Going Paperless: Whiteboards, Webmeetings, Evernote and Skitch

In my day job as an application developer, I am the only member of my team that works out of our Arlington, Virginia office. Several of my team members work on Pittsburgh, and several more in Santa Monica, California. This is fairly common these days, but I’ve been in this situation for over 11 years now. I spend a lot of time in web meetings and I do a lot of sketching on my whiteboard that other people can’t see. So I’ve had to figure out ways to make this work. In recent years, Evernote and Skitch have played a big role in these two areas, so I thought I’d share a couple of example of how I use them to collaborate better with my teammates.

1. Capturing screenshots from demonstrations

I sit in a lot of webmeetings. Some of them are with my team, others with external vendors demonstrating products. This gets to be an almost daily event when we are looking to bring a new product in-house. We might look at demos of half a dozen products. Each demo is run by the vendor in a web meeting of some kind. No one ever thinks to record them so that we can review them later. In the past, it has often been tricky trying to remember the differences between one product or another. But recently, I’ve taken to using Skitch to help out.

Part of my role in these meetings is to evaluate the usability of the applications and products we are seeing. That means I have to remember what the various screens look like for one product compared to another. In order to make this easy, I’ve started using Skitch to capture screenshots of the web meeting in order to be able to recall certain screens later on, and compare them with other products. Here’s a recent example of one such screen capture:

Webmeeting 1

Typically, once I’ve captured the screenshot from the web meeting, I’ll use Skitch’s annotation features to mark up the image with some notes. Here’s what the final image looks like:

Webmeeting 2

The resulting image gets saved to Evernote and filed away in my work notebook. When I need to look at all of the screen captures together, I’ll highlight them all in Evernote and then use the Presentation feature to move through them and review and remind myself of the similarities and differences.

Of course, Evernote and Skitch make it easy to share notes, so if my teammates want to see a particular screen capture, I can share the note or send to the team via email.

The first time I did this, it was on a whim. I needed a way to remember what the screens looked like. Since then, I use Skitch frequently in web meetings to capture all kinds of information about what went on in the meeting. I find that the screen captures, especially when annotated, add enormously to simple meeting notes.

2. Capturing and sharing whiteboards

I know that there is special hardware and software for capturing whiteboards, but I’ve found that all I really need is my iPhone  and Evernote to get just what I want. And my iPhone and Evernote are portable so that if I happen to be in some place other than my office (a conference room, for instance), capturing the whiteboard there is just as easy.

I have two whiteboards in my office, one large and one smaller. I use them constantly to jot down notes and ideas, to outline presentations, to plan, or even to do back-of-the-envelope calculations.

When I’ve got what I want on my whiteboard, I’ll snap a photo of it with Evernote on my iPhone. I can then use Evernote’s built-in annotation tools–which are identical to Skitch–to mark up the whiteboard image as needed. Here is one recent example of a whiteboard I captured:

Whiteboard 1

As I said, once I’ve captured the note in Evernote, I can go back and annotate it later. In this case, I marked up the whiteboard with color-coded priorities, which I later used in a presentation.

There’s another cool advantage to capturing whiteboards in Evernote: they are searchable! For instance, when I ran a search on the term “Building”, the note above was one of the matching notes. Clicking on the note, the term “building” was highlighted in the note:

Whiteboard 2

This makes it easy to find even the things that I’ve handwritten on the whiteboard without having to convert it all to text. Evernote does this for me. It isn’t perfect, but neither is my handwriting, and Evernote gets it right far more than it gets it wrong.

Using the two methods I’ve described above has saved me a lot of time and efforts, both in meetings, and afterward. I am able to capture far more detail with far less effort than I have ever been able to do in the past. That’s important for several reasons, not the least of which is that it allows me to concentrate on what is going on in the meeting, rather than try to feverishly scribble down every detail in a notebook. It’s easy to share what I capture with my team, and it’s easy to find when I need it.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 3 Ways I Use Evernote to Avoid Sweating the Small Stuff.

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  1. Jamie, do you have to take the pic of the whiteboard in document camera format to make it searchable? Also, do you have a tagging process that keeps multiple whiteboards together when needed? This idea is so valuable and flexible. Thank you.

  2. Hi Jamie, thanks for putting this together. I’m going to investigate the Evernote option very soon.

    I do many virtual meetings and these are the things that work for me:
    >Using MindJet Mind Manager to capture the conversations in the meeting, all team members can see the conversation take shape in the map; it helps with some of us because english is our second lenguage to make sure we understand and also the message is clear; many times I get “..I didn’t mean that ..” which saves the team a lot of time
    >Taking screen snapshots and putting them in Mind Jet. The only draw back of the pictures into Mind Jet is that you cannot see them in the special “save as” format that is required to share the notes so everyone can see them with a web browser.
    >Mind Jet has also the feature of including links, but I also loose these links of they are not web addresses when I turned into the web browser format.
    >Lately I’m using MS Visio 2010 together with sharepoint and it has really helped to create an organize way for people to find information they need to do their jobs. I’m struggling with links that are not web addresses.
    >I like sharepoint and all the things that it brings to the table but I don’t like the part where we go into a newer version or into a migration and all the paths are now invalid. I’m thinking that from now on Sharepoint will be the pretty face of my network folders which are more stable and hardly never change; by using a link library, metadata, etc.



  3. I’m just starting to learn to use Evernote. I’ve been using Scanpro for a while to scan documents for emailing them. (started that mainly because I can’t get the scan function on my multi function printer to work correctly). The big problem I’ve had with taking photos is that there are almost always shadows and/or glares on the documents I photograph (especially if I’m doing it quickly instead of at home pointing several lamps at it). This often makes the image quality unacceptable for anybody I need to send the document to.

    I’d love to learn if you have any tips for getting a good, shadow and glare free image via iphone.

    1. Well, there are two reasons I can think of that I use Moleskine instead of Whitelines. The first is that I’d never heard of Whitelines until just now. The second is personal preference. Usually, I find something I like and stick with it. I’m pretty conservative in that respect, once I find something that works well for me.


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