Tablet newbies- think ink!

Telling someone who has recently gotten a Tablet PC to "think ink" may sound obvious but as someone who has only been using a Tablet for a few months I can tell you it isn’t.  When I first got the Tablet I was a fanatic about using ink in every program I could because it’s so cool.  Handwriting on a computer is somewhat intoxicating and liberating as there is no better way to get creative juices flowing than to watch the ink strokes flow on the screen.  But probably due to my long time PDA background I made what I now know is a big mistake in that I was immediately converting everything to text.  We have grown to believe that having neat text in our documents and even notes is the best way to go.  We know we like getting printed documents that are neatly arranged with crisp printed text and a common newbie mistake on the Tablet is to do what I did and convert all ink to text.

Now that I have been using the Tablet for a while I can tell you this is not good for your daily work routine.  First of all converting ink to text adds another layer of work as you must go through the conversion process and then edit it for recognition errors.  After all, if you’re going to convert the ink to text you want to get it perfect, right?  So your productivity tool (Tablet PC) has just become more work than just typing the text in with a keyboard in the first place.  This defeats the whole purpose behind using a Tablet for doing everyday type stuff.

So if that’s the case then why use the Tablet?   If you’ve ever taken notes in a meeting using pen and paper then you are familiar with image association.  Have you ever referred back to notes you took in a meeting in the past and something about the way you wrote the note, or perhaps a scribbled graphic reminder of some kind, jogs your memory and you remember exactly what was said in the meeting about that particular topic?  We do this subconsciously all the time and this is a big reason to just leave those notes in the original ink.  It is very memory jogging to refer back to notes you’ve written in your own hand.  Once you convert those notes to crisp text you lose that memory roadmap.  This is a very compelling reason to leave those notes as ink.  Once you decide not to convert the ink to text then your note-taking session is over when it’s over.  No typing it in, correcting it, nothing.

I find that I only convert notes or other material when I need to distribute it to other people.  That is not a common occurrence so I probably leave over 75% of my inking alone.  This has been a big productivity boost for me and saved me countless hours of typing and editing.  So I lose the ability to search my notes because I don’t convert them to text right?  Wrong, both Windows Journal and OneNote (and probably others) convert the text in the background anyway so you can search for keywords without converting to text.  So there is no benefit for converting informal documents and it makes a lot of sense to just leave them as ink.

Learning this was harder than I would like to admit as it was almost a reflex to want to convert everything but once I relaxed with the Tablet it became second nature.  When I first got the Tablet I would lose the joy of inking because of the conversion process after writing the notes but now it’s just plain fun.  And that’s the way our tools should be.

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