I want a typed document, but I don't want to type it.
November 7, 2011 5:54 AM   Subscribe

Recommend an electronic method of taking notes in meetings that doesn’t look like I’m emailing or texting.

I recently attended a meeting with some managers and I realized I was the only one there without a little paper notebook for notes. I didn't want to be the only one on a laptop, so I just sat there with the meeting agenda. But my topic got lots of detailed feedback, so I had to take notes - I ended up Swyping them on my Droid. Just as tapping on a laptop looks like you're sending emails, entering notes on a phone probably looks like I'm texting. I read the notes back to "make sure I got them right" (i.e., to demonstrate that I was taking notes, not texting), but the whole thing made me feel a little awkward.

So I would like suggestions on an electronic solution that looks better in meetings than typing away on a laptop or smartphone. I saw this question about handwriting recognition, so I'm starting to think about trying a Win 7 slate/tablet, but my handwriting is god-awful so I suspect the accuracy will be poor - though if anyone has had good experiences with handwriting recognition, please let me know.

So give me your suggestions!

Ground rules:
-I hate handwriting notes on paper, full stop. I believe nothing exists until it's captured electronically and backed up. And transcription is a waste of time for me. So any solution that includes paper followed by transcription is 100% unhelpful, unless you have some magical OCR that will take my chicken scratch and turn it into useful text. I will gladly tap away at a laptop instead of a paper solution.
-Actually, toss out anything that requires transcribing my notes later on. This isn't class, I don't need to memorize these notes, I need them to be electronically accessible and searchable so I don't have to memorize them.

posted by Tehhund to Technology (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Put your phone down and record it.
posted by empath at 5:58 AM on November 7, 2011

I wasn't there of course, but it sounds like this might only be a problem in your imagination. Did someone accuse you of texting / emailing / otherwise not paying attention, or is this just some insecurity talking?
posted by jon1270 at 6:01 AM on November 7, 2011 [11 favorites]

Laptop or typing on a tablet does not equal slacking off in an advanced workplace; perhaps the unease you're feeling is unwarranted.

You could always just announce at the meeting that you're taking notes and if anyone wants a copy, you'd be happy to email them. That way, you dispel any notion that you might be doing something else during the meeting.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:01 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Definitely just bring your laptop, pop it open, and announce at the start of the meeting that you're taking notes, not emailing or surfing. (This may be an alien concept to people who can't begin to type quickly enough to take live notes. Go ahead and impress them with your mad keying skillz.) I had to do this exactly once at my company. Nowadays, there are usually two or three laptops out at any group meeting and everyone at the table understands that they're tools for being more efficient during a meeting, not for slacking.
posted by Joey Bagels at 6:06 AM on November 7, 2011

Just use your laptop. (Not your phone, though, that will always look like texting.) I don't know about you, but back in college it was always really easy for me to tell which kids were using their computers to take notes and which of them were dicking around.

The people taking notes put their computers at an angle so the line between their face and whomever was speaking wasn't blocked. They alternated looking up at the speaker while typing, and while participating in the class discussions, would close the lid slightly so as to further unblock their face from the class.

The people playing tetris and gchatting did one of two things. Either they never took their eyes off the screen (and would laugh at inopportune moments, which was amusing), or they way overplayed the "I'm totally not playing tetris" thing by staring intently at the professor (very unrealistic) while tap tapping away at their keyboard.

Take your computer, take your notes, participate in the meeting, and if anyone gives you crap about it or a funny look, you should give them a funny look right back, because of course you're taking notes, what do they think you're doing? You shouldn't feel awkward about it at all. It's almost 2012. We take notes electronically now. No big.
posted by phunniemee at 6:06 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

nthing all those you say let the others know, at the start of the meeting, that you are taking notes. You may even want to sort of remind them of that a couple of times during the meeting ("That's a great point! I'm putting that down in my notes")

If you are typing notes into a laptop, you will look a lot more engaged in the meeting, and less like you're emailing other people, if your eyes are on the other people in the room, as opposed to on the screen. How are your touch-typing skills? Can you type without looking down at the laptop? Can you learn?
posted by ManInSuit at 6:16 AM on November 7, 2011

I agree with phunniemee. If you're really taking notes it should be pretty obvious.

Perhaps you can half-close your laptop when you're not actively taking notes.
posted by mullacc at 6:21 AM on November 7, 2011

(Also - a few people have said "Of course it's okay to use a laptop for notes". Let me be one to say I share your concern. The way we interpret gestures and body language and things like that can be subtle. You may be concerned, in a meeting, with letting people know and feel that you are fully present, paying attention, etc. I think that's a good thing to be concerned with. Even if the other people do know, intellectually, that you are taking notes, I think it's fair to be concerned that, for a lot of people, someone typing away at a laptop does not give them the feeling "that person is giving me their full attention". I think it's fair to want to figure out how to maximize your own note-taking efficiency, while also letting people really feel their being paid attention to. And I think it's a bit of a challenge.... )
posted by ManInSuit at 6:23 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Use a laptop and angle it so someone can see it? Or say to the person next to you, will the typing bother you if I use this for notes? I think you're probably more worried than you need to be--it's possible one person in the meeting thinks you're slacking off, but if you can show your notes when called on it, you're fine. If you are engaged in the meeting, no-one is likely to think you're slacking off.

In my opinion, using your phone is more likely to make someone think you're checking email because many people find phone awkward for anything longer or more complicated than text speak. People are comfortable assuming a laptop is for work--because they find it comfortable to type on--but less likely to assume a phone is for work if that can't imagine being efficient at using one for work. When I do yank out my phone for notes at a meeting, I always place it flat on the table in front of me, so no-one thinks I'm rudely checking my mail (or just thinks I'm seriously ballsy about it).
posted by crush-onastick at 6:24 AM on November 7, 2011

I actually find taking notes on an ipad to be a nice alternative to putting up the "laptop wall". It looks a lot less like you're hiding your facebook browsing or whatever, since if you lay it on the table everyone can see the screen, or at least you give the appearance that you don't mind if other people see your screen, since you're just taking notes. I find the screen pretty easy to type on, too.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:31 AM on November 7, 2011

I tried out Windows 7's handwriting recognition and it seemed pretty good.

Another option is a Livescribe smartpen, for which you can buy an handwriting recognition app (although apparently it isn't "magical" in terms of quality).
posted by col_pogo at 6:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding an ipad, because it seems like the least obtrusive and most clear-to-others method.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:36 AM on November 7, 2011

I attend all meetings with my laptop in a medium sized law firm where I am the only one to do so. At first, it was thought I was just goofing off, but after a few meetings where certain issues were being discussed and I was able to instantly pull up a document, refer back to old notes or run some numbers, others have started bringing laptops as well.

(Side note: the ones in the meetings who spend the most time furiously scribbling down everything that's said are also the ones who are nearly universally thought of as incompetent. They have no idea what's going on, what's important, what's not, so they just write down everything without bothering to understand. I've noticed this tends to be true in college lectures, though not nearly as universal.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:39 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Would something like this help?

You can take written notes but the pen "remembers" the notes and then you can upload them to your computer. It can also record audio if I remember correctly. I've never used one, but know someone that did and he was really happy with it for note taking in lectures.
posted by wwax at 6:48 AM on November 7, 2011

Nobody would suspect you of fooling around if you were taking notes on a Tandy wp-3.
posted by modernserf at 6:53 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I use an iPad for this, but don't like typing on the screen, and lugging around an external keyboard seems to defeat the purpose.

My favorite app is Notes Plus, which allows one to take notes with a stylus (or typing) and record the audio of the meeting at the same time (and through a focus box trick, is the only app I've found that actually works well with a stylus).

This doesn't create typed notes, but you can store and export the handwritten ones as pdfs.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 7:53 AM on November 7, 2011

An iPad on the table and a bluetooth keyboard in your lap. It prevents the Annoying Laptop Wall and you can get bluetooth keyboards with fairly quiet keys.

Having said that, just use your laptop, especially if it's not a giant 17" monster. I'm often teaching in a classroom setting, and can absolutely tell who is using their keyboard to take notes, and who is texting/surfing/gaming/IMing. The key is to look around the room, make eye contact while listening to some points, refer to your notes once in a while, ask questions, participate, etc. If you just have your head down and type without being in sync with the conversation, it'll start to look weird.
posted by barnone at 9:02 AM on November 7, 2011

Seems like everyone in my academic department (admittedly, a very tech-y group) is using the Livescribe pens, too. It won't do OCR (convert handwriting to typeset characters) as far as I know, but it will let you sync the audio and what you wrote, or jump to the time in the audio when you made a particular mark. They're a bit pricy, which is why I'm not using one, but the people who are seem happy with them.
posted by Alterscape at 9:12 AM on November 7, 2011

I regularly attend meetings where everyone has a laptop open in front of them. It's surprisingly easy to tell who is taking notes and who is just checking their mail etc. I'd be surprised if it's as much of an issue as you suspect it to be. If you're engaged in the meeting, people will recognize that. If you're zoned out, they'll see that too: whether or not you have a laptop in front of you.
posted by yoink at 10:02 AM on November 7, 2011

I agree with everyone about announcing that you'll be taking notes; that'll take care of any questions, but if you're really concerned about not having the screen of the laptop blocking you from seeing everyone, a cheaper alternative than an ipad would be an alphasmart dana. It's got a small screen but it lays flat on the table and won't obstruct anyone's view. And while there are models that can connect to the internet (I think? The old one I have doesn't), it'll be pretty obvious that it's just for word processing and nothing else.
posted by lemniskate at 10:58 AM on November 7, 2011

I'd look into getting a bluetooth keyboard for your phone. The thing that would bug me about typing on my phone is that I'd need to look at it, and eye contact is what tells people you're paying attention. If you don't touch type already, I would learn.

If bluetooth keyboard/phone doesn't work well, bluetooth keyboard / tablet is nice, as others have mentioned.
posted by beyond_pink at 12:02 PM on November 7, 2011

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