Some Thoughts on Notetaking on the iPad Pro

Update: An Update on Notetaking with iOS and MacOS

Despite being an Apple fangirl of sorts, I haven’t owned an iPad since the iPad 3 (also known as the “new iPad”, the first iPad with Retina, or as I remember it, the dreadfully underpowered iPad). I was never a huge fan of it, found trouble justifying its use, and ended up selling it when I moved.

A few weeks ago, I became the proud owner of a 10.5 inch iPad Pro courtesy of my job (Space Grey, 256GB, Wi-fi, if you’re curious). I suppose running the tech demo space on campus has its perks. Much to my surprise, I’m loving it. In fact, when running to meetings, I’m finding myself reaching for the iPad Pro and leaving my Macbook Pro in my office.

One of the first workflows the iPad Pro challenged me to reevaluate was notetaking. The Apple Pencil gave me a way to take handwritten notes digitally, and as someone who makes every effort to go paperless, I jumped at the chance. I tend to prefer handwritten notes in a number of circumstances throughout my day:

  • Planning out my day
  • Meetings
  • Interviewing new employees
  • In Class
  • General notes and doodles

After trying a number of apps, hoping to stumble upon the perfect one, I’ve come to the conclusion that one app may not be the way to go in cases like these.

Day Planning

For planning my day, I prefer Notability. While the majority of my planning is done through Google Calendar and Omnifocus, I still do appreciate having a detailed list of everything I need to do in a day to check off as I go. Only important things are in Omnifocus, and until manual sorting is added, the list is often out of order from when I actually plan to do it. Notability provides the best format for writing out my day, Bullet Journal style, and I prefer the Subject/Divider with individual notes organization.

Meetings

I actually gave up handwritten notes in meetings. I think part of me prefers the privacy of typing on a propped up screen as opposed to scribbling on my screen laying flat on a table for everyone to see. For this, I’m using a split screen set up with the shared meeting agenda in Google Docs on the right and my personal meeting notes stored in Evernote on the right. (You read that right, I’m using Evernote. More on that in a later post).

Interviewing Employees

This was the scenario that drew me to the iPad Pro. Several times a year, I have to hire a number of students to work in my office. Such is life when your employee pool is based on a group that leaves every 4 years. My prior workflow involved printing out resumes which I’d review and annotate. Candidates that made the cut are invited to an interview. Before each interview, I’d print out a checklist that I’d take notes on as the interview progressed.

For this workflow, Goodnotes was perfect. Unlike Notability, notes are organized into Notebooks with actual pages. Goodnotes allows me to have a single notebook for a round of hiring. Another feature that makes Goodnotes the winner is that I can set the page template to be the interview checklist. Instead of printing a new checklist for every candidate, I just swipe to a new page now.

In Class

While I’m not in a class at the moment, I can see Goodnotes being my pick for taking notes in my classes too. The ability to annotate articles and store handwritten notes side seems best suited to this app. Classes also lend themselves to Goodnotes’ notebook format nicely as well.

General Notes and Doodles

For simple notes, I’m finding myself using Apple Notes. Apple Notes doesn’t offer as many ways to customize the writing style, it does offer a nice feature of being available from the lock screen. In iOS 11, a simple tap to the lockscreen with the Apple Pencil opens up a new note. This is perfect for jotting down something quick.

(Tip: In Settings > Notes, you can tell Apple Notes to display lines or grids when writing handwritten notes instead of just a blank canvas.)

Honorable mention:

There’s one app that I don’t use all that often, but it’s so darn cool I’ve not managed to remove it from my iPad just yet, and that’s Nebo. In terms of organizing notes, Nebo’s structure is a lot like Notability, but it has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. Scratching through something you’ve written erases it (like crossing it out on paper, but better) Drawing lines between letters or words separates or joins them.

And then there’s there are the features that are just magical. Double-tapping on handwritten text with your finger converts it to text. This also works with diagrams and mathematical equations. In the past, I’ve spent hours on my Mac crafting professional looking diagrams and flow charts to explain workflows to my colleagues. With Nebo, the process takes minutes.

Do you have any tips or tricks for notetaking on your iPad Pro? Another app mention? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’re using.

Update: An Update on Notetaking with iOS and MacOS

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My Personal Reading Workflow

Having recently joined a book club, my personal reading habit has started returning back to normal levels.  Having recently wrote about how I read for grad school, I thought it might be interesting to detail how I go about reading for fun too.

First things first, I almost always pick the Kindle version when possible. They’re delivered instantly, don’t take up any space, and I honestly prefer the reading experience more than I do with physical books. I get most through my local library’s website, but occasionally I will buy them through Amazon or check them out through the Kindle Lending Library. Since Kindle Lending Library books have to be read on a Kindle (not just the app) this is usually last resort, but it’s nice for books that aren’t available from my library that I don’t want to buy.

Once I’ve picked a book to read (and I’m usually reading a few at a time), I set up a project in Omnifocus. I have a template saved in Keyboard Maestro. Triggering it prompts me for the book’s title and author, and then generates a project with corresponding tasks for progressing in the book in 10% increments, along with one final task which I’ll get to in a second. I also add the book to my currently reading list on GoodReads just for good measure.

For the actually reading, I use either the Kindle app for Mac or my Kindle Paperwhite. Even several years old, the Paperwhite is still one of my favorite devices and my preferred way to read. As I’m reading, I take notes on or highlight anything that seems worth remembering using the Kindle app or Paperwhite.

Once I’ve finished a book, my final task before marking my book project complete is to export my highlights and notes. To do this I use a bookmarklet called Bookcision, which exports your notes and highlights in plain text. From there, I copy them into a repository. Any sort of destination will do. I’m currently using Evernote, but have used Day One in the past. I do this so that I can search across all my highlights and notes, which not only helps with recalling what I’ve read but helps to establish connections between books I might not have otherwise seen.

I hope this has been helpful. Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping track of and remembering what you read? If so, I’d love to hear them!

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An Updated Look at Digital Planning

Today, I thought I’d share an update about how my planning system has evolved. To my surprise it’s working out great, and yes, I’m still all digital. I’ve made some tweaks and changes here and there, but the main set up of my system has stayed fairly consistent.

  1. Calendar – Google Calendar
  2. Task List – Omnifocus
  3. Daily Habits – Habit List
  4. Information – Evernote, Box, Google Drive

My calendar set up hasn’t really changed much since my last post. I’m still using my many Google calendars, but I’ve gotten rid of some and added some new ones. As of now this is my list:

  • Personal
  • Finance
  • School
  • Work
  • Home (a calendar shared with my mom so that I know when she will be home)
  • Student Employee Schedule

The next part of my system is my task list. I wrote a few posts about how I used Things. For now, Things is no longer part of my system, and I’ve moved over to Omnifocus. I’ve had to sacrifice Things’ pretty UI, but Omnifocus has made up for it with features like due dates with TIMES and perspectives. I’ll save the full Omnifocus write up for another day, but for now, let’s just say, perspectives are life changing.

I keep my habits separate from Omnifocus. There are some things like going to work, working out when I wake up, or flossing where seeing the chain of consecutive days I’ve done the task serves as major motivation {Thank you Jerry Seinfeld}. For tasks like these, I’m using Habit List which seems to offer the best mix of customization and looks that I’ve seen.

All my information (files, reference materials, etc.) are stored in 1 of 3 places. Evernote is my place for general notes (e.g. reading notes, project ideas, random recipes, and other miscellaneous information I want to refer back to.) My university Box account holds all of my school and work files. Google Drive holds the rest of my files that aren’t work or school related. All of these sync to my computer and mobile devices so everything is with me at all times.

Bonus (Journaling and Health/Fitness Tracking):

I’ve been trying to do better at recording things that happen in my life. For those I use a few apps.

Momento serves as my “journal”. It pulls my various social media feeds in automatically, and I try to log 3 things I’m grateful for each night before bed here as well. I’ve found that it’s a nice way to wrap up the night in a positive way, and scrolling back through the days to see the little things that made me happy is also pretty cool.

I track my health using a combination of apps. With the Fitbit Force being recalled, I’ve switched to the Jawbone Up 24 as my primary fitness band. The UP app is pretty awesome, and it records my steps, sleep, and a plethora of other things. I still use my Fitbit Aria scale so I do still use Fitbit, but the scale syncs to MyFitnessPal which syncs with the Up band. I also use MyFitnessPal which seems to offer more options for logging workouts and food. Together these apps work great together. Just this past week, I had been waking up in the middle of the night, and without these apps, I probably wouldn’t have ever noticed that I was waking up at exactly the same time each night presumably due to something happening in my room at that time.

So I hope you’ve found this little overview of how I stay semi-organized. Let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like to hear more about anything.

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