Hi. I’m in the process of transitioning – no, I’ve fully migrated – from pen and paper note taking to using my iPad with a stylus. Let me explain.

For years, I’ve used some type of note-taking process: I’ve had Day-Timers, loose-leaf binders, spiral notebooks and, lately, marble-covered composition notebooks. I have all my notes going back to the start of my sales career in 1987 (except for two years worth of notes that were thrown out ‘accidentally’ by a passive/aggressive colleague who didn’t like me much and claimed to not know what they were). I keep my current notebook open on my desk, writing tidbits about my activities, phone numbers, voicemails, reminders…stuff like that. When a book is filled, I put the beginning and end dates on the front using a Brother P-Touch labeler and grab a new book. I can go back to the notebooks and get an idea what I was doing, with whom I spoke, where I went, etc.

From when I first got it, I’ve been using the iPad to take notes at meetings, using the Pages app and the soft keyboard or, when it was convenient, the wireless bluetooth keyboard. I’m writing this post on the iPad using the wireless keyboard and a free app called PlainText. As much as I used the iPad for mail, internet and other things, I still kept the pen & paper process on my desk.

With its touchscreen, I’ve found the iPad great to draw and write on using my finger. I bought the app Note Taker HD ($4.99) which allowed me to write directly on the screen with my fingertip and save the pages. It was interesting; the Note Taker HD app is incredibly powerful and had some very cool editing features. Knowing what I do now after using my iPad for a week to record my handwritten notes, I can probably adjust the settings to allow the Note Taker HD app to come close to meeting my needs. Recently, though, I found the note-taking app that lets the iPad replace my marble notebook and pen. Noteshelf ($4.99) is based on a notebook paradigm and closely mimics the process of writing in a paper-based notebook. You can use your finger to write on the screen but using a stylus is way better.

Let’s talk about the stylus for a moment. On the iPad, as well as on the iPhone and iTouch, you need a special capacitive stylus; a regular pen or stylus for a PDA won’t work; neither will your fingernail. The capacitive stylus works for handwriting as well as for drawing. There are a range of programs (including Noteshelf and NoteTaker HD) that let you select color and pen thickness, allowing you to create annotations in your notes as well as some fun and beautiful drawings. I bought a Targus stylus ($12.99 on Amazon). It has a nice balance, a clip for my pocket and is sized so it feels like a pen when i write. The tip of the stylus is soft and rubbery and provides a little bit of resistance on the iPad screen so it feels good to write on it. I haven’t tested any other styli so far and I might, at some point.

So why is the Noteshelf app a winner? When you install the app, it’s set up with notebooks on a bookshelf so it’s easy to get started. You can set up multiple notebooks with various page templates and name them as you need. I have a notebook for the current month, a notebook for each project I’m working on, one called ‘timeless’ (where I keep information I need to refer to regularly) and one called Books to Read.

You can send one or more pages or the entire notebook to someone via email (great for meeting notes!) in image or pdf format. You can also send notebooks or pages to Evernote or Dropbox. This not only backs up your notebooks but makes them available on your other computing platforms. I have Dropbox and Evernote installed on my computers at home and in my office as well as on my Blackberry so whatever I put in my notebooks can be read wherever I am. I save everything as pdf files and backup my stuff to Dropbox at the end of each day.

I have the Apple iPad case that works well for standing up the iPad to see movies or lying almost flat to type with the keyboard. Neither of those positions worked for me so I got a stand for the iPad that holds it at a good angle to write on with the stylus. There are a lot of stands on the market, ranging from beautiful metal works of art (mirroring the iPad’s beauty) to light, ABS plastic pieces that hold the iPad firmly and at the proper angle for writing. I chose a stand that’s lightweight, flexible in the angle of how it holds the iPad, and collapsible for portability. I bought the Arkon Fold-Up stand ($17.25 on Amazon) and it works perfectly. It has rubber pads where the iPad rests on it for cushioning and on the base so it stays put on my desk. And it holds the iPad high enough off the desk to accommodate the cord for charging and synching.

I’m thrilled to be using my iPad in my daily work activities. My notebook is now available to me wherever I go, I can quickly send parts of my notes to anyone via email, and I’m saving trees because I’m not using paper anymore. For me, using the iPad as my daily note-taking tool has made it truly indispensable.

Have fun!


  1. Stan on March 30, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I enjoyed your article in ibusiness and will now follow your blog. I disagree about the rubber tipped stylus though. I have found that rubber in general is not conducive to sliding. Plus it bothers me that they make all the stylus's shorter then a normal pen. I use a wacom tablet on my computer and hope that they will someday make a stylus like that for my iPad. In the meantime I will stick with my short rubber tipped stylus.

    • Jason on April 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      Google: Adonit Jot Pro and buy it NOW. It’s an innovative take on an ipad stylus that will drastically improve your note taking experience on the ipad.

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