How to take dependable notes with the iPhone and iPad

In my day gig I’m a business analyst for a large hospital. A significant amount of my week is taken up with meetings, and obviously, I need to take notes during them. I also take notes for freelance articles and my research notes for my fiction writing. Additionally, I have little day-to-day notes where I may make a note of the RGB color values I might need, or the size screws I need to get at Home Depot.

At the center of this workflow is my iPad and iPhone. Today, I’m going to tell you how I use OneNote, Evernote, and the built-in Notes app to take my notes. As with most of my document requirements, I want a cross-platform solution, or, at least something I can access on the web.

My note-taking ritual

My approach to taking notes is very simple. I want to be able to capture information accurately and be able easily flag a note as an action item. At this point, I’m not too worried about typos and correct grammar. I can go clean them up later.

I also want to be able to store clippings and notes for when I’m working on my fiction. One of the stories I’m working on is set in Boston in the 1970s. So, I have a digital notebook about Chinatown, who the political leaders were, and notes from documentaries about the era.

Lastly, there are a lot of little notes I take throughout the day. These notes may be a setting on a guitar effects pedal I want to try, parts I want to order, and a few network passwords (I know, those should be in OnePassword).

Using OneNote for my work notes

By far, the best solution I’ve found for taking notes in work meetings is OneNote. Evernote is in second place, but it’s a distant gap between the two apps.

I have one OneNote notebook (labeled with the name of the company I work for) and each project becomes a page in that notebook. When I got to a meeting, I bring my iPad with me, open up the page to that project and use the on-screen keyboard to take notes. Again, I’m more concerned with getting the information down accurately and only fix a typo if it will hinder my recollection of a fact. So, I’ll fix a typo about a field name, but not care if I got a person’s name wrong (unless, of course, I don’t already know how to spell his or her last name).

Where OneNote succeeds for me is the ability to quickly track action items. If I make a note, I can just tap the To Do icon in the ribbon and OneNote puts a check box in front of the sentence. I’ll then add a sentence on who will follow up. At the next status meeting, I’ll scan the notes and check off completed action items. This is huge for me, since before I’d have to use some sort of shorthand to track an action item. I’d either start the sentence with three asterisks, highlight it, or some other workaround.

I also have OneNote installed on my Mac so I can edit the notes on a larger screen if I need to. I can also access my notebooks on the OneDrive web site.

Using Evernote for my personal notes

Admittedly, I could use OneNote for a lot of my personal notes. I don’t for two reasons: I have years of research notes I’m in no mood to migrate; and I like having a clear separation of work notes and personal notes. This way, if someone asks to see my iPad to look over some notes, I don’t have to worry they may click on the wrong section and see a personal note.


Also, a lot of my personal note taking is clipping a web page an appending some commentary to it. I find it easier to do this with Evernote. I frequently use the iOS extension to clip a page into my research notes. OneNote also has a clipper, but I haven’t needed to us it. I will try it when I need to clip a web page for work.

Unlike OneNote, where I have one notebook for work, in Evernote I have a different notebook for each category. I have notebooks for workspaces I’ve admired, one for researching Apple articles, notebooks for video game references, and one for great long form writing I’ve clipped into Evernote.

Using the Notes app

Lastly, I have a lot of incidental notes that don’t really belong in either Onenote or Evernote. These are the types of notes I might put in a small paper notebook or a post it note. Looking through my notes as I’m writing this I see notes for a Terminal command I need to enter to use a client gateway on my Mac, the site ID I need to use when I call in for support, some settings to try out on my Amp, and a few musical notes I need to reference during band practice.

So, why aren’t these in the other two apps? Usually, they are a note I don’t want to get buried or have to worry about a sync error, and are usually just a line or two of text. At some point, I should go through and group some of them into Evernote, but it’s not a big enough of a deal.

What I’d like to do to improve this

I don’t use my iPhone 6 Plus for note taking in meetings, but I’d like to. The main reason I don’t is perception. Typing on my iPad gives the impression I’m working. Typing on my iPhone gives the impression I’m texting. For now, while I’m at work the safer option is to just use my iPad. I have thought about getting a small, foldable, Bluetooth keyboard to use in these situations.

Every now and then, I weigh whether keeping my notes split between OneNote and Evernote is a sound decision. A part of me wants to keep most of most of my notes in one place. I’m just not that thrilled with OneNote’s web clipper, though. I think the Evernote clipper does a better job of rendering the page. For now, though, I’m ok with the split as I feel it plays to each app’s strengths.