Tools To Take Quick Notes

I joined the Army way back in 1977 (no, please don’t do the math!)*, and one of the first things that was drilled into my head was the need to always have pen and paper with you to take notes. Those notes could consist of many different things:

  • Tasks I needed to complete (i.e. dumb stuff my boss says I have to do!)
  • Information I want to remember, like an appointment or a phone number
  • Ideas that pop into my head (so I don’t forget them later)
  • Stuff I want to research later (like computer hardware)
  • etc

As the saying goes, a dull pencil remembers more than a sharp mind!

As we’ve moved into a world where computers and mobile devices became the norm, I’ve found it to be a challenge to give up my notepad and pen. Part of it is how I “grew up”, so to speak, and there are days when I still resist the urge to throw my old paper planner into my backpack as I head out the door. Another part is that I simply haven’t found a good, solid digital / online replacement.

But I will continue to look.

Mitigating Factors (Or “A Couple Of Excuses”) *

One issue that I face in this regard is that I still have a job that does not allow me to take my personal smart phone to the office with me. Having it with me at all times would make life easier — but “it is what it is”, so I simply find systems that do work for my current circumstances.

And of course I can take that little notepad with me to the office… 🙂

Another factor is that I want something that will sync up across all of the devices that I use, to include my smartphone. My carrier is Republic Wireless, and since I can’t take my phone to the office with me, having a data plan doesn’t make much sense. So I currently go with the $10 a month voice and text plan and only get data when I can connect to a wireless network.

That means that if I’m going to ditch the notepad, I need some way that I can enter data — short notes, if you will — on any of my devices at any time and have it all sync together. I’ve tried stuff like Evernote, and while it’s a great product and people love it, it’s not what I’m looking for.

Thankfully I’ve stumbled upon a solution that’s working fairly well so far.

Notes Worth (Google) Keep-ing *

I don’t even remember how I found it, but Google has a tool called Google Keep that’s designed for taking short notes. I can access it from all of my devices, and so far, I’m quite happy with it. I still carry a notepad with me for those times when I absolutely can’t enter data (i.e. at work, while in a meeting), but for the most part, I’ve been saving a lot of money on notepads. 🙂

Here’s how my setup works:

  • When I’m at my desk at work, I can access Google Keep in my web browser.
  • When I’m at home, in my office, I can also access Keep from my web browser, Chromebook, tablet, and phone.
  • When I’m out of the house, I can take notes on whatever device I have handy (Chromebook, phone, or tablet) and the notes will synch up when I reconnect to a network.
  • I can enter stuff from my paper notepad as needed when I’m on a connected device.

I should also mention that I kinda-sorta use Leo Babauta’s “Zen To Done” system, so Keep is a great “Capture” device for that system.

Close Enough To Perfect? *

It’s not perfect. The notes just “appear” in the order you create them. Then again, I have the same “issue” (if you want to call it that) with my paper notepad, i.e. the new stuff gets written on a new sheet. Still, the ability to do some basic organization — even as basic as being able to put selected notes into folders and sort notes (or manually arrange them) — would be nice.

But to be honest, that’s the only real complaint I have. So far (I reserve the right to complain more at a later date!). The fact that I use it, and keep the app handy on my Chromebook and phone, should tell you that I do like the app.

I also sense that Google wants Keep to be a simple app and will probably not add a lot of additional features. “Lean and Mean” is probably a good thing in this case.

How To Get Keep *

If you’re interested in using it, chances are good that you already have access and just don’t know it. If you have a Gmail account, Just go to https://keep.google.com/ to get started in a web browser.

Just click in the box that says, “Add Note” and start typing. Your work is automatically saved, and after you click “Done”, your note will appear below the “Add Note” box.

If you want to add more to a note later, simply click on it. An edit box will appear, where you can make your additions and changes.

You can download the Android App from the Google Play store (just search for “Google Keep).

I don’t know much about the iPhone, but apparently there isn’t an official app yet for Keep for the iPhone. You can get a list of available Google Apps for iOS at https://www.google.com/mobile/ios/ but I don’t see Keep listed there. You could probably run it in a web browser on your iPhone, but since I don’t have an iPhone, I can’t test it.

It’s a “Keeper” (Ouch! Not The Puns!) *

Remember, Keep is designed to be an app that allows you to take quick notes on multiple devices and have those notes sync across all of the devices. It even works when you’re offline and will synch up later.

In addition, Keep will let you create checklists, store photos, and create voice memos.

While I think the designers envisioned it as a “quick note” app, I also use it to do extensive, in-depth brainstorming on specific topics. As an example, I’m currently working on a project to maximize performance on an old Netbook (long story!) and have an extremely long Keep note that will eventually be archived as a regular Google Doc. My goal is to create a report on this that I’ll make available to you at some point in time, and taking notes in Keep is going to make it an even better product.

So while Google Keep won’t cost you anything, its ability to capture those fleeting ideas and brainstorm on topics could, in the end, be quite profitable for you. So why not give it a try?

You never know, you just might end up “Keeping” it… 😉

P.S. — Got a Google Keep tip? Please leave a comment and share it with the world!

* — It was 37 years ago. No need to do the math. And if I’m “old”, who cares? Life is good!