The Best of Both Worlds: How to Use a Traditional Planner and Online Tools Together

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Pundits have been crowing about the paperless office for decades even as research is mounting that hand-writing notes and ideas can actually be more effective than typing them.

What you want is both — a paper-based solution that provides neurological benefits and a digital one that’s accessible from anywhere and integrated into the software you use to run your business. And many entrepreneurs and small business owners do just that, leveraging the power of the pen and a Moleskine with online planners and organizers like Evernote. Both those brands, by the way, were named among the world’s top productivity companies by Fast Company last year.

“I get the best of both worlds,” explains Abbey Finch, owner of ScribeSpace, LLC, a New Jersey-based digital copywriting agency. “I get to use the latest technology and I get to use old-school note taking, which has worked for generations.”

Finch says the notebook allows for free flow of thoughts. “I get more organic and more detailed notes when I write them down on a piece of paper. I use the journal to jot down the bevy of ideas, thoughts and to-do lists that flow through my brain at any moment. I use Evernote to turn those messy notes into organized, prioritized to-do lists.”

Tools of the Trade

If you plan to scan your notes and file them on your computer or project management software, you’ll need a desktop solution like Neatdesk. But that’s a lot of extra steps.

Many businesspeople choose an integrated solution like a Moleskine notebook specifically designed to function with online tools like Evernote and digital pens such as Livescribe. The tools synch automatically, enabling you to connect your analog and digital files quickly and easily.

The biggest challenge is getting used to using the tools and software, but users say the benefits far outweigh the learning curve.

More Efficient Workflow

“I use a traditional notebook for planning client projects, taking notes during client meetings and daily observations about life, the business and everything,” explains Boston-based photographer Matt McKee. “I review these journals periodically to help me keep a perspective on my career and clients’ projects, and to look for inspirations for future projects.

“Digital notebooks help me keep track of the outside world,” he continues. “I use Evernote to put together and track individual client projects. I can create to-do lists and share them with the client and vendors and keep track of everyone's status. Evernote allows me to collate my notes, put them in a form that I could share — either as a notebook or in an email — with my team, and make a decent presentation to a client.”

The two-format system pays off.

“Productivity in the studio has been improved as I refine my workflow with the two notebooks,” he explains. “Before this workflow, it was a bit more haphazard, which occasionally meant that deadlines would be blown or important details could be missed. This way is much more efficient, especially since key people can be on the same page, literally, with the digital notebook. Both are needed to help me stay on track and guide me to my goals.”

Less Wasted Time

Rory Briski, a Bellevue, WA–based author and consultant, added the digital aspect to his already honed note-taking routine to reap two key benefits: finding information faster and organizing more effectively.

“Once I have the information in my computer I can search for tags or keywords or even random text and get all my relevant notes instantly,” he explains. “When working on a proposal or a white paper or a new book, I can make notes or drawings and jot down ideas anywhere with pen and paper, and then when back in the office I can organize these in software and move stuff around until it’s how I want it.”

Less Wasted Space

For Holly Kile, president of HJK Global Solutions, a business strategy firm in Greenwood, IN, the big win is convenience. She uses the Livescribe pen to take notes during weekly planning sessions and quarterly strategy sessions.

“The beauty of the Livescribe is that those pages are uploaded to my Evernote account,” she says. “Then I share them with my clients so they have a copy. Because it’s digital now, I can then get rid of the notebook when I’m finished instead of taking up valuable storage space. If I kept them all, for some clients I’d have boxes of notes and it would take me hours to find what I needed!”

Ready to dive into the dual-tool world? Briski has one bit of advice:

“Look at all the options, try a few of them and pick the one that works for you,” he counsels. “But don’t just pick one and ignore the rest at the start. Something that you thought wouldn’t work for you or you wouldn’t like may be the one that actually works the best. Try several to get a feel for how they all fit into your day.”

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