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Go paperless with your iPad, Evernote and Byword
I have written many times about how to use Evernote to take notes in meetings and in other settings. However, lately I have become more and more disenchanted with Evernote’s note taking interface on the iPad. With this as my motivation I tried out a new workflow at a conference I was at last week. What better way to test a notetaking process than a conference with tons of information to remember! Did my new setup work? The results are in, there are better ways to take notes than Evernote!
Evernote is a great app to take notes for small meetings and short writing sessions, especially using a template like I wrote about here. However, for long writing sessions or longer meetings Evernote is just awful. Evernote can be distracting and somewhat slow and the work area uses only 2/3’s of the screen. I have lately been testing out a dedicated notetaking app called ByWord, a $2.99 app totally dedicated to writing. I love this app and have grown quite fond of it in a short amount of time. Here is a great review if you are interested in learning more. Keep in mind that the process below is not really dependent on ByWord, you could use Apple Notes or another app like iAWriter just as easily; it is simply a way to put yourself in a comfortable and efficient writing environment while leveraging the power of Evernote to manage your information.
Step 1: Get yourself a good keyboard. My current go-to keyboard is the Adonit Write Plus. I will be writing a full review within the next week or so, but in summary I have been very impressed with the flexibility of the portfolio setup, the flexibility in configuration and the overall keyboard feel. The Adonit is not a requirement, but a full keyboard is. There is just no way to comfortably write for long periods of time on the screen.
Step 2: Take notes in your preferred note taker. The beauty of note-takers like ByWord and iAWriter is that the screen is completely designed to make you efficient while writing. Nowhere is this more important than when documenting a meeting, class or conference. It is a waste of time to futz with an application, button or function when you are trying to keep track of the speaker. ByWord is the sort of app that allows you to focus on the speaker while forgetting about the functionality of the app.
Here is a picture of the writing screen in ByWord;totally clean and focused on writing!
Step 3: If you are going to use ByWord, iAWriter or some other new iOS app take a few moments to familiarize yourself with a concept called Markdown. I have read about this language; now for sometime but recently started using it with ByWord. Markdown is a writing syntax that allows you to add formatting to your text by adding special characters as you write. A few examples include creating bulleted or numbered lists in text without screwing with buttons or app functions. If you start a line with an “*” or a “1.” and then press enter at the end of the line ByWord will automatically create the list. If you want to create a hyperlink in your writing you do this by enclosing the underlined or linked words with “[ ]” and then follow the words by the hyperlink enclosed in “( )”; easier than navigating several button clicks. You can create many headings with the “#” character such that the top heading has one “#” the next heading has “##” and so on. Lastly, you can create bolded text by surrounding the work/phase with a preceding and ending the word or phrase with”**”. This format is useful because it provides a fast way to organize your document into meaningful sections and sub-sections. Here is a markdown resource for a complete overview of Markdown.
Becomes this when the filed is exported:
Step 4: Figure out how to quickly add tasks into your preferred task manager. For me, I use an app called FastEver to add tasks to Evernote; see here on how and why I use Evernote to manage my tasks. As mentioned above, Evernote can be slow and clunky to add notes in iOS which is why I wrote this post on how to use texting to speed up the process of creating a task in Evernote. My friend at alphaefficency.com turned me on to an app called FastEver. This app makes it super efficient and quick to create notes in Evernote. Adding in FastEver allowed me to create tasks to research more topics and other ideas as I was taking overall notes for the conference using ByWord. Using FastEver and Evernote to manage your tasks is not a requirement, but being able to quickly add a task to your task manager is. Creating tasks as they occur to you during a meeting, class or conference will save you review time later. This means that once your session is over you do not need to go back to your notes later to pull out the information you need to follow up on!
Quickly flip to my task manager to add a task in the middle of typing my notes using the five-finger swipe OR by double-tapping the home button:
Step 5: Export your note to Evernote for filing and indexing. If you store your files to Evernote, you can then export the note you created as rich text; i.e. text that preserves the formatting you created with Markdown. One slight complication is that ByWord does not integrate directly to Evernote so you have to do the added step of exporting your file by emailing to your Evernote import email address.
In summary, Evernote is amazing to capture, store, index and find information. It is also great at managing tasks given its syncing capabilities across devices and computers. However, Evernote is a terrible app to create notes on your iPad. There are lots of great apps like ByWord that are specifically designed to take notes that make you extremely efficient in documenting and writing. Combining a great note taker like ByWord, an iOS task management system like Evernote and a text formatting process like Markdown will allow you to eliminate paper in most everything you do with just your iPad!