Note taking on your mobile device

Couple weeks ago I’ve attended WordCampIrl conference in Kilkenny. The event was dedicated to learning about blogging, social media and WordPress as publishing platform.It was a great event and I’ve got to talk to some great people also I’ve learned a lot new things about blogging, writing and using new media.
Note taking was one of the main activities during that weekend as some of the sessions were jam packed with useful information tips, software recommendations etc.
I was looking at other people and ways they were using to take notes and at least a third of people used an iPhone for that. Others were using various types of notepads and I stuck with my Filofax. What surprised me a little was there were not that many people taking notes on their laptops.

As I’m considering purchase of an iPhone or an Android based phone (my pick is HTC Desire to be released on 3 Apr.) I’m looking at various usage scenarios. One of them is note taking and idea capture. Currently this is handled by the inbox section in my Filofax and a stack of scrap paper if I’m not taking the Filofax with me.
Both phones or platforms as I should say have some native note taking clients which seem to do the job. Unfortunately with default clients your are quite limited as to what you can do with the notes, where can you sync them etc.

Decided to do some research and look for some popular note taking applications that caught my eye, and fit in to my current setup. NOTE: I have not tested these applications and below are my findings.

MobileNoter – gateway to Onenote, iPhone. This application allows you to synchronize your OneNote notebooks with your iphone. As this is a early release the functionality is not very broad but it’s good for jotting down some notes. Current version supports text notes with other features coming soon.  If you are a heavy user of MS OneNote this application is great for keeping copy of errands to run, some reference information etc.

Evernote – everywhere, anytime, platform agnostic. Evernote is a real powerhouse if you look at note taking space. They provide a great application that allows you to take text, pictures, recordings and drawing note anywhere and have it synced with the cloud. You can use any device you want because they have a client for every smartphone platform and when you can’t use the dedicated device there is always the web interface. This let’s you take notes, researched anywhere, regardless of available device.

Awesome Note lite – For starters this application has great interface. You start with a set of tabs that represent different categories of lists/notes then each note is represented by a small sheet with visible first couple words.  As for the note taking functionality you can use text, images. Notes can be catalogued into folders that are password protected and  full text search will let you find any note very quickly. You can transfer your notes by sending  them via email or to Evernote.

Note Everything – this is an Android application which provides usual set of features like text, audio and  photo notes, checklists. Once captured notes can be send via email or text message (SMS). Some additional features include reminders that can be assigned to each note, option to backup your notes to sd-card.  This looks like a solid replacement for the default client with all in one functionality.

Android applications look useful and provide comparable functionality, and the phone experience itself looks very compelling. However options available on iPhone are much more refined visually and from the user experience. iPhone had obviously some three year head start and that shows as the android apps are still rough around the edges.

Dealing with backlogs the MAD way

Recently I’ve read a book Focus: Use the Power of Targeted Thinking to Get More Done” by Jurgen Wolff and came across very interesting approach in dealing with backlogs.It’s called “MAD” which stands for Massive Action Day. The main idea behind this is that you make your self completely unavailable, set a side a specified amount of time and tasks to work on and don’t stop until the time is up or the tasks are done.
Although I don’t think it’s practical and useful to use it on a daily basis as it can be massive distraction for normal course of the day. Also maintaining this approach for longer periods of time will burn you out. It’s main aim is to let you catch up on things rather than make this a standard process.
How do you start with implementing this? There are three stages of using MAD.

Preparation

  • In this phase you prepare your list of tasks to be completed.
  • Gather necessary tools and materials to work on selected tasks with as little distractions as possible.
  • Decide on the amount of time you want to dedicate to MAD.
  • Tell any one that you’re not available and ensure all means of communicating with are limited only to emergencies.
  • Prepare water and some healthy light snacks available. You won’t be able to keep going once your sugar hits low levels.

Execution

  • Focus on one task at a time and work on it untill completed then move to the next.
  • Avoid jumping from one task to the other.
  • Take breaks every 45 to 90 minutes so your brain can catch a breath and relax for couple minutes.
  • Continue to work on your task until you reach your time limit.

Review

  • Once your time is up review completed work and summarise results.
  • Mark off finished actions and list remaining items.
  • Take a break from any further work by going for walk or meeting with someone ect. Give your body and brain especially some down time.
  • Do anything that allow you to refresh and regenerate after making great effort.
  • Celebrate accomplished actions. Most definitely you’ve completed many items.

If you know and use any other techniques to go through the backlogs please leave the comment below.

Is computer blocking your productivity?

Chances are that you spend a lot of time at your computer. Chances are that most of the things you produce is through the use of a computer.
Using computer to complete any tasks creates an assumption that it will make you more productive, that you will finish tasks faster and with better quality.

This is possible once you learn how to use computer effectively.

Essentially computer is just a tool that we as users need to learn. It’s no different from hammer or wrench. To make the most out a tool you need to learn the tool, know it’s limitations and strengths.

There are four main barriers that prevent most people from using computers with maximum efficiency. Getting past these four obstacles will impact you in two ways.

  • It will save you time by reducing the amount needed to complete work.
  • It will allow you to increase your output.

And it’s not about learning crazy hacks and secret commands, it’s more about finding ways of smarter use of computer with solutions that are readily available.

  1. Slow typing – as most of the information that is passed through the computer is text a slow typing can be a real problem. Solution to this is to learn touch typing. This way you will increase your output and save time. There are plenty of online tools to learn speed typing. I’ve tried these two.  Also if you want to practice your speed and have some fun with it here is a list of touch typing games.
    And you you look for some tangible effects of learning touch typing check out this calculator. It should give you a rough idea.
  2. Mouse – mouse is a great pointing device and is very useful when you need precision. but doing anything with mouse is in most cases longer as you need to navigate various menu option to find the right command. You can increase speed and don’t break the motions by learning keyboard shortcuts for your mostly used actions and commands. Starting with the obvious for many like ctrl+c to copy etc. Go inline and look for a help of your favourite program see what are the mostly used actions and learning the shortcuts.
    You may think that learning this is a waste of time but consider the fact that computer and software are the work tools and to be a master of your work you need to MASTER the tools.
  3. Repeating text – if you are a writer or a programmer many times you write the same pieces of text time and time again. Even if you are in sales or any other job you find your self repeatedly writing signatures, web addresses, letter openings etc. The solution to this is using so called text expansion software. It allows to generate predefined text by typing single word or specific combination of letters. The widely popular  is TextExpander on Mac and Texter on Windows. I’m using a free version of well known Active Words program. If you wonder how much you can save by using this type of software here is a handy link to Harvard Busines Review blog post by Gina Trappani.
  4. Navigation – All of the  applications and documents are stored in folders and subfolders thus making it time consuming to navigate into right location and the added complication is remembering the location. The simplest solution to this is using a program launcher. The more popular are Launchy and FARR which beyond launching applications and documents can be expanded via additional add-on. This way you can post to twitter, facebook, update calendar add new tasks etc.  If you need something simpler I recommend using the Windows 7 and Vista search bar. It’s very simple to use -hit windows key and type the name of the document or program.

If you know any more tips and strategies which improve productivity and interaction with computer please share them in in the comments section.