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Many times while I am working and being protective, an idea comes to me that's not related to my current task but is still important.

Till now, I have kept a pen and pad with me to record these. But I am trying to find a more efficient approach that won't break my flow. I tried using a voice recorder on my cell phone. This is faster, but the downside is I usually forget about the the recordings later on. I sometimes use the Google Keep Android app to record notes as these allow voice to text transcription. But being anally retentive, whenever I see an underlined misspelled word, I have to go back and correct it.

I am thinking Dragon Speak naturally has a better voice to speech recognition, but hear it is still not too great and won't work when I am away from a computer.

Has anyone found a better approach?

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Somebody needs to create a voice activated note-taking utility. Hands free. Say "TODO - CATEGORY graphics - Design company logo" or similar. The app translates the request to text, and stores the message in the appropriate location. "TODO" command could store in your todo program, or a todo.txt file, whatever is defined. "GRAPHICS" could be defined as a sub-category in your todo list. Various commands could also be: "REMINDER", "EMAIL", or other system commands. How far along are we on voice recognition? I'll ask Siri. –  Doug.McFarlane Feb 14 at 19:40
    
Are you being “protective” or productive? –  Tyler James Young Feb 14 at 20:43

6 Answers 6

Most of the time pen and paper works best because its fast. If I am brainstorming or taking notes at a meeting I will always work with pen and paper and then translate the notes into my digital system.

Pen and paper however are not always practical to carry. I am very comfortable with texting so I usually try to enter into a note taking app that I wrote for myself. My smartphone is with me almost all the time so if something catches my attention as needing to be remembered I will jot it down in my app.

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Speed is the #1 citerion. When sitting (desk) pen/paper is really fast, just have them available right near you. A scribble takes just seconds. At the computer having an editor always open is almost as fast (but you have the tendency to correct your typing which wastes time). The only things that's faster is typing right in the program where you are. I do that when coding, I just jot @@ comment to the right of my code or press Ctrl-Alt-T which brings up a to do window (and inserts that as a comment line). Generic note taking software that's just a keystroke away is a variation on that. –  Jan Doggen Feb 14 at 15:29
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@JanDoggen: if you are coding in Emacs, you could use e. g. org-capture to send your ideas directly to an inbox file where it can be processed later e. g. with Emacs org-mode (see productivity.stackexchange.com/a/9038/566) –  Martin Feb 14 at 15:33

Indeed, it is very important to be able to note ideas and tasks quickly and then directly return back to the thing you are working on to avoid breaking flow and concentration.

The crucial thing with all kinds of these notes is: you have to review them later (on short term!). Thus, it makes sense to reduce the "inboxes" for such notes to a minimum and make sure in the daily workflow that they get "emptied" and processed on a regular base.

I have no perfect system yet, but what mostly works for me is the following:

Emacs org-mode with org-capture

For me, that's the most comfortable way and optimally integrated into my system of task/project management and note taking. If I'm at work at my desk, I take notes and manage my tasks and projects in Emacs org-mode (free, open source). With org-capture this is really easy: you can define several templates for different occasions and then open a new note/task with a keyboard shortcut.

  • The time for taking the note is tracked
  • I also use that for tracking interruptions, if a colleague suddenly comes into my office to ask something or if I get a phone call
  • I can assign action keywords to the note(s) like TODO/WAITING/...
  • I can assign a scheduled or deadline date easily - so the thing will come to my attention automatically at the right time.
  • the note/action has the correct timestamp
  • I can access it via full text search
  • I can use tags to classify it further

in meetings and conferences: Mindmapping with Freeplane

For internal meetings (and if possible also for meetings with customers or partners or conferences) I try to take my computer notebook with me, as it's the easiest way to capture readable text notes (for me). For note taking in such situations, I prefer a Mindmap and I use Freeplane (free, open source) for taking notes in mindmaps.
That lets me easily

  • create a tree-like structure for my information
  • change the structure quickly and easily by keyboard commands (move nodes up/down in hierarchy and order, etc.)
  • summarize several nodes, which belong together by a common parent node
  • expand/collapse details quickly
  • and all that without touching the mouse
  • with the FreeplaneGTD plugin it is also possible to use a special syntax in nodes and create a task list from that later (which can be exported in html format e.g.).

How I get those notes later into my system in org-mode is not yet automated - I extract a list of tasks from the mindmaps with the FreeplaneGTD plugin and then copy those tasks into my Emacs and make them org-mode tasks.
(here's the largest optimization potential IMHO to make this more structured and automated: ideally I could export the information from Freeplane in a format that could be pasted directly into org-mode

paper: if I don't have my computer with me...

sometimes in meetings or events it is not possible, practical or does not seem appropriate to use my computer notebook. Then I'll stick with the good old paper: I have a paper notebook and note in there the important things more or less in chronological order.

  • disadvantage: my handwriting is very difficult to read, so even for myself it can be hard to find out later what I meant.. :-( That's why I try to take notes in the computer directly.
  • I mark actions with an empty square ☐, so they stick out visually for collecting them later.
  • If I have transferred the tasks to my system later, I strike through the square diagonally to show that the actions are already processed and in my "trusted system".

The important thing is to convert the actions from those written notes later into tasks in my system. If I'm very busy afterwards and risk to forget it, I create a task in my system "create notes and actions from meeting with.." with high priority and a deadline in the coming days to avoid forgetting to follow up the notes from the meeting.

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Emacs, org-mode, and org-protocol are the best productivity tools I've ever laid my hands on. I've got bookmarklets programmed against org-protocol so I can highlight text and it will auto-populate a remember template with the text and source URL. I then simply tag it appropriately and voila! –  Ixmatus Feb 14 at 15:24
    
@Ixmatus: exactly - I even learned to use Emacs (did not really use it before) to be able to use org-mode. –  Martin Feb 14 at 15:34

The key to not breaking your flow is being able to jot the to-do as quickly/easily as possible. This involves a two-step capture (in the spirit of Getting Things Done). Keep capture options at the ready anywhere you are normally -- a post-it note on the back of your phone, a post-it on your desk, etc. When you have an idea, write the absolute least you can right away, and then go back to what you were doing.

Keep a master list of these "inboxes" (I have six). Regularly -- once a night or once a week -- transfer your captured "to do"s into your actual task management system. Put this as an event on your calendar, even. When you learn to trust that you will go around and capture all these quick notes, it becomes easier to jot quick notes and not break your daily flow.

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On My PC (Windows + AutoHotkey)

Most of the times I need to capture a task, I’m working on my computer at my desk. I use AutoHotkey and have written several scripts for myself that save me tons of time. If you don't have any interest in programming, you might also need or want to make use of Pulover’s Macro Creator.

If you just want to jot a quick note, there’s a great little script that comes with the program:

#n::                                   ; when I press windows-key + N, check
IfWinExist Untitled - Notepad          ; is there already an unsaved note open?
    WinActivate                        ; if so, switch to it
else                                   ; otherwise...
    Run Notepad                        ; open a new note
return

For more long-term things, I’ve made my own task-capturing script, which uses Outlook:

^#t::                                  ; when I press ctrl + windows-key + t, check
IfWinExist ahk_class rctrl_renwnd32    ; Is Outlook open?
    WinActivate                        ; if so, switch focus to Outlook
    WinWait ahk_class rctrl_renwnd32   ; wait until it opens (optional failsafe)
    Send ^+k                           ; "press" ctrl + shift + k (new task)
    KeyWait ctrl                       ; wait for ctrl key (optional failsafe)
    KeyWait shift                      ; wait for shift key (optional failsafe)
return

I have other scripts that set due-dates and/or priorities for tasks based on a number I press, but the above is probably a good enough starting point.

When I’m away from my PC, I use voice recording on my phone. On my phone (Lumia 1020), it is pretty fast (just hold key and talk) and saves the recording and recognized text to the cloud as a OneNote file.

These methods are somewhat hardware-dependent, so you might not be able to use them. Hopefully someone somewhere at some point will benefit, though!

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I'm using one GTD technique for that - I'm saving my tasks/ideas to special Inbox folder (at doit.im ios application) during the day. And then later on when I have spare and quiet time I plan those tasks by parsing the inbox folder. By planning I mean - 1) detailing tasks, 2) scheduling. If the task is simple I do it right now.

I use the same technique for Evernote - I save all notes to Inbox folder and then parse and and move notes to corresponding notebooks - once per 3/6 months.

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It happens with me too. And it distracts me from my current work. I don't wanna lose my productivity and waana remember each thought/idea came in mind. So what I do;

  1. I use online kanban board : to be focused on current tasks
  2. I use Any.do : it is a very good GTD mobile app with voice input support. I never trained it with my voice still it always take correct input. It reminds me time to time to get things done. It can be synced with google calendar and tasks too. It's chrome api is awesome. It allows you to record your task from your browser in single click.
  3. I use pen paper : when I am from my PC, in office when I avert voice recording in front of my colleagues.

But what if I am driving? At this moment I can't use anything that I described above. And this is the time when most of the thoughts come in my mind. Well!! I assign mnemonics to my every thought and a number. So in last I remember how many good thought were in my mind. Whenever possible I note down them.

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