Taking notes is a seemingly simple topic, and one that doesn’t necessarily fit the typical customer experience content published here. But, as I told the members of the VIP List a couple weeks ago, the tools (Evernote and Livescribe) and processes I’m using have helped me deliver better service with less effort, so I felt it might be able to help others as well. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments.
The Pen is Mightier
The majority of my notes are still created with a pen. Regardless of what anyone tries to tell me, this is still the best way to take notes. I’ve tried a bunch of apps on the iPhone and iPad and nothing comes close to the convenience and speed of a handwritten note.
This used to be a problem for me because I didn’t have a good way to get my handwritten notes transcribed into a digital and searchable format. I could scan and upload them to Evernote, which isn’t a terrible solution, but I’m a little too lazy for that. The bigger issue was that my handwritten notes never had the structure that my typed notes possessed. This was largely because of the situations that warranted quick, handwritten notes: meetings, conference calls, short visits with clients, etc. The end result was typically a mess of notes that made little sense to me a week later.
Then I found Livescribe and everything changed.
The Mightier Pen
I started using a Livescribe Smartpen about 8 months ago. Here are the major benefits I’ve seen so far:
- Visually records everything I write
- Allows for easy upload of my notes to the Livescribe Desktop app
- Creates (incredibly awesome) searchable notes
- Records audio with the notes and links them together
- Allows for simple upload from Livescribe to Evernote
The Livescribe pen solved my previous problems with handwritten notes. They now have structure because I can simply tap on any note and hear the audio that took place at that instant. They’re also uploaded into digital format and made searchable by Livescribe’s impressive desktop app. Here are a couple of quick videos from Livescribe that show what the pen can do.
Note Taken…Now Help Me Find It!
The search feature in the Livescribe Desktop application is just awesome. Evernote’s handwriting recognition technology is good, but from what I’ve seen, Livescribe’s is waaaaay better. You can upload Livescribe notes directly into Evernote, which I’ve been doing, but I still do all of my handwritten note searches in the Livescribe app. This is a bit of a pain, but I’ve learned to deal with it. Here’s a video I made that shows the same search for handwritten text in Evernote and Livescribe.
Livescribe Makes Me Better
This solution gives me the best of both worlds. I can take handwritten notes, easily search them on my computer, and even listen to the conversation that was taking place when I wrote them. It helps me give better information to our developers, which results in better software changes and improved value to our customers. It also provides a great way to prepare for client follow up meetings. Being able to review my notes and know exactly what we talked about at a previous meeting gives me a leg up on pretty much everyone before I even walk in the door.
The Livescribe Tools I Recommend
- Livescribe Echo SmartPen – I’m using the Pulse model, but I’d definitely get the Echo if I was buying right now. My boss has one and the grip is much better; doesn’t roll off the table all the time either. Don’t bother with the 8GB model; it’s overkill.
- Livescribe Spiral Notebook – These are big spiral notebooks that have 100 front-and-back pages. They’re very functional, but not the prettiest things in the world. Get these journals if you want something a little nicer.
Evernote – My Digital Brain
If you’re unfamiliar with Evernote, it’s a suite of notetaking apps (web, desktop, phone, etc) that all sync with each other in the cloud. I only dabbled with it up until a couple months ago when I decided it was time to really put it to the test.
I’ve been uploading all kinds of stuff to Evernote since then: webpage clippings, typed notes, screenshots, pictures, PDFs, and audio files. Evernote takes that digital mess, syncs it to the cloud, and indexes it for me so I can find it later when I need it.
It lets me add tags and organize everything into notebooks. It reads the text out of pictures and makes them searchable. I’ve been taking pictures of business cards and emailing them into Evernote. Any time I want to find someone’s business card, I just search it in Evernote and up it comes. It also OCRs my PDF files so I can search those too. As I said, I’ve only been using it heavily for a couple of months; I can only imagine the awesome database of notes I’ll have in a couple years.
Simplicity and Power with Evernote
Evernote is a relatively simple app, but I quickly realized how powerful it is and was excited when I started to see its full potential. Here are some examples of how I’m using it at work…
I created a notebook stack named Clients. In that stack is a notebook for each client I do regular work for. In those notebooks I’m storing things like notes on business processes, custom report specifications, and how each client’s software is set up. Basically, all the stuff that I have to remember for a number of clients on a daily basis. If one of them contacts me and has a question on the data in a custom report, I can hit Ctrl+Command+F on my keyboard to start a search in Evernote. Within seconds I have all the info I need to answer that client’s question. The other day a client called me and was asking about how a new (and fairly complex) business process was being handled in our software. I searched Evernote, found my document that explained it, and just emailed it back to them. Voila, bliss delivered!
I’ve also started a notebook that stores answers (with screenshots and links back to our public wiki) to frequently asked questions. I’m just starting to learn more about shared notebooks, and may explore their use further to create a collaborative knowledge base for me and my coworkers. The jury is still out on that one though.
Getting Started with Evernote
Evernote has a free plan to get you started (or hooked, kind of like crack). The premium version, which I’m using, is only $5/month or $45 for a full year. Compare the two versions and decide which is best for you. I’m using the premium version mainly for the increased monthly upload limit and searchable PDFs.
If you want to learn Evernote and start using it to its full potential right away, I recommend investing in Brett Kelly’s, Evernote Essentials eBook. Brett wrote it last year and is in the process of updating it for a new release in this month. Anyone that buys it now gets free access to the update. I’m an affiliate for Evernote Essentials because I know how great it is and I know how much effort went into writing it.
A Quick Summary
This a much longer post than I normally write, so let me sum it up quickly for you.
I use Livescribe to:
- Make all of my handwritten notes
- Record and play back audio with my notes
- Share and search my handwritten notes
I use Evernote to:
- Create all of my typed, picture, and PDF notes
- Archive everything important in my life that I might need to find later
- Create a searchable database of client and software information
Sounds Great, but is this Expensive?
I don’t consider these products to be expensive in comparison to the value they provide. Things that kick ass are rarely free, and other than the free version of Evernote, there’s no exception here either.
Below is a full list of the products I’m using, their current price, and a (affiliate) link to each.
- Livescribe 4GB Echo Smartpen – $149.99
- Livescribe Spiral Notebooks (4 pack) – $19.95
- Livescribe Lined Black Journals (if you’re a fancy-pants) – $20.84
- Evernote Premium – $45/year
- Evernote Essentials – $29
Total kit-n-kaboodle over one year comes to $264.78. Or $22.07 per month. Or $0.72 a day. Oh, and that’s including your fancy-pants journals.
How about you? Do you have any experience with these tools? Do you know a better way? Tell everyone right down there in the comments.