Notability

Using your voice as a capture mechanism can be quite a challenge. Unlike using a tool to create a physical mark which can be looked at later on, sound is utterly ephemeral unless it is captured at the point where it is uttered. This means two things:

  • When a conversation gives you a great idea, disgorge your working memory of that idea immediately by writing it down using whatever capture tool you have to hand.
  • Plan in advance to record your conversation or your monologue.

Recording yourself can be surprisingly effective. You can capture a great deal of information, often containing strong ideas, very quickly. However, the trouble is reviewing that information later on. With old-fashioned tape recorders it was necessary to play back the entire recording, pen in hand, to record useful information. This could be time consuming and required deep attention. This would often cause information to build up, creating a blockage that required a long time to clear.

It's necessary to find an application which lets you record a conversation while simultaneously creating visual bookmarks to mark out a good idea. This will allow you to jump backwards and forwards in the recording to retrieve the relevant information.

Notability

There are several apps which do a great job at recording your voice, and it's certainly worth trying them out. However, my favourite is Notability by Ginger Labs. As the name suggests, the tool is designed around the problem of notetaking and it offers a fairly comprehensive set of tools. You can record a conversation while scribbling, typing, even highlighting your notes. Afterwards, by selecting text or a doodle, the soundtrack will jump to whatever was b eing recorded while you were writing or scribbling. 

This makes it great for marking out meaningful points in a conversation, but also adding your own private thoughts and observations.

The app has been around for a while and updated frequently and I've found it to be consistently reliable and very polished. I particularly like the ability to create "subjects" and "dividers" which make it easy to file the work. I don't make much use of this feature myself but I can see it being very useful for people who must attend several meetings before having the chance to write up their notes, or students who attend lectures and classes.

Beyond this, Notability has excellent sharing options, including the ability to export the recording and a PDF of the notes. The software is available for iPhone and iPad - where I tend to use it the most - and Mac, where I extract the useful information into OmniFocus. iCloud sync means that the data is kept up to date on all of these devices.