Organizations are expending enormous resources to improve their internal productivity by implementing cloud, adding collaborative applications, and investing in analytics solutions. Individually, we can improve our own productivity, even during sometimes lengthy meetings, by using free note-taking apps like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote.
Now, while Evernote was recently hit by a hack that required all users to reset their passwords, that's not the first thing that should come to mind when you think about this handy tool. Instead, think of these apps as tools that make you more efficient and accurate at your job.
Here are some things you can do after you open up one or both of these apps on your smartphone or tablet.
Scan business cards
If you're in a meeting where everyone hands out business cards, create a note for meeting attendees and snap pictures of the cards. You'll then have an easy record of who attended the meeting.
Plus, both Evernote and OneNote have built-in optical character recognition (OCR), so they can actually read the text on the cards. That means you can search for them, without retyping the info, or running the cards through a card scanner.
If you're a meeting ninja, you might even be able to snap photos of people's faces as you do this. But this move requires actual ninja skills -- not everyone wants to have their picture taken, no matter how much it helps you to memorize names afterwards.
Both Evernote and OneNote (above) feature OCR, allowing users to capture and search handwriting.
Take handwritten notes
In the past, you had a choice between scribbling notes on yellow pads that you'd quickly lose, or typing notes, which could make a noise and be distracting to others, and could also cause you to break eye contact with speakers. Today, you can take handwritten notes on your tablet and keep them nicely organized in OneNote or Evernote notebooks. Plus, OCR works for handwriting, as well.
Yes, you can search for scribbled keywords on your computer. Since both OneNote and Evernote sync automatically, you don't even have to transfer the files over. They'll be ready and waiting for you when you get back to your desk.
Handwritten notes also allow you to draw diagrams and pictures, which you typically wouldn't be able to do while typing.
You should practice this ahead of time, however. You might have to adapt your handwriting style so that it's legible to the app.
Save info from whiteboards
I've been in a lot of meetings where we filled up a whiteboard -- or those giant paper pads -- with charts, plans, and ideas. Invariably, they'd be summarized in the minutes with a couple of inscrutable phrases.
Take a picture of them from within your note-taking app, instead. The boards will be saved in your meeting notebook, simultaneously shared with all your other devices, scanned and searchable, and even shareable with colleagues.
Just don't make the rookie mistake of taking the picture with the regular camera app, where the notes will be lost amid pictures of your cats and the food you had for breakfast. There is nothing more embarrassing than to have to look through your camera roll for the meeting-related snapshots and having your colleagues look over your shoulder as you scroll past your pictures of suspicious moles.
Save audio recordings
Evernote allows you to record audio while typing at the same time.
OneNote doesn't currently have the audio recording feature in its iPhone, iPad, or Android apps, but it is available on Windows devices and the full desktop app that you can use it on your Windows 8 Pro tablets. OneNote also lets you search audio records, a feature that Evernote doesn't offer yet.
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More efficient meetings improve individual efficiency.
In addition, both apps offer a speech-to-text feature. Just click on the little microphone key next to the space bar on your virtual keyboard, and you can dictate a note that the app will immediately convert into text.
As with the handwriting, practice dictation ahead of time to get you and the device used to each other.
Create shared notebooks
Both Evernote and OneNote allow collaboration with colleagues. Collaboration is particularly simple if your company signs up for the enterprise versions of these apps, but is available in the personal versions, as well.
Use the shared notebook to keep track of to-do lists and action items, voice recordings, business cards, and saved whiteboard images.
The shared notebook will be a permanent reminder of your technical superiority -- as long as you're careful not to be so good at it that you're permanently assigned the note-taking role in all future meetings. Unless that was your plan all along because you subscribe to the theory that memories are short, and the person who takes the minutes is the one who gets to the decide what really happened at the meeting.
Just remember: Keep your sarcastic comments and plans for world domination in a separate, private notebook.
Automate your note taking
You can create an Evernote channel on your IFTTT account. IFTTT stands for "If this, then that" and it allows you to create simple tasks like texting or emailing whenever rain is predicted in your area. For example, say you're attending a conference that has a Twitter feed or a hashtag. You can create an IFTTT recipe that automatically appends each new Tweet to an Evernote note.
Or say you're attending a meeting about a very specific topic. If there's an RSS newsfeed for that topic -- such as from Google alerts, Google news, or a specific blog or publication -- you can have new posts automatically added to Evernote as well.
Don't waste time at the start of each meeting setting up all the notes you'll need and entering the same information repeatedly. Instead, create templates for the most commonly used types of notes and just pick them from a list.
Evernote doesn't currently offer a built-in template function, but you can use KustomNote, a third-party tool, instead. Just go to the KustomNote site, register, and click on "connect your Evernote account." There is no mobile app version of this tool, but you can access it through the built-in browser on your smartphone or tablet.
OneNote already has template functionality built in. You can create new templates, or use one of the many pre-made templates that come with the app. Unfortunately this functionality isn't yet available in either the mobile apps or the Web version of OneNote.
Another option is to create notes ahead of time with blank spaces to fill in during the meeting, and then copy these notes over. So far, only the desktop version of Evernote and OneNote allow you to make copies of notes, so you would either do this ahead of time, before the meeting starts, or use a Windows Pro tablet that allows you to run full Windows applications.
Use third-party apps
Don't like the features available in the standard Evernote or OneNote mobile apps? Expand on them with third-party tools like Outline for OneNote and Whiteboard Share for Evernote.
Whiteboard Share cleans up whiteboard photos by making white backgrounds actually white, instead of gray, and making text more readable. Outline improves note taking on the iPad by adding in functionality missing from the official OneNote app.
You can find more Evernote apps by browsing through its directory of third-party apps.
You can also search for "Evernote" or "OneNote" in the app store for your particular device to get both the official app and related third-party apps.
Evernote also has its own suite of add-on apps, such as Evernote Hello for keeping track of your contacts and scanning business cards or Evernote Skitch for marking up photos and screenshots.
What do you use to make your meetings more productive?
— Maria Korolov is president of Trombly International, an editorial services company that provides coverage of emerging technologies and markets. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years.