My simultanuous capture use case
As the head of a small internal audit shop, I deal with a lot of inputs. These can be operational, such as notes of interviews or testing remarks. They can also be administrative in nature, such as meeting notes or notes I take during training. All in all, quite a few different inputs.
How I used to manage these inputs
Pen and paper. Really, I’ve always liked the feel of a pen on a piece of paper. For some purposes, such as writing longer articles, I still pretend to do just that, with my bamboo stylus. If you are interested in that workflow, read this article.
However, turnaround on other inputs became too long. I wrote, then I wrote the notes on my computer … because in a small audit shop, you don’t have the luxury of handing your notes off to a secretary. You do it yourself.
The intermediate scenario
There are a lot of text editors out there, both on Mac ans iOS. I tried quite a few of them, but they never were truly ubiquitous like pen and paper can be. I was too involved in the tool to be fully engaged in the content I was trying to capture. That, of course, is a problem.
What I needed was a tool that allowed me to capture without thinking about layout and other aspects, and with an easy way to export to any of my other tools.
I ended up with a combination of a language and a tool.
My solution: Drafts and Markdown
Agile Tortoise has developed an iOS app called Drafts. It has become my go-to application on my iOS devices for taking notes on anything and everything I’m hearing and thinking about. Let me illustrate:
Last week, I was attending an IIA course in Brussels (the IIA, for non auditors, is the Institute for Internal Auditors, a brother- and sisterhood of internal auditors. We even have jokes.) on auditing project management. The course was taught by two excellent teachers. As always, I was working at a couple of levels. I was listening and taking notes on the content of the course. I was at the same time listening and taking notes on the impact of what was said on an audit we are currently executing … and I was on occasion thinking about to do’s which had nothing to do with the class.
Now, let’s take a couple of steps backwards. There I am sitting, thinking about multiple things at the same time. I believe I’m not an outlier. Thinking multiple thoughts, following multiple threads in our heads at the same time is rather human.
However, I used to let a good deal of this thinking go to waste. I thought good, sometimes even great thoughts, I tried to remember to remember them … and I lost them. When I started noting stuff down on paper, I lost the papers. When I started using Moleskines, I was afraid to write in them, because of the cost and because of the nice-ness, and when I started using iOS tools I could not combine and note taking on a training or an interview with note taking on other thoughts and putting to do’s on my to do list.
Drafts is a note taking tool which allows me to send notes to multiple applications on my iOS device. Its export facilities are amazing, and growing with every release. Luckily, you can reduce the number of export possibilities visible, to configure the app to work just as you like it. If you look at the screenshot below, you will see I can ‘share’, export to Twitter or app.net, put something in my agenda, write an SMS, write a formatted email … and this is a curated list, adapted to my specific needs.
Drafts’ most important export functions to me are however, its possibility to append text to a running file on dropbox called Journal.txt and its export facility to Omnifocus, my task management software. Let’s visit my use case again:
I’m in the course, listening to what is being told by the lecturer. I follow the slide presentation on the handouts. I started my note taking session by entering the Textexpander Touch shortcuts for date and time, so the running file I’ll be exporting to on dropbox has a record of when I started entering information. Whenever I feel I have finished a thought, I send the text to the file in dropbox it’s appended from. Journal.txt, which resides in my Dropbox Drafts folder, which resides under the App folder, holds a record of all the thoughts I feel I still need to put somewhere. They are ‘stuff’, but ‘stuff’ in the GTD manner of speaking, which is already somewhere where I will visit it later.
All of a sudden, I think of something I need to discuss with my team. I enter the thought and send it to Omnifocus. In 2 seconds the quick entry box is filled with the idea I wrote down in Drafts, with the second and third line of my entry filling in the notes section. This sits in my Omnifocus inbox, waiting for me to process it.
Then, based on what the lecturer said, I suddenly think of a test to add to the workprogram we are developing. I start writing out the thought in Drafts, I use Draft’s extended iOS keyboard to put (Workprogram) between brackets, and send it to the Journal.txt document. I could have sent it to another application I have installed, such as Byword, but that would open Byword and I don’t have the time to write a full set of workprogram instructions right now.
Drafts supports Markdown, providing you with one of the best extended iOS keyboards I’ve seen for this purpose. This allows me to write formatted documents as well, for example if I want to write an email with some formatting. It also allows me to send texts with basic markdown formats to the journal.txt file from where I can go and find it to work on it in Sublime Text.
If capturing multiple inputs at the same time is your challenge, and you are interested in working with plain text applications or are capable of working in Markdown, Drafts is the best solution available to you today.