Like many people who aspire for impeccable daily organization, I have many notebooks. NRI-friend-imported Muji notebooks, gifted Moleskines, office-issue spiral pads and reporter pads. At home there are even a bunch of A4-sized writing pads we use for all kinds of applications, letters, notes for the newspaper boy, authorization letters for the security guards to receive courier packages, and so on.
But the real purpose of most of these notebooks and pads is note-taking.
Also Read Sidin Vadukut’s earlier articles
Just thinking of disciplined note-taking gives me goose pimples. How wonderfully organized one appears. How sophisticated it looks to whip out a notebook to make a note or refer to previous jottings. There are entire websites dedicated to efficient note-taking and note management.
However, as with diaries or appointment books, I can never stick to a notebook for too long. Soon I am texting myself, leaving little text files on my laptop desktop, writing memos on the BlackBerry and so on. Within weeks my notes are all over the place, nothing is labelled or named correctly, and I’m constantly forgetting things I have to do, hunting through emails for phone numbers or making sheepish phone calls to people begging them to remind me what we discussed at meetings.
For a journalist this is a horrible habit. Doubly so if you interview a lot of people on the job. Even a 30-minute interview can run into pages and pages of notes and scribblings, and even then you often forget the context in which things were being said. Unless you have a vast photographic memory, things are bound to fall through the gaps.
Which is really what drove me to using audio recorders first. Transcribing them into text later can be a problem, but at least you have every word recorded.
Over time, however, I have realized that audio recordings and voice notes are extremely useful not just for recording conversations, but also quickly capturing notes to yourself. Thought of a wonderful business plan or a great idea for a blog post? Speak into a recorder and you can capture tremendous amounts of detail in seconds.
And this works even if you are in a crowded place, have no surfaces to write and no stationery. And yes, these even work on a bumpy road or a turbulent plane—places where writing can be a problem.
But what hardware to use?
Most people tend to invest in expensive audio recorders. Older models used little tapes, but newer models record directly into audio files that you can download on to your computer for listening and archiving.
There are easier ways to do this, and I will get into them shortly, but if you must buy an audio recorder then keep a couple of things in mind. First, make sure you check what formats the files are recorded into. In most cases recorders will give you files that need converting. AMR, MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, AAC are all good and easily converted.
Second, choose a recorder that is easy to charge and connect to a computer. Some have a USB port built in that allows you to connect, transfer and charge easily. You don’t want to lug around a heavy power adapter in addition to everything else.
However instead of a dedicated recorder you could also try a couple of short cuts. First of all, most mobile phones come with decent audio recorders. A BlackBerry, for instance, has a nice Voice Notes application that sucks battery life but records well (in my experience with an 8520 Curve, a full battery can give you around an hour and a half of recording time).
Most Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones record well too. The most popular file format is AMR and this is easily converted to MP3. But my personal favourite way of audio recording is to buy a cheap MP3 player. Some of them, even the unbranded ones, come with a mic and can record for hours. They are designed to connect with computers and sometimes even charge via USB. I use an old Joybee 120 player that is obsolete, but can record audio for over 7 hours on a full battery charge.
Once you are done recording your notes you probably need to convert and file them. I highly recommend Format Factory, for Windows, and Switch for Macs. Both convert dozens of formats back and forth.
Finally create an album or genre called Notes on your iPod and carry them around. You can even cleverly use dates and types—Office, Home, Extreme Sausageering—into the titles for easy search and access.
But still carry a notebook with you. A Moleskine looks way more sophisticated than a cheap Chinese knock-off MP3 player.
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