The theme of each episode I’m bringing you this month has to do with the tools I use. Today, we talk about how to get started with digital notes.

This month, we’re talking about the tools that help us Get Organized. Today, the topic is digital notes.

Here’s a question posed on a Facebook group dedicated to school administrators:

“I see a need to have a good system of note-taking as an aspiring administrator. I’m leaning towards digital rather than paper note-taking. What device would you recommend, or can you convince me that paper is better?”

So here’s my response:

The word “system” jumps out for me, which is different from “tool.” Your system should allow you to do the following:

  • Enter information in real time. Take notes during the phone call, during the meeting, or when they occur to you as you’re walking down the hall. No “remembering” is required.
  • Enter any “to-do”s related to what you wrote. You don’t need to be flipping back and forth between your notes, your to-do list, and your calendar. Trap it all right there in the body of your notes. Your notes are more complete that way and release the pressure on yourself of having to jump back and forth and run the risk of writing the wrong thing in the wrong place.
  • Allow you to review what you have written during the day. The focus needs to be on what you need to do about what you wrote. Put those “to-dos” on a to-do list.
  • Search your notes. When did you call that parent who is now complaining to the superintendent and what was discussed?

I wrote about using a paper journal in Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders (2nd edition). It’s simple and bulletproof. I approach the topic mainly from the aspect of documentation (phone calls, meeting notes, 1-on-1 conferences).

I use Evernote

For a digital tool, it’s tough to beat Evernote. It is pricey, but I think it’s worth it. There is a free version, but you are limited to two devices (probably your phone and the web on your work computer) and 50 notes. For someone taking lots of notes on the fly, you could have a single note (which would have its own URL), and during the day add to that note. At the end of the day, review the note. Cut and paste the to-dos to your digital task list. Cut and paste the other entries to “where they go” (such as a conversation about textbook selection to the notebook in Evernote you already have that houses other information about textbook selection).

In Evernote, I even have something set up where I can send a text message to a particular number (from my phone or even my watch), and the message is appended to the bottom of that note in Evernote complete with a date and time stamp (using If This Then That to help with the automation). So, even with the free version, you could copy and paste our notes taken on the fly to their appropriate homes, and then highlight and delete the notes. Also, when you need to find something, the search capabilities are the best. Above all, Evernote has an outstanding web clipper.

You could use other note-taking tools

If you are an Apple user, you could use Apple Notes. It will sync between a Mac and iPhone or iPad. If you are heavily into the Microsoft environment, you could use OneNote. In the Google environment, you have a lightweight option called “Google Keep.” And while I think of Google Drive as being more of a filing cabinet for documents, it can be used as a powerful notetaking tool. In the body of the post, I link to an ebook I wrote on that subject. Notion is a popular option, although the learning curve poses a downside.

The people in our lives

Just to give you another example of how I use Evernote, keeping up with our interaction with the people in our lives is important. We’re good at putting phone numbers and email addresses in our contacts, but what about the names of your old college roommate’s kids and a record of what you have talked about during those semi-annual phone calls?

I have a note for the person with permanent info at the top. The rest of the note is and a date-stamped record of communication going bottom up (so that the most recent conversation is at the top).

When you get your friend’s annual Christmas letter, pull up his note on your phone, tap your finger in the body of the note where you would like the letter to go, tap the camera icon within Evernote, and hold your phone over the letter. A picture of that letter now becomes a part of that note in correct chronological order. A search will also search within that letter.

I have a chapter on Evernote in Get Organized! as well as two chapters in my newer book, Get Organized Digitally!: The Educator’s Guide to Time Management.

If you use another tool, do the same thing. Many of the same capabilities are available across the major notetaking tools.

Having a good tool is important. Having a system for exactly how you will use it is the thing that makes the difference.

Look at your own system for digital notetaking. How easy is it to enter information, because if it’s not easy, you won’t use it? How easy is it to search for what you need? What can you do to make it more frictionless?

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