Take note

Software that captures inspiration

Over the next few issues, Paul Kilbank — a Toronto-based tech expert, consultant and frequent visitor to Japan — will be covering the many ways you can harness technology at the workplace to increase your productivity. His first article looks at note-taking software that lets you capture ideas and collect information any time.

Digital note-taking software is certainly a huge step forward from memo pads and sticky notes. It offers new capabilities far beyond word processors and text editors, which still serve as a digital dumping ground for many well-intended note takers.

The dated term “note taking” really understates the value of many advanced tools to collect and organize different forms of multimedia. Plain text notes remain important but our digital world today embraces audio, images and video. And, just like those fleeting thoughts on a long train ride, it is critical that useful information, found on websites, Slack, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, can be captured on any device — at that very moment.

Taming Chaos

So, what is note-taking software? Perhaps it’s best described simply as software that lets you easily collect information and ideas in a single place. For many people this brings welcome relief in our chaotic and overwhelming digital world.

A good place to start searching for the right software is your smartphone’s app store, as notes are frequently created on a mobile device. Remember to check that your preferred option is available across whatever platforms you use, be they macOS, Windows, iOS or Android.

You’ll also find useful insights in the many product reviews now widely posted on media websites and productivity blogs. Be sure to scan the feature lists though, as emailing, clipping, organizing and sharing vary significantly by software developer.

Digital Toolkit

If you lack the time to explore, or are unsure about features, below are a few popular options with Japanese language support. All of them are available free, but heavy users may need to buy an Evernote subscription or extra cloud storage with other software.

Evernote: Respected market leader with powerful features that include a web clipper, as well as email forwarding and scanning capabilities, and custom tags.

Microsoft OneNote: Offers features comparable to Evernote for most users, with a more free-form approach to creating notes.

Apple Notes: Integrates Notes into iOS and macOS for users who are looking for a simple approach with basic searching and sharing ability, folders, image markup and website capture.

Google Keep: Offers a minimalist tool for those Google Drive fans who are looking for more advanced searching, sharing and website clipping capabilities, as well as labels.

And corporate users should remember to check internal policies regarding cloud service use and data security rules.

Whether it’s an upcoming family holiday or a company marketing event, note-taking software lets you capture ideas and collect information anytime.

First Steps

What’s the best approach after activating your note taking software? Consider a few simple projects to explore the application.

Personal hobbies and vacation plans are great candidates and free from the stress of office deadlines. Ideally, these projects will be at different stages. This lets you touch the full range of features before tackling a major project.

Here are a few best practices to consider:

  • Use the tool as a sole repository. Don’t strand your ideas in email inboxes or hide website links in browser history.
  • Make your website entries useful. Include a descriptive title, source URL and a reminder about why you saved the link.
  • Set up access on all your devices. Add scanning software so you can easily bring physical documents into the digital world.
  • Add document tags. These allow you to quickly search for information and ideas across notebooks and notes.
  • Clean up when a project is finished. Decide what notes to keep or throw out, and what new tags could help future searches.

So start capturing those great ideas digitally, whether you’re multitasking at the office, riding a late-night train or chatting in a coffee shop. And relax, knowing with confidence that you can use your note-taking software later to review and organize all the project information.