Don’t ask me for a pen, because I might not be carrying one. That’s because I now write down all my meeting notes in a computer that understands handwriting – even mine. Read on to see how this saves me countless hours a week.
The story of how this came about started when my company merged with a competitor last year and I found myself in a new role – Business Development. What that meant was that I was out of the office a lot – and I took plenty of notes. Then when I got back in the office, I had to transcribe these notes into our corporate-wide Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, which happens to be a product called Maximizer.
In fact I had three offices of sorts: my regular office, my home office and my virtual office; this latter one being wherever I found myself, laptop in hand. To keep organized, I developed a filing system based on three portable folders: a red folder for papers to carry home, a blue one for papers to bring to the office, and a yellow folder for “work in progress”. This yellow folder was with me all the time and it kept growing and growing. More often than I really wanted to, I had to go through this yellow folder to re-file these notes and use them to make entries into Maximizer.
I always thought this was a terrible waste of time, so when it came time to upgrade my computer, I chose a tablet PC – a machine that behaves like a regular laptop computer until you give the screen a twist and it turns into a computer capable of accepting hand-written input – as well as pictures and diagrams.
In tablet mode, you do not use the keyboard but rather a pen-shaped stylus that comes with the computer. You can use all the normal programs you are used to, using the stylus to point and click through the menu items. When it comes time to enter text, a little box pops up and you just write down the information as if you were using a pen. This works for virtually any program. For emails and word documents, your handwriting is converted word-for-word into text, and it is amazing how accurate it is.
However, it is with a program called OneNote that the pen becomes mightier than the keyboard. With OneNote (an optional part of the Microsoft Office suite), you can ask the computer to interpret your writing as you go, or you can tell it to just accept anything – words, diagrams, squiggles, whatever.
OneNote organizes notes into pages within folders within workbooks. All the other Office programs recognize that OneNote is present, so they offer ways of communicating back and forth. For example, if I have a meeting scheduled in Outlook, prior to the start of the meeting I click the “OneNote Meeting Notes” button in Outlook, which creates a new page in OneNote, pre-populated with the correct title, purpose of meeting, participants, date, location, and whatever notes I had in Outlook.
After the meeting, I ask OneNote to “Publish to PDF” (a feature of Office 2007), and I then attach the resultant document to the relevant customer record in the CRM. I – or my coworkers – can open this document from the CRM using any computer, and it opens up as an image file, showing the meeting notes in my handwriting, along with any diagrams I drew. (They laugh at my atrocious handwriting, but I tell them it’s a security feature).
I can also ask OneNote to search through my original notes for text I am looking for, like I would do a search in Word, and it will actually find the text even though it is in my handwriting. Pretty slick!
A couple of our Technicians are familiar with Microsoft CRM, so we are currently testing it as a replacement for Maximizer. Then it will essentially all be one integrated platform, allowing us to send notes and reminders back and forth seamlessly.
Bottom line: If you find yourself juggling a lot of paper and you have a place where you would be able to file electronic copies, you should consider going paperless as I have, but be aware that it will take you some time before you have fully converted to this new way of working. I can tell you that in the long run I am a lot more productive. And I think my tablet PC is actually lighter than the yellow file I used to carry around.