Dec 10, 2009

Note taking

As a product manager, I receive information from different sources at all possible times of the day - emails, action items, random ideas/thoughts, meeting notes, telephonic discussions with various stakeholders, interesting nuggets of information from blogs and news sites, useful links for future references etc. Having made the shift from an engineering role to a product management role, the first challenge that I had to face was to manage this sudden pile of information. I initially made notes in a single text file and searched through this file whenever I need to refer. But this was proven to be a cumbersome task when I had to organize this information into clear groups. Then I shifted to a model of creating separate text files based on the categories - Project Ideas, Tasks, Meeting Notes, Conference call discussions etc. This was working well for a while until I realized it wasn't easy to transfer the information collected in this manner across different computers.

I stumbled upon this application "Evernote" while reading through one of the productivity blogs. I fell in love with this application instantly and it has been a constant companion for the past one year both in my professional and academic life. I can access my account across multiple computers and synchronize the contents. This had solved the immediate painpoint that I had faced in note taking using text files. The interface is very intuitive. I can create multiple notebooks to organize the different categories of information that I want to track. I have created a notebook named "Inbox" to capture every kind of input that I come across which has to be tracked for future reference. Then I just drag and drop the individual notes from this notebook to other notebooks depending on the category they belong to. I can clip images, web content (from Firefox) and emails (from Thunderbird) through the plugins that Evernote provides. Whenever I attend any meeting or conference call, I quickly jot down all the points being discussed and capture the action items. Checkboxes can also be added in front of the action items in case one wants to identify the tasks to be taken up after the meeting.

Before I have a discussion with either my manager or my peer, I note down the questions and points to be discussed. During the discussion, I capture the responses either in a different font or color. This helps me to quickly go over the points discussed and plan the next steps accordingly. Search feature is very useful given the humongous amount of information one has to deal with on a daily basis. Although many Evernote users find the tagging feature very useful, I still haven't found valid use cases for myself in order to use this feature. My current setup seems to work just fine.

The value provided by this free application is just tremendous. Definitely worth giving it a shot!

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