It Etches! It Sketches! It Helps You…Stay Productive?

While scanning the elements of my News Feed on LinkedIn the other day I came across an interesting post by Jeb Ory, CEO of the mobile relationship management startup 5Degrees, and a fellow Chicago Booth graduate.  He wrote about a skill that has all but died on the vine in the business world, of taking notes. 

Jeb’s post prompted some self-reflection about the importance of note-taking in my life.  Consultants are always exploring the new: new clients, new industries, new functional areas.  Throughout this discovery process, there is a dangerous tendency toward overestimating the power of focus, as noted in The Wall Street Journal recently.  Note-taking is an important tool for augmenting our abilities for recall.  In meetings, conference calls, and even the informal “stop and chats”  that (Larry David’s criticism notwithstanding), putting pen to paper can really help manage the information overload.

As I’d noted in a previous post, traveling consultants face myriad challenges.  We can add one more to this list: solving the question, “what to do with the pile of legal pads on which I’ve jotted down great ideas, notes, and million-dollar ideas?”  Reams and reams of paper with notes do not fit in well with the peripatetic lifestyle of a consultant.  The risk of considerable back pain aside, it is nearly impossible to glean insights from illegible chicken scratch jotted down a few days ago, especially after a red-eye flight or ten.

And Now for Something Completely Better…

I tired quickly of cramming legal pads for cross-country trips into overhead bins, and knew there had to be a better way. Enter into this conundrum Penultimate, a revolutionary iPad app that brings method to the madness, and does it with style.  It shatters the notion of the iPad as a frivolous toy, pushing it more into the realm of productivitySteve Jobs’ criticism of the stylus notwithstanding, I ponied up the $20 bucks for the RadTech Styloid and was soon “off to the races,” as they say.

I quickly discovered that Penultimate rocks the house, because it:

  • Allows for a more natural, free-flow note-taking experience than tapping furiously on a laptop keyboard a la Carrie Bradshaw
  • Integrates with other productivity tools.  As Apple has spawned a robust cottage industry of apps, it is not surprising that Penultimate seamlessly integrates with leading edge applications such as Evernote and Dropbox (another tool that I am passionate about).
  • Appeals to your eco-friendly, tree-hugging instincts.  Think about it: a week-long workshop, or marathon brainstorming strategy session will likely yield a lot of great ideas, but also a lot of pads of paper.  Think of how many trees in the Brazilian rain forest you could save by capturing that stuff digitally.
  • Great for brainstorming interactively with clients and prospects.  You can reap the collaborative benefits of a whiteboard without the noxious fumes of Magic Markers, or the damage that endless erasing can do to your wardrobe.
  • Convinces your spouse or significant other that you didn’t just blow a couple hundred bucks on yet another gadget, but have instead invested in a productivity-enhancing game changer.  My wife will back me up when I say this is the most important one.

Couple O’ Caveats

Don’t get me wrong.  There is something pure and organic about capturing notes with a ball-point pen.  When speaking with clients informally, it’s better to casually jot down notes rather than pull out a computerized device.   And yes, the touch-and-feel aspect notwithstanding, the iPad screen can seem a bit cold and sterile.  And as with most apps, Penultimate may have limited appeal to change-averse technophobes loathe to introduce modifications to their comfortable routine.  Finally, after an all-day strategy session you can keep writing away without having  to plug your legal pad into the wall for “more juice.”  The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about the iPad / Penultimate approach.

Cure the Pain, One Meeting At A Time

Nonetheless, this app puts the “ultimate” in Penultimate, and does so in spades.  It turns your iPad from a cool gadget to an “Etch-a-Sketch on steroids.”  Next time you’re trying to quickly jump to conclusions through stacks and stacks of paper, consider a better approach.  Hop on over to the App store, and shell out the whopping 99 cents (Stylus not included) to take your productivity to the next level.  Your clients, your spouse, and your long-suffering back will be eternally grateful!

Nikhil Torsekar is a Senior Manager with Peritius Consulting, a management consulting firm focusing exclusively on strategic execution.  He has over 10 years of experience delivering innovative solutions to clients in health care, telecommunications, automotive, and financial services industries.  When not talking about his fanatic interest in Penultimate, Twitter, or devices that start with a lowercase “i,” he enjoys running, reading, and spending time with his awesome family.

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