Using a Text File as a Digital Notepad

I used to keep a yellow pad on my desk where I would scrawl notes as my teaching day wore on: “3rd period made it to page 40” or “Call Johnny’s mom about his tardiness.” If I thought of an idea for the next day’s lesson, remembered that I needed to set up a meeting with other teachers, or realized there was something I needed for the classroom, I wrote it here. At the end of the day, I would take these notes and process them by either taking action on them, recording them in Evernote, or adding the notes to my task management system (I use Omnifocus).

This process involved a lot of typing, so I decided to keep a text file open at all times on the computer in my classroom instead. I call the file “Daily Notes-PC” and keep it in one of my Dropbox folders. I use the “PC” designation because I keep a similar text file going on my Macbook, and I keep it in the same Dropbox folder. Having the files in Dropbox allows me to access these notes from my iPhone or iPad as well if needed.

Processing My Notes

At the end of the day, I process the notes in the text file. For notes going into Evernote, I copy and paste the notes directly into either a future lesson plan, a “general lesson planning thoughts” note, or into a new note if the topic is in another category. I maintain all of my lesson plans in Evernote, and I wrote about it here.

For notes related to tasks, on my Macbook I simply copy and paste notes into Omnifocus. If I am on the PC in my classroom, I use a couple of different methods to get tasks into Omnifocus, since there is no PC version of the program. One way is to e-mail the notes to a designated e-mail address that adds tasks automatically based on the subject line of the e-mail. Several other task managers have the option of adding via e-mail as well, so if you are using another program you may be able to use this same method. This can come in handy if your school district does not allow you to install your own software on your classroom computer.

Another option is to copy a list of to-do items into an Evernote note, put checkboxes in front of them, and then tag them so that the program Taskclone picks them up. Taskclone is a service that automatically takes checklists from Evernote and transfers them into certain task managers. I am planning to write about Taskclone in a future post.

Why a text file? Why not Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Evernote?

You may be wondering why I do not use Microsoft Word or Google Docs for this, or just record my notes directly in Evernote. It comes down to speed and reliability. Text editors (I use Notepad on the PC and TextEdit on the Mac, both included free with their associated operating systems) are very simple programs that typically load instantly. When I am taking notes, it is usually to capture something I don’t want to forget, often when I am in the middle of teaching a lesson, so getting in and out of the program has to be fast. A heavy-duty program like Microsoft Word or Evernote can sometimes crash, or may lag when I try to select the program in Windows (even when the program is already open). Google Docs requires an internet connection, whereas I can keep my text editor open even if the internet goes down temporarily. If this happens, Dropbox will handle syncing my text file when the internet comes back on.

Conclusion

Having a text file open at all times is a great way to keep a digital notepad going throughout the day, making processing notes electronically a much easier task. I would like to thank David Sparks, from whom I first heard this idea on an episode of his and Katie Floyd’s podcast Mac Power Users. Also, a great post from Alice Keeler on using TextEdit on the Mac is here.

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