5 Apps to Replace Your Pen and Notebook for Good

Are you a die-hard pen-and-paper fan? These 5 digital tools could convince you to finally make the switch.
September 17, 2014

How do you take notes? Whether you’re keeping track of what’s being discussed in a meeting, jotting down ideas throughout the day, writing down important facts for research or even making to-do lists, note-taking is a part of every small-business owner’s everyday life.

But if you grew up in the era in which pen and paper was the norm—when PDAs were only beginning to emerge—you may have yet to migrate to the digital world of note-taking.

Why Move to Digital?

If you’re emotionally attached to your spiral-bound notebooks or lined yellow pads, you might wonder why you should even consider migrating to digital note-taking apps at all. While you could certainly get through life relatively unscathed if you remain committed to your pen-and-paper style, there are some advantages to embracing digital note-taking tools:

  • Apps are often accessible from desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices, so you have easy access to your notes and records wherever you go.
  • Digital apps make it easy to update your list—no scratched-out items or scribbles to distract you from what's left to be done.
  • Digital apps allow you to easily copy and paste website URLs and even digital images to your notes.
  • Some apps enable users to type in keywords to quickly search through notes. This is a major time-saver compared to flipping through the many pages of a notebook.
  • Digital note-taking tools are often collaborative, allowing you to share lists, notes and topics with other users.
  • Digital apps don’t rely on paper, so you’re saving a few trees in the process.

Making the Switch

If you're thinking it's time to go digital, here are five innovative apps and tools that can help dedicated paper-and-pencil note-takers transition successfully to the digital era:

Evernote. Evernote is a widely used app that’s known for its endless note-taking capabilities. No more running out of notebook pages—your notes in Evernote can go on for eternity. Justin Emig, search marketing manager at Web Talent Marketing, a digital marketing agency, prefers Evernote over other note-taking apps. At 33 years old, Emig comes from the generation that started out using traditional pen-and-paper note-taking methods but eventually migrated to digital technology.

"When I began my career, I was avidly into pen and paper, making myself a list of outstanding actions to complete each day, week and month," Emig says. "As technology took over, I tried Google Notes, smart phone post-its, Apple ‘stickies’ and just about everything else you can think of, but Evernote rises to the top each time.

“Evernote is perfect for making notes, documenting ideas, curating previous random notes about a topic and consolidating it into an easily sharable experience” Emig adds. Evernote offers a free basic plan, with paid options available for $5 to $10 per month.

Pocket. Emig also suggests coupling Evernote with complementary apps like Pocket and IFTTT (If This Then That). “Pocket allows you to archive articles that could inspire you to write notes, and you can link between them,” he explains. A basic Pocket account is free, or you can upgrade to Premium to get advanced features for $44.99 per year.  

IFTTT. “IFTTT allows you to set up automatic rules to automatically add things to your Evernotes based on your experience in another app or program,” Emig notes. With 127 connected services ranging from weather and email to LinkedIn and eBay, IFTTT users can automate their daily lives by creating "Recipes" comprised of "Triggers" and "Actions."

For example, you can set up an IFTTT rule about the weather: If the weather forecast predicts rain, it will send an alert to your email inbox. That way, you can grab an umbrella on your way out the door. Or you can configure IFTTT to automatically generate tasks or notes based on different Triggers for more automated note-taking. IFTTT is a free service.

Livescribe. A perfect tool for someone who’s accustomed to good, old-fashioned pen-and-paper note-taking, Livescribe isn’t an app, it’s a pen. As the marketing and communications director for Lawley Insurance, an insurance consulting firm specializing in property and casualty insurance, employee benefits and risk management consulting, Charlie Riley often needs to share notes and sketches, such as landing page mockups or marketing campaigns, with his team for feedback and approvals. But traditional pen and paper sketches aren't easy to send in an email without going through the process of scanning pages and attaching files.

That's when Riley turns to Livescribe—to easily share notes and sketches with co-workers. “When I need to use a pen, [with] Livescribe, I can still take notes and draw, but it digitally records everything to be shared with my team,” Riley says. "And the audio-recording feature helps explain rationale during the drawing or note session, which is an added bonus.”

Riley also likes that Livescribe works in conjunction with Evernote. "I can instantly share meeting notes with team members or different departments, and the fact that Livescribe and Evernote play nice together helps no matter which way I choose to take notes," Riley explains. There are a few different pen styles available with varying amounts of storage. Livescribe Smartpens start at about $150.

Beesy. Beesy is more than just a note-taking app; it takes note-taking to a whole new level by using it as the foundation for productivity and time management. “The main goal of the Beesy app is to help its users save time and improve productivity by automating daily time-consuming processes,” says André Da Costa, PR manager at BeesApps, creator of the Beesy app. “Its core feature is a dynamic note-taking system that allows the creation of structured notes with actionable items.” Actionable items are associated with People, Deadlines, Priorities, Topics and Projects, and Beesy relies on these assignments to generate meeting minutes and automatic task and project updates. Several monthly plans are available, including a free basic plan for managing a single project.

These handy note-taking apps and supplementary tools are just a few of the many that exist in the digital world. If you haven’t yet made the jump from traditional to digital note-taking, you may be surprised by how much these tools can simplify your life. 

Read more articles on productivity.

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