Straight from the horse's mouth — the Circus Ponies blog
Keeping notes organized and easy to find using NoteBook Keywords
Each time you add an item to a Notebook, NoteBook saves not only its text but also a set of “attributes”—you can think of them as metadata, or data about the data you added. One of these bits of metadata is the Keywords attribute. A Keyword is a word or phrase that you assign to an item, separate from the words in the item’s text.
Keywords are useful for creating arbitrary categories and assigning items to those categories. For example, if you have notes and documents related to your tax filings you might assign them all the Keyword “Taxes”. Categorizing items using Keywords can be more effective than relying on words within each item’s text because there’s no guarantee what words an item will contain. Keywords also eliminate inconsistencies in the words or phrases you use to categorize items (e.g. you don’t have to worry about “taxes” vs. “Taxes”).
The power of Keywords really emerges when used with the Multidex. The Multidex is a set of pages at the back of every Notebook that presents the contents of the Notebook by text or attribute. The Keywords page within the Multidex shows all the Keywords in use within the Notebook. Expanding a Keyword on the Keywords page shows all the items tagged with that Keyword, no matter where they live within the Notebook. So when tax time rolls around and you need to locate every tax-related item, you would just turn to the Keywords page and expand the Taxes item.
With NoteBook you’re not limited to a single Keyword—you can assign as many as you like. Imagine you add the Keyword “Receipts” to receipts you add to a Notebook, so that you can quickly see all your receipts via the Keywords page. Now imagine that some of those receipts are tax-related. In that case you would want to tag them with both the Taxes and Receipts Keywords.
What happens if you want to see all of your tax-related receipts? You can’t really do that on the Keywords page because it only shows the items that have been assigned a particular Keyword. Not to worry – that’s where SuperFind comes in. SuperFind is NoteBook’s search system that uses the Multidex to perform complex searches. With a few clicks in the SuperFind panel, it’s easy to create a search that shows you all the items tagged with both the Receipts and Taxes Keywords.
NoteBook’s automatic text indexing makes it easy to locate items without having to worry about categorizing them as you add them a Notebook. Keywords require some set up, but when combined with the Multidex can be a powerful way to locate important information when you need it.
Text notes and diagrams - an essential duo you won't find in most other note apps
NoteBook supports note taking with multiple fonts and colors, and even inline attachments, but sometimes textual notes aren’t enough. In lectures and meetings it’s not uncommon for the speaker to illustrate a point with a diagram made up of shapes and lines. We wanted NoteBook to deliver the ultimate note taking experience, so we included the ability to add shapes and lines to any Notebook page.
The shapes you add to a page live in the “overlay,” a layer that floats over the page’s outline similar to a clear sheet of plastic laying over a page of notes. NoteBook includes eight different shapes that you can customize with fill color, border color, border style (solid, dotted, etc.), shadow, and textual content. There are also lines that you can customize with line endings, line style, color, shadow, and overall shape (straight, curved, or angled).
Notes apps that support diagramming are rare. That’s in part because there are few apps that allow spatial positioning of notes. Spatial positioning is a must not only for the individual elements of a diagram (obviously), but also for defining the entire diagram’s relationship to other notes you’ve taken. If you’ve just typed in text notes describing a chemical process and now the professor is reinforcing an important point with a diagram, that diagram needs to be positioned near the text notes you just took.
The positions of the text notes and diagrams capture not only relatedness (these items belong together) but also the flow of time (these text notes came before the diagram). Visual note organization is almost impossible to achieve in an app without a user interface that’s based on a canvas of some sort. That’s why diagramming was a natural fit with NoteBook, and also why it’s unlikely you’ll see it integrated as well, if at all, in other notes apps you come across.
Open pages in separate windows for quick & easy access to your notes
One feature you may not realize NoteBook supports is the ability to place pages from the same Notebook next to each other on the screen, so that it’s easy to move between them.
Imagine a research Notebook where you’ve stored experiment results on one page and are typing up your conclusions on another. Obviously your conclusions will be based on your raw data, so you’ll probably have to jump back and forth between your experiment page and your conclusions page. NoteBook’s Go menu contains browser-style “Back” and “Forward” commands that make moving between the same two pages a little easier, but there’s a more-convenient solution.
To stop the back-and-forth completely, turn to the experiments page and choose Page -> Open in a New Window. This command is the paper notebook equivalent of tearing the experiments page out of the Notebook. With the experiments page now in its own window that you can place anywhere on the screen, you can turn to the conclusions page in the main Notebook window and position the two windows so that they are side-by-side.
NoteBook pages that live in separate windows are still part of their original Notebook – they won’t appear when you turn past their location in the main Notebook window, but they are listed on Divider pages and their content appears in the Multidex. To return a page to its Notebook, just click its red close button in its title bar. You can open as many pages in separate windows as you like.
Ripping a page out of your electronic notebook is NoteBook’s solution to the problem of needing to work in two places at once in the same document. The idea of working in two places at once within a document isn’t new, but it’s not a feature you’ll see in most apps that manage notes. This is especially true of the ones that present everything in a single window.
So, next time you find yourself jumping back-and-forth between pages in the same Notebook, try opening one of them in separate window.
The "notebook" interface wins out over database-centric design
One of the major features that draws people to NoteBook is its “notebook” interface, where you organize your notes using pages, tabs, and dividers. When we designed NoteBook, we wanted it to provide the most natural way possible of organizing and working with notes. By recreating the paper notebook experience on your computer, NoteBook taps into your years of familiarity with and even fondness for paper notebooks. Settling on this style of working with notes on a computer was such an important decision, we named the app after it.
Most other apps that manage notes don’t have a notebook interface. That’s because those other app developers, when they began creating their apps, focused first on building their note storage systems. In most cases they used databases, or created their own database-like systems. Once they had their storage system, they then thought about how users of the app would interact with the database of notes. The result is a database-centric way of working with your notes that doesn’t always feel right or make sense. In some cases these apps let you group notes into collections called “notebooks,” but these collections resemble paper notebooks in name only.
We took the opposite approach, starting from the notebook interface and working back to the storage system. It wasn’t necessarily the easiest way to develop a note management app, but we believed that choosing the right metaphor was going to be the most important design decision. NoteBook’s continued appeal shows our original thoughts were right on target.
Is clutter sapping your productivity part 2 - dealing with loose papers
Loose papers can quickly overwhelm your working space if you don’t have a strategy for keeping them in order. With a basic bit of setup you can keep incoming papers organized, process them when you’re ready, and get them out of your way when you’re done.
To start, purchase three stackable letter trays. Make one level your inbox, for all incoming papers, bills, etc., that need to be processed. Level two becomes your “keep handy” tray, for papers you need to stay handy in order to complete some task in the near future. The third level is your outgoing tray, for mail and other items that will exit your office space. Keep things moving by processing the items in your inbox, sending them to “keep handy” or your outbox. Anything that doesn’t belong in one of these paper trays is ready to be filed or discarded.
Filing papers away keeps them accessible but in a clutter-free way. Unfortunately these days there’s so much important paperwork to keep that you’ll quickly find yourself drowning in paper. So instead of purchasing a filing cabinet, buy a scanner and scan everything onto your computer. The best scanner I’ve found is the Canon imageFORMULA P-215 Scan-tini. It’s compact, simple to use, fast, and full of great features like auto-straightening of crooked scans, automatic front/back page scanning, automatic rotation of upside-down scans (it detects the upside-down text), auto-removal of blank pages, and much more. However you get your documents into electronic form, you should fight the temptation to upload them to Evernote or some other cloud service. While doing so makes them accessible from anywhere, sensitive information has no business being stored on a server you do not control.
For paperwork you’re ready to discard, it’s a great idea to recycle everything if you can. Start by keeping a recycling bin next to your office trash bin. For sensitive documents, purchase a shredder and shred them before recycling. You should shred bills, and generally anything other than envelopes that has your name and address or an account number printed on it. That includes the back pages and pre-printed order form inserts of mail order catalogs.
Is clutter sapping your productivity?
Clutter is a sneaky beast. It starts off small—a document placed here, a sticky note placed there—but silently grows over time. Whenever you see it, your mind unconsciously focuses on the fact that there are items out of place. Unfortunately clutter breeds more clutter and disorganization, until you reach a point where you feel totally overwhelmed.
Decluttering your environment will make it easier for you to find things when you need them, as well as reduce your overall stress level. You’ll also find yourself more productive than before.
Over the next few organization-related posts I’ll share some strategies for decluttering office and living spaces of common items. Today let’s talk about tackling reading material.
Organizing books and other reading material
If your space is cluttered with books or magazines that you intend to read at some point. moving them to a more appropriate location will make a big difference. If you’re concerned that putting them away will cause you to forget about them, don’t fret—just set up a space on a bookshelf or cabinet that is your “to read” spot, and place all of your reading material there. Be sure to use a set of bookends so that you can store the books upright rather than stacked. By designating a specific location for the materials you intend to read, you will always know where they are when you want them, and you will always have a place to put new reading materials as you acquire them.
Improve your performance on exams by learning to spot the main points of a lecture
Taking notes in class is crucial to performing well on your assignments and exams. But your goal when taking notes is not to transcribe each lecture word-for-word. Instead, you should aim to focus on the main points of a lecture. Even with NoteBook’s voice annotation feature that makes it possible to capture every word, you don’t want to waste your time studying information that won’t appear on the exam. The trick to becoming a successful note taker and super student is learning how to spot the main points of a lecture.
The key to recognizing these main points is paying attention to cues from your professor. The following is not an exhaustive list, but if you do see any of these cues you can be certain the information is important:
- Anytime the professor says, “You need to know this,” or, “This will be on the test.”
- Anytime the professor repeats herself.
- Anything the professor writes on the board or includes on a slide.
- Anything the professor repeats very slowly so that it can be taken down word-for-word.
- Anytime the professor starts talking more quickly, or loudly, with more emphasis.
- Anytime the professor emphasizes a relationship between ideas using words like:
first, second, third
especially, most significant, most important
however, on the other hand
because, so, therefore, consequently
- Anytime the professor summarizes the lecture at the end of a class. This summary will often include the main takeaway points (your professor is basically telling you the main points she wants you to know).
- Anytime the professor reviews the previous class at the beginning of the next class (your professor is highlighting the important ideas from the previous class, in preparation to show how they relate to the important ideas of the day’s lecture).
- Anytime the professor presents examples or hypotheticals. If you’re in law school, pay attention to the hypothetical issues your professor may present because you’ll probably see similar hypotheticals on your final exam.
By paying attention to these cues and others, you’ll zero in on the important information in each lecture, and put yourself light years ahead of your classmates in getting the most out of your time in class.
5 reasons you should always take notes in class
Early on in our academic careers we learned that we need to take notes. But have you ever stopped to think about why note taking is important? Is there really value in taking notes during a lecture, or is it just what your “supposed” to do? Are the students who sit in class without taking notes going to score better than you, the traditional note taker?
The answer is note taking is a very important part of the learning process. Here are 5 important reasons you should always take notes in class:
1. Taking notes helps you concentrate on the material
In order to figure out what to write down in your notes, you end up paying greater attention to whatever your instructor is saying.
2. Your notes trigger memories of the lecture
As you review notes that you’ve taken, you often recall additional facts and concepts that you did not record in your notes.
3. Your notes contain valuable insight into what the instructor thinks is important
Few instructors teach directly from the textbook. Rather, they develop their lectures using their own knowledge and understanding of the material. Therefore, if the instructor mentions a fact or concept, you can bet that they believe it’s important for you to know it.
4. Your notes are an important resource for papers and test prep
Because your notes contain information your instructor thinks is important, you can rest assured that you will be tested on that information, and that the instructor will be looking for elements of their lectures in whatever papers they ask you to write.
5. Your notes often contain information that can’t be found elsewhere
Instructors select the best textbook they can to cover the course material. But unless the instructor wrote the textbook, they will often take a different approach to explaining a concept, or mention facts that don’t appear in the book (and on rare occasion point out errors in the book). This supplemental information can prove crucial to your completion of your homework and tests, and to mastering the course.
Taking notes in class is one of the best things you can do to increase your chances of a good grade. If you’ve ever questioned the value of taking notes, hopefully this discussion has boosted your belief in its importance.
Meet deadlines & lower stress with better estimates of the time needed to complete your tasks
Task lists are an important tool for getting our work done. One essential but often overlooked component of these lists is an accurate estimate of the time needed to complete each task. Without reasonable time estimates we end up overbooking ourselves, leading to missed promises and deadlines, disappointed customers and coworkers, and increased stress.
Few of us are naturally good at estimating the time needed to complete a task. We typically underestimate it for a few reasons: we can’t imagine a task taking as long as it will actually take; we forget or overlook important elements of the task that will impact its completion time; and we sometimes shudder at the thought of spending hours working on a task, so we lowball the estimate to make ourselves feel better. Whatever the cause, a systematic approach can help anyone become a better time estimator. First, put together your to do list, and alongside each task add your estimate of the time needed to complete it. Then as you complete your tasks, jot down the actual time it took and note the difference. Do this for about a week.
Once you see the time differences you may notice patterns. You may see that for certain types of tasks you take 50% more time than you estimated. Or you may notice that everything takes 20% more time than you had originally guessed. For the next week, again put together your to do list but use what you learned from week one to make more accurate time estimates. Then at the end of week two look back to see how much better you got at estimating your time. Do this a couple more times, or until you are satisfied that your time estimates will be reasonably correct.
Double your reading speed and plow through your reading backlog
For most of us, books, newspapers, trade journals, and magazines are sources of essential information. Unfortunately for most of us, these reading materials typically wind up in piles around our house or office. Not only do we not reap the benefits of the information they contain, we also stress ourselves out every time we see these piles of reading that we never get to.
One reason for our reading backlog is our reading speed. If we could somehow increase our reading speed, we would receive a huge boost in performance at work and school from getting all that information into our heads where we can put it to use. We’d also start to feel less stressed as the piles of reading shrink.
I want to tell you about a speed reading course that I believe can help you, as it did me, at least double your reading speed. Before I took the course I had a huge stack of newspapers (I read two per day) that tended to grow larger over time. That stack has been gone for weeks. Before, it took me hours to make a dent in a book. Now, I can read one from start to finish in an evening.
The course is available online and is called Speed Reading for Business, by Alex Garcez, who calls himself the Speed Reading Coach. You can opt for the two-hour “beginner’s” version which covers the basics, or the full four-hour version that includes additional tricks to increase your reading speed. I bought the four-hour version but you should be able to double your reading speed with the shorter course (Alex actually guarantees a 33% increase in reading speed or your money back). If you’re a student, don’t be put off by the word “business” in the course name because the course is not specifically designed for business people. Considering how many years of reading every student has ahead of them, they will probably benefit from this course most of all.
We are in no way affiliated with Alex Garcez, nor will we receive any commissions for referral sales. I am telling you about the Speed Reading for Business course because it helped me significantly boost my productivity by allowing me to churn through my reading backlog, and I believe it can do the same for you. I hope you check it out.