When I started my PhD, my dad bought me a purple bound notebook from Waterstones. It was faithfully filled with to-do lists and to-read lists (which are mostly ticked off) and notes from CPD seminars and questions for my supervisor and my shopping list for Saturdays. I completed the last page coincidentally on day 365. Following, I loyally returned to Waterstones and bought a second leather bound book. Now somewhere around day 534, my once so loved notebook has been tossed aside.
I told myself that I spend too much time at the computer, either writing, researching and now blogging, that my lists and ideas should be hand written but it’s not so simple. Having lists across all devices is a dream. Avoiding the ordeal of fumbling around in your bag and pinging the elastic off your note book, searching frantically for the page that you wrote that really important piece of information on by simply reaching for your phone or tablet and opening up your notes. But which one to use?
Today the app-store is filled with note, list and to-do apps. Every blog, website or article has another ‘PhD must-have’ application that will ‘change the way you keep your notes’. Which one is the best for what?
Available with the Microsoft Office package, OneNote provides space and a variety of editing, attaching and recording options. It has the simplistic layout of Word with similar editing and design features. With a simple click you can insert various pre-formatted headings, titles, quotations and symbols to indicate questions, importance, phone numbers, addresses, ideas, movies-to-watch, books-to-read etc. One of the best features in regards to designing your notes is the To Do button, which instantly creates a small blue box to the left of any item, which you can subsequently ‘tick’ when completed.
The design of the program itself is user-friendly and not too cluttered. You can create a variety of ‘Notebooks’ which can be named accordingly. Within these Notebooks you have ‘Sections’, which show up as little tabs at the top. Within the sections are ‘Pages’ which show up down a side bar. Each page can be filled with tables, pictures, and even voice recordings if you’re on the go. There is also a function to create ‘Sub-Pages’ however this seems a little pointless unless your categorization is a little obsessive. Each of the aforementioned Notebooks, Sections and Pages can be colour coordinated, which is perfect for my OCD.
The pages themselves are more user-friendly than Word. The best way to describe it is the difference between a type-writer and pen and paper. Word is the type-writer. You write a title, and continue writing in lines down the page. Line 2 follows 1, line 3 follows line 2 and so forth. OneNote allows you to write anywhere. You click on the bottom right corner of the page and you type. You’re writing a blog draft and suddenly remember something for your PhD; you can go into your PhD Notebook and add it to your ‘ideas’ section or you click on the top left corner and write it there, adding a little lightbulb next to it.
This software has a variety of uses. I use it for To Do lists, references and To-Read reminders (although you can’t receive alerts). The cloud system also makes it accessible on any device, including via the web on a library computer.
OneNote is ideal if you’re an organisation freak like me. The clear pages, within sections, within Notebooks replaces carrying round 3 different physical note pads at a time. The easiness of adding URLs and videos and pictures makes it as easy as a physical book and pen, especially if you’re a technophobe, again, like me. Although, you do have dedicate a bit of time adding your life’s worth of notes in.
One downside, choose your Notebooks wisely, once created, they can be renamed but never deleted, start with 1 or 2. The mobile version isn’t as smooth as I hoped. I would suggest adding quick ideas with a mobile and tidying them up via desktop at a later date therefore, if you’re predominantly a phone user, keep reading!
Similar to OneNote, Evernote creates nicely organised notes with Notebooks and sections within each Notebook. Again, Evernote allows checklists, reminders (with alerts) and images to be added to each note. If your memory isn’t great, finding notes is easier in this platform as you are able to attach tag words to your notes, allowing for easy searching.
If you want a notebook to capture, organise and scribble on content from the internet, Evernote has you covered. It was not created to design notes from scratch like OneNote, but to insert and organise content from the internet. The web-clipping tool it provides is built for purpose and easy to use. The tool runs as a plug-in so there’s no need to return to the Evernote window. For this reason, Evernote is often used for research and collecting sources.
The tool itself is a lot more rigid than OneNote as you can’t just start typing anywhere – more of the word ‘typer-writer’ screen, again, as it’s not really designed to be a blank note book.
Similar to OneNote, it has great cloud syncing across devices but the mobile version of Evernote takes center stage. With it’s clean design and easy-to-use tool bar, it has an advantage. Along with this, Evernote can access notifications and send alerts to your phone, allowing you to create reminders without having to check your notes.
However, with this platform, you are restricted unless you pay for the full version. The free version is ok but is limited which may put you off with so many alternatives. With the paid version, at $34.99 per year, there are some great features, such as the presentation feature which makes your cursor a pointer – a great resource for teaching as an overhead projector. Take a picture of the students work, analyse it on the screen! You also have the option to annotate PDFs in the program.
A recent concern regarding Evernote is the privacy of your notes. In late 2016, Evernote’s CEO confirmed in a blog that Evernote do not view the content of your notes “except in very limited cases”. Many voices of the internet have discuss just how limited is “limited”. But the discussion of internet privacy is another can of worms.
Both of these tools could be used in conjunction – OneNote to organise your life, Evernote for research.
Less notes, more lists:
If you don’t want to take notes via a device but you want to save room in your notebook, using list organisers is a great way around this problem.
Although Google Keep is still a notebook style app, it’s features are more simplistic than Evernote and OneNote. Moving into the list territory, Google Keep allows you to add thoughts, lists, pictures and drawings to a pin-board style screen. Each ‘note’ shows up as a post-it on the board. You can have various boards with notes and reminders however I’m personally not keen on the organisation of the board.
Within each note, you can change the colour, invite people to share it with, add it to Google Docs and add URLs. The reminders are nice in that you can set to be reminded in the morning, afternoon or evening, rather than a particular time. This is good if you’re busy and just need a gentle nudge of a reminder.
The great thing about this in it can be added as a plug-in to Chrome so can be accessed from any computer with a login. It’s extremely simplistic and completely fool-proof. I would suggest this if you’re primarily desk based in your work as it’s useful to note down flying thoughts.
Also available for desktop, Wunderlist is a great task-manager app. This app allows you to create different lists in folders with details and sub-tasks. This allows you to incorporate work, study and home tasks into one application. You can subsequently add these tasks to your calendar or create notification reminders at a specific time. On the desktop version, you can see these in your calendar too! This means everything is in one place, allowing you to plan your tasks around your schedule.
This app allows you to access your notes across devices and also share with friends, colleagues and family. The people you share with can edit or add notes to the particular list allowing for easy collaboration and you can assign people to each ‘to-do’. People can also comment on the task, which creates easy and convenient management of tasks.
The design of the app is nice too – clutter free and easy to use. Highly recommended for simple lists and advanced features.
I’ve found that you have to try a few of these out (while keeping your physical notes in one place) until you get into the rhythm of one of them. One might be annoying and frustrating and the next might ‘change the way you take notes’.
However, the satisfaction of violently scoring a line over ‘read book on SLA’ will never get old and one-note just doesn’t allow that release and fulfilment.