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All things being equal, I’d choose handwritten notes over digital notes any day of the week — but all things aren’t equal. While I love the feel of pen, pad, and paper, the truth is that digital notes are way more convenient in this modern age.

There are several downsides, of course, and we’ll address them throughout this article, but the biggest problem is that it’s hard to be efficient as a digital note-taker. It’s just not as easy or fluid as traditional notes — that is, until you learn how to take notes the right way.

Here are some of the most effective tips for becoming a digital note-taking pro, and they’re so useful that you may even end up preferring digital over handwritten!

Choose the Right Device

When we talk about digital notes, most people immediately jump to “laptops” as the device of choice. And while there’s nothing particulary wrong about using a laptop for notes, most people don’t realize that some laptops are actually better (or worse) at note-taking than others.

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For example, consider the netbook. These tiny laptops debuted in 2007 and typically have a screen size between 5″ and 11″. Unfortunately, because they’re so small, long-term typing can be a pain as typos are far too common and your hands are likely to get cramped 5 Things To Consider Before Buying A Netbook 5 Things To Consider Before Buying A Netbook Read More .

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And then you have notebooks and ultrabooks. “Notebook” can refer to any traditional laptop while “ultrabook” refers to notebooks that are particularly thin and lightweight (the name actually means “ultra-portable notebook What Is the Difference Between a Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, and Palmtop? What Is the Difference Between a Netbook, Notebook, Ultrabook, Laptop, and Palmtop? The term "laptop" encompasses so many different types of laptops these days. Here are the important differences between them all. Read More “).

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With a name like “notebook”, you’d probably think these are good at taking notes — and you wouldn’t be wrong. They’re pretty much the choice for all-around productivity, and that includes notes, email, web browsing, chatting, and all that good stuff.

The only problem is that notebooks and ultrabooks can be relatively painful on the wallet, so we might recommend going with a Chromebook instead. They’re incredibly cheap but highly versatile, and Chromebooks have improved a lot Chromebooks Don't Work Offline? Debunking the Myths Chromebooks Don't Work Offline? Debunking the Myths One of the biggest criticisms aimed at Google's Chromebooks is that they are online-only machines – ergo, no Internet, no point. How true is this statement? Read More over the years.

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Tablets can be a good choice as long as you hook up a tablet keyboard Need An Affordable Keyboard For Your Tablet? Here Are Some Good Options Need An Affordable Keyboard For Your Tablet? Here Are Some Good Options If you're getting a fair bit of use out of your tablet and looking for a keyboard to go with it, you may have no idea where to start. There are plenty of options out... Read More . Long-term typing is almost always a burden, but it’s made much worse when you’re stuck with a touchscreen as your only option. Don’t torture yourself.

Or, if you want to hand-write your notes directly into a digital format, a tablet-plus-stylus can work well, especially if the notes are more than just words (e.g. diagrams, graphs, equations, etc). Smartpens are a better choice for that authentic analog feeling, but can be somewhat pricey.

Use the Right Software

Once you’ve decided on hardware, it’s time to look at software. It’s certainly possible to record all of your notes in plaintext using something like Notepad — and I do that more often than I’d like to admit — but your life will be much easier if you use an interface that’s optimized for notes.

Fortunately, there are several modern note-taking apps 6 Modern Note-Taking Apps to Keep Your Thoughts Organized 6 Modern Note-Taking Apps to Keep Your Thoughts Organized Ever had a thought slip away and wish you had written it down? It won't happen again when you have one of these modern apps at your fingertips. Read More available and they’re all quite good. Which one should you use? Check them all out, but honestly, just use the one you feel most comfortable using.

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Evernote has long been the king in this arena, mostly because it comes with a handful of awesome built-in features How To Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual How To Use Evernote: The Unofficial Manual I see so many advantages to Evernote and we will explore some of them in depth later. But basically it all comes down to this: we are all becoming digital packrats. Read More . For example, once you’ve taken a lot of notes, it can be difficult to go back and find the exact note you need at a later time — unless you use one of Evernote’s many different ways to search 20 Evernote Search Features You Should Be Using 20 Evernote Search Features You Should Be Using It's one thing to use Evernote, but it's entirely another thing to master Evernote. If you’re new to Evernote, I don’t want to come across like it’s something complicated – it’s not, in fact, it’s... Read More .

Other important features include easy Evernote backup methods 3 Ways to Backup Evernote (and Do You Need To?) 3 Ways to Backup Evernote (and Do You Need To?) Unlike, say, Dropbox, Evernote does not offer a revision history, your content all syncs as-is. This means you could potentially lose any note you accidentally delete from the trash, or any content you accidentally delete... Read More along with several ways to cleanup Evernote clutter How to Clean up Evernote Clutter for Cleaner Note Taking How to Clean up Evernote Clutter for Cleaner Note Taking Evernote is the junk drawer of our digital lives. Like the junk drawer in our homes, we have to clean it out and organize it every so often. Here's a master strategy. Read More . These are all crucial functions for any serious note-taker.

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OneNote is Evernote’s biggest competitor, and now that OneNote is truly available for free OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before Evernote no longer rules the roost of note taking apps. Microsoft recently announced OneNote would be more free than ever before. Let us show you what this means in terms of features and functionality. Read More , there’s no reason not to use it. I find that it beats out Evernote when it comes to user experience, but your mileage may vary.

If you do go with this one as your primary app, be sure to check out our essential OneNote tips 10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All the Time 10 Awesome OneNote Tips You Should Be Using All the Time Microsoft OneNote is just as good as Evernote. OneNote is the digital equivalent of a binder, giving you more organizational control. We show you effective note-taking tweaks you'll love. Read More for maximum productivity. In addition, OneNote templates are great for organization How to Use OneNote Templates to Be More Organized How to Use OneNote Templates to Be More Organized OneNote is a great way to keep your thoughts organized, and templates can make that process even easier. Learn how to use, edit and create your own templates with this guide. Read More and you should learn how to use them to your benefit.

Lastly, OneNote is flexible enough that it can be used for all kinds of organizational tasks 10 Unique Ways to Use Microsoft OneNote 10 Unique Ways to Use Microsoft OneNote OneNote is one of Microsoft's most underrated apps. It's available on almost every platform and can do many tricks you wouldn't expect from a note keeping app. Read More beyond simple note-taking, and you might just find that it changes your life for the better.

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There are dozens of other apps worth mentioning, but I want to highlight Scrivener in particular. Most people assume that Scrivener is only good for writing novels and research papers, but it’s awesome for taking notes, too.

For one, you can import all kinds of documents and media into Scrivener, and Scrivener makes it easy to keep them all organized with folders, index cards, and outline formats. It also has a built-in snapshot feature that lets you revert documents to a previous saved version.

These are just a few reasons why Scrivener is the best writing program Scrivener: The Best Writing Program for the Mac and PC Scrivener: The Best Writing Program for the Mac and PC Scrivener has been around since 2006, and it is a favorite application amongst novelists and screenwriters. Scrivener is not a desktop layout application like Word and Pages, but it helps you organize and export your... Read More for both Windows and Mac.

If none of these suit your fancy, we recommend looking into personal wiki software 4 of the Best Personal Wikis to Keep You Organized 4 of the Best Personal Wikis to Keep You Organized What if there was wiki software designed to help you out on a personal level? You could use it for anything, for example to outline your novel, keep track of home improvement projects, or plan... Read More . These are wiki-like notebooks that reside locally on your computer and make it easy to organize and interlink the notes that you take down.

Develop New Techniques

The key to effective note-taking is being able to write down thoughts as quickly as possible but staying coherent enough so that when you return to your notes you’ll be able to recall 100% of what you intended to put down.

As you probably already know, this is not easy — but it is possible. One way to do it is to develop your own shorthand.

There are dozens of shorthand variants available for hand-written notes, and you can learn about these all over the web. Many of them don’t translate well to a digital format, but some of them do.

digital-notetaking-text-expansion

Shorthand is all about cutting unnecessary words and developing shortcuts for oft-repeated words. Hand-written shorthand replaces words and phrases with symbols, but when you’re working digitally, you can use text expansion software What Is Text Expansion & How Can It Help You Save Time? What Is Text Expansion & How Can It Help You Save Time? If you could save yourself even a small fraction of the time you spend typing, you could save hours of your time every week. That's exactly what text expansion is for. Read More to automate it.

Also, using an outline format makes it easy to group ideas together and see how each note relates to the bigger picture at a glance. And because outlines require nothing more than simple indents, this system can be used in any software — even Notepad.

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Mindmapping is a more effective alternative, but it’s a bit slower than simple typing (and has a bit of a learning curve when you’re new to it). But don’t let that stop you. Mindmapping is great and is a skill that everyone should eventually learn 5 Technology Skills You Should Actively Encourage Children To Take Up 5 Technology Skills You Should Actively Encourage Children To Take Up Crayon drawings still have their place, but technology is no longer only the future. Tomorrow's world is today.Which are the creative technology tasks we should encourage children to take up? Maybe, these five... Read More .

That being said, if your biggest note-taking bottleneck is typing speed, consider learning how to type faster Learn To Type Really Fast With The Intelligent Touch Typing Tutor TIPP10 [Cross Platform] Learn To Type Really Fast With The Intelligent Touch Typing Tutor TIPP10 [Cross Platform] Learning to type fast is almost a survival skill in the Darwinian digital jungle. It’s directly related to saving time you put into a work and improving your productivity. You just need to be methodical... Read More . Not only that, consider switching from QWERTY to Colemak Curious About Colemak? Learn The Best Keyboard Layout Easily Curious About Colemak? Learn The Best Keyboard Layout Easily Your keyboard sucks. There, I said it. Don't take it personally -- you're not the one who invented the QWERTY layout. Read More . Colemak is a different keyboard layout that’s designed to boost your typing speed.

Synchronize to Cloud Storage

Unless your notes are highly sensitive and confidential, there aren’t any compelling reasons to keep them only on your local machine. Not only do they take up valuable storage space 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer Clutter can be a big downer on productivity. Over time, files get lost, programs go unused, and suddenly, your once spacious hard drive is packed with useless things and you have to clean it up.... Read More , they’re vulnerable to hard drive failures How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer Sometimes an early death is the fault of the manufacturer, but more often than not, hard drives fail earlier than they should because we don't take care of them. Read More and can clutter up your folders 3 Better Ways to Store Your Files Than on the Desktop 3 Better Ways to Store Your Files Than on the Desktop Did you know that storing files directly on your desktop can harm your productivity? Desktop storage is simple, but it comes with hidden drawbacks you may not know about. You can do better! Read More .

So, we recommend storing your notes on the cloud.

Cloud storage can be useful for lots of purposes 10 Ways To Use Your Cloud Storage That You May Not Have Thought Of 10 Ways To Use Your Cloud Storage That You May Not Have Thought Of When we talk about cloud storage, it usually revolves around backup and collaboration. So, let’s try to find some more interesting ways to fill up all the space they give us for free. Read More , but the key benefits are two-fold: 1) cloud files are basically backups of your local files, and 2) you can access your cloud file from anywhere. As far as convenience goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

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One big concern, however, is that the cloud isn’t always secure 3 Tips To Stay Safe From The Dangers Of Cloud Computing 3 Tips To Stay Safe From The Dangers Of Cloud Computing Cloud computing is the big buzz these days and we have more choices available to us now than ever before. How many of us use Dropbox, SkyDrive, or Google Drive on a daily basis? How... Read More . It’s always possible for hackers to intercept your files, so make sure to encrypt your cloud files Securing Dropbox: 6 Steps To Take For Safer Cloud Storage Securing Dropbox: 6 Steps To Take For Safer Cloud Storage Dropbox isn’t the most secure cloud storage service out there. But for those of you who wish to stay with Dropbox the tips here will help you maximize your account’s security. Read More whenever possible.

Also be aware that cloud services are never guaranteed to stay open. If they shut down, it’s possible for you to lose your data without hope for recovery. This means that cloud files can be one form of backup, but should never be your only form of backup. Backup your files properly! 6 Safest Ways to Backup & Restore Your Files in Windows 7 & 8 6 Safest Ways to Backup & Restore Your Files in Windows 7 & 8 By now, we're sure you've read the advice over and over: Everyone needs to back up their files. But deciding to back up your files is only part of the process. There are so many... Read More

Not sure which cloud is right for you? Check out our comparison of cloud hosting services The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed... Read More to get started in the right direction.

How Do You Take Notes?

Obviously everyone has their own way of taking notes, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Still, we hope that the tips above will help sharpen your note-taking skills and make you more productive.

Have any tips of your own? What tricks do you use to improve your note-taking efficiency? Share them with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: Man Using Netbook by Robert Kneschke via Shutterstock, Typing on Laptop by Eugenio Marongiu via Shutterstock, Stylus and Tablet by Somboon Srisart via Shutterstock, Web Apps Mindmap by Lars Plougmann via Flickr, Dropbox on Mobile by Ian Lamont via Flickr

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