October 22, 2011

My Quest for A Paper-Less Note Taking Solution

Several months ago I wrote a post about my process for finding order and sanity in my work by researching, selecting, and implementing a method and set of tools for managing my projects and tasks. This quest led me to decide on and implement the GTD method for task management and install an application suite called Omnifocus to handle the process electronically. Over the last few months I have been working on improving my use of both the method and the software. Along the way, I have uncovered some areas where the new system has helped me improve my efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, I have discovered some additional areas to improve upon. I will address some of these in my next few posts.

The first area I want to discuss is that of note taking and management. If you recall from my previous post, I was mostly using a paper-based system involving Moleskine notebooks. What I began to realize as I started getting used to putting all my projects and tasks in Omnifocus software, was that while I did not have a consistent process for reviewing my notes and transferring the information to my computer-based system. Whether in a meeting, at a conference, brainstorming with others, or just sitting at my desk thinking, I was always taking notes. Most were related to one of my projects or tasks. And many included to do items. I was not always getting these items on my task list.

So I began a new quest. This time to see if I could bring my note taking and management process online. I started by reviewing my paper-based process to make sure I understood what worked with that system. And to understand where the gaps where. That system worked great for quickly capturing information and the style of notebook I used worked like a mini whiteboard (blank pages) so I could take different types of notes in one place. But, the process for finding the notes later was tedious and there was no connection to my online system.

So I needed a system that would work with both my Apple iPad and iPhone. And would allow me to easily move information from the note app to the task management app. I also needed to define a process for using them together. I quickly narrowed my search to a few apps and began using them daily. In fact, to really test my process, I stopped using my paper system entirely to see if I could get by with a completely automated system. For the last several months, I have been using Omnifocus to track my projects and tasks, and a set of notebook apps to handle my notes.

My results thus far have been mixed. While I have been able to get by without using paper, I have found that there are some things that paper is just better for right now. For example, if I need to quickly jot something down, there is not a fast way to do that with a tablet or smartphone. And, if I want to quickly draw something, it can be done but not easily. However, the new system has provided an easy way to move information between different systems. And most importantly, it has provided a way to quickly find information in my notes, even if they were written days or months ago. So I am missing fewer action items.

After all, I still have to get the to-dos done.

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