes I like my Moleskin notebook. I switch these things out based on my mood and the situation. Moleskin usually for client meetings. Pens are another story all together which I won't get into here.
The next step was digitizing and making notes portable. I've been an avid Evernote user for years and Evernote has always been at the front of my workflows. I created a notebook called notes. Using the Scannable app (by Evernote) on my iPhone, I'm able to quickly scan a single or multiple pages, name them, and get them quickly into a specific notebook. A 3 page set of notes takes me about a minute, start to finish. I can add a title such as "Sales Meeting 7/14/15" as the note title or a client name. The title in Scannable becomes the note title in Evernote. My handwriting is fairly legible so Evernote picks up a lot of my hand writing through text recognition. Now I can pull up any of my previous notes from my phone, laptop, iPad or the web. It also makes sharing notes easier with colleagues.
At the end of every day I take 10 minutes and go through my notebook of the day and get the notes into Evernote. This process works with all kinds of paper. I find myself jotting little things on small scraps of paper. Having a storage location for that which is organized chronologically is extremely useful. I can now answer the question of "where is that piece of paper I had in my hand last week". The only downside with Scannable, for me, is it's inability to add tags as part of the Evernote export process. I have a special notebook specifically for all my handwritten notes and tags become the organization within that notebook. As a workaround, I spend 15 minutes once a week in Evernote on the Mac adding tags to my scanned notes.
I hope this inspires you to improve your note taking workflow and improve your productivity. I can tell you that just having a central, searchable repository for all my hand written notes has been a life changing experience. When asked a question about something in the past, I'm now able to recall that information faster and provide the exact notations that were originally discussed on the topic.