For many people, the transition from paper-based notes, be they personal or professional, to an electronic note-taking application (such as Evernote) is a painful one. The discomfort is sometimes borne of the not-easily-dismissed stress of adopting a new approach to taking notes when an existing system has worked somewhere between sufficiently and superbly for many years and is familiar, comfortable, and reliable. And, with few exceptions, paper notes in a reliable workflow don’t end up lost or corrupted by data errors. In other cases, the discomfiture may be a result of too many available choices among solutions, and little desire to spend the money or time to investigate the options, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each, and finally settle on an app to replace a paper system.
I’m going to suggest two solutions for avoiding this stress during the transition, and these solutions will allow you to return to a strictly paper-based note taking system any time you like without having lost anything along the way!
Keep your paper notes
First, don’t eliminate your paper notes. They’ve served you well for years, presumably, or you wouldn’t still be using them. Continue to use them. Take notes, jot ideas, sketch designs, draw little connecting arrows to relate ideas to each other. Do whatever currently works for you, and do it on paper.
If you aren’t currently tagging notes when you take them on paper, consider starting now. They aren’t searchable, of course, using an electronic system (yet), but you can quickly skim the bottom line of pages in a notepad and look for tags far quicker than you can read the titles of multiple notes. For example, if I had been drafting ideas for this note in my Moleskine pad, I might have tagged the bottom of the page with #lifehack #evernote #paper-transition or something similar. The use of the hash mark (#) to indicate a topical tag may be unfamiiar to you if you’ve never seen Twitter posts or content streaming from Twitter to a news site. Fear not; all the # sign does is indicate a topic tag follows it. You don’t need to use the mark as long as you always write the tags in the same section of the page and only use that section for topic tags.
However, it would make me really happy if Evernote would figure out that converting such handwriting to actual tags for existing tags within Evernote is a really good idea. More on that in a bit…
Start using Evernote
Really. Just start using it. Download it to your smartphone or tablet, or browse to evernote.com from your computer. You can save pretty much anything you want in Evernote as a note: an actual note, a list, a checklist, a photo, a web clipping, a set of URLs as bookmarks, etc. Steve Dotto has a great video demonstrating several awesome uses of Evernote in an easy-to-follow format. Play around with Evernote after watching the video. The app is free (unless you want to upgrade to premium for the astoundingly low price of $5 a month). You don’t need to stress at all about using the app instead of your paper notes. Just play with the app’s features. And, if you like Moleskine notebooks, Evernote and Moleskine have a great deal where you buy a Moleskine notebook for basically what you’d pay for it anyway, and it comes with three months of free Evernote premium. A bonus is the size of these notebooks is configured to be readily compatible with the Evernote photo-taking feature. Regardless, it is fully capable of taking whatever photos you want to upload.
The following recommendations worked for me, and they’ve worked for quite a number of other people to whom I’ve made these recommendations. They don’t work for everyone, but with some modifications to suit your personal work style, they ought to work for you.
- Take your notes on paper, the way you’re accustomed to doing. Jot a quick topical tag or two at the bottom of the first page of a set of notes about a given subject or meeting.
- Take a photo of each note page with your iPhone or Android phone camera. You can leave it as a photo or convert it to a PDF using something like Scanner Pro for the iPhone, which is what I use. If I’m in a hurry, I leave it as a photo.
- Do whatever you would normally do with those paper notes to save them—file them, add them to a topical folder, or leave them in your notebook. Don’t do anything to change how you currently treat your paper notes.
- When you have time, preferably soon, use Evernote to add a new note about your note-taking subject (say, a meeting), and add the photos of your paper notes or the PDF of your paper notes to this new note. You can also add additional text. Take the time to tag the note with a few significant keywords. You can use them for search later. Evernote will also convert handwriting or text in your photos to searchable text. Title the note something meaningful for the way you take notes and refer back to them. You can always change this later, even by creating additional notebooks for major subjects, or personal vs. work, or however you segregate your major note groupings. Remember to include the page number (if your notebook has page numbers) for where you can find the paper note.
- If you need to find notes quickly, or even if you have some time, use Evernote first to search for them. You will locate them more quickly, and often Evernote will find other notes you may have forgotten about but to which you want to refer.
Even if you never eliminate your paper-based note-taking system, you will have added one of the most reliable cloud-based backup methods available to your note-taking method, gained the ability to search your notes, and enabled the ability to find your notes from any internet-connected computing platform you may be using.
I’m going to suggest two solutions for avoiding this stress during the transition, and these solutions will allow you to return to a strictly paper-based note taking system any time you like.
Take care, and enjoy life,