Tools to Raise Your Note-Taking to the Next Level

Whether it’s a tablet, a laptop, or a microphone, there are lots of technologies to leverage for better note-taking. Association pros share a few of their preferred tactics.

Recently, we asked readers about the strategies they use to take handwritten notes, then showcased their methods—multiple notebooks, different writing colors, specific organization styles, and even notes that look more like mind maps than bulleted lists.

But not everyone uses just paper. Some of the note takers who shared their styles with us use digital tools as well. These are some of the ways that association pros combine the best of digital and analog note-taking.

Try voice transcription. Taking notes by hand is only the first step for Glenn Tecker, CEO of Tecker International. He writes notes “with pen on notepad—including diagrams and symbols to identify input, ideas, and decisions,” he says. Then he speaks the notes into his computer and uses word-recognition software, such as Nuance Dragon, to create digital records that are both audio- and text-based.

Use a whiteboard notebook designed for digital scanning. Multiple respondents said they use notebooks with erasable whiteboard-style writing surfaces, such as the Rocketbook, to mix physical writing with digital storage. Karen Hansen, director of membership, marketing, and communications for the Radio Television Digital News Association, favors this combined approach.

“I recently gifted myself an erasable, scannable notebook that now keeps all my handwritten notes and lists in one place, which I can erase or scan into a transcribed text file in Dropbox as needed,” she says. “Game changer for bringing my old-fashioned preferences into a digital world!”

Take notes on an iPad. The iPad is not exactly new to the association executive’s toolkit, but improvements in its handwritten note-taking capabilities (driven by the addition of the Apple Pencil) have won over many users, including Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE, CEO of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. “It is possible and easy to convert the handwritten notes into text, but the digital ink is fully searchable, so there is seldom any need to do so,” he says.

Lacey Pope, CAE, director of customer relations for the Oncology Nursing Society, says she has struggled with how to store all her paper notes and found an iPad the perfect alternative. “It’s the best of both worlds! I am able to handwrite my lists and notes right into OneNote, and they’re available to me on any device, at any time!”

No handwriting? No problem. Then there are some people (like this writer) who eschew handwriting altogether. Michelle Porter, CAE, director of certification for the American Case Management Association, integrates two tech tools for fully digitized, accessible notes. “Every meeting is logged into Evernote with Zapier, and all notes are digital,” she says. “Any handwritten notes are an exception, and I transcribe them into either Evernote or Outlook tasks as appropriate, then trash the paper.”

Embrace e-ink. If you’re reluctant to go digital because you’re tired of staring at bright screens, try a tablet that features e-ink. This works for Chris Gray, CEO of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society.

“I used to get through pads and pads of paper and then end up scanning notes to PDF to save them for reference,” Gray says. “Then I discovered ReMarkable—a tablet-like device that has the feel of pen and paper so I can still write notes, but they are automatically uploaded to the cloud so I can access it on my laptop or tablet!” (Side note: If you like the e-ink idea but crave color, you might be interested to know that some of the first color e-ink tablets are hitting the mainstream.)

How do you integrate tech into your note-taking strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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