Exchanging my iPad for Paper

After about a year of owning my beloved iPad, I was making pretty good use of it as a portable device that I can carry around with me at my wi-fi saturated workplace, and have continual access to email, wikis, websites and more. It has been a great photo album for visits to family and a nice way to keep up on magazine subscriptions.

I found myself increasingly using Evernote on my iPad to take notes at the many meetings I was attending. For long meetings, I was even bringing my portable keyboard along, so that I could really type away. It was extremely helpful to be able to access the synched notes from my desktop, my home computer and iPad. At meetings, I loved being able to pull up notes on topics related to my meeting, even if it was from a different project or activity. I could email meeting notes to my boss and look super efficient, which I was!

I started to realize that I was on my way to getting rid of paper entirely, if I just put in a little more effort to learn some additional tools. The tool I most needed was something that enabled me to read and annotate documents that I would then be discussing at my meetings. (Did I mention that I go to a lot of meetings?) I had heard of these apps, but just had not taken the time to investigate them. Now I had a goal: I wanted to grab my iPad and go when it was time for a meeting and know that I had everything with me that I could possibly need. I think I am getting there.

I confess I did not do a systematic review of the available tools. I selected Notability through word of mouth reviews from colleagues and family members and decided to give it a try. I am still a beginner, but so far it has served me well, and has definitely taken me much further along in my quest to get rid of paper in my work life.


For my first foray, I used Notability to review applications for a recruitment I was leading. I had already created PDFs of all the applications to share with the search committee, so I loaded them on my iPad to open with Notability and saved them all under a Category that I could name as I chose. It took me a couple of tries to understand how to create a Category and move things around.

Categories in Notability

I did not read much documentation; trial and error worked fine. Over time, I have found that the Notability Support Center is quite helpful. For example, here are their instructions for importing PDFs.

Once I had my 15 PDFs imported, I could read through them on my iPad at home, in my office, wherever. I added circles and highlights on key points in their applications, drew stars on the ones I wanted to pursue further, and it was super easy to sort through what would otherwise have been an unwieldy pile of papers when the search committee was meeting and discussing the various candidates. Everything was at my fingertips in a far superior way than rifling through papers.

Annotated Resume in Notability

Since then, I have used Notability to put together a set of articles that was distributed for reading before a retreat, which I discreetly perused during the discussion.  I have several documents that were provided to me for a small group session I am leading next week. And I know I won’t lose track of any of these materials. Which reminds me, Notabilty allows you to synch your notes to the cloud – Dropbox, iDisk, Box, and Webdav.

Why Not Use a Laptop?

Readers might think this experience is nothing new. It is the same thing people figured out when they started using laptops and could carry their life around in a small computer. Is the iPad just a smaller version of that? What is so special about being able to organize documents and notes into folders that you can readily access through search tools and file structures?

I have learned that there are several important differences when it comes to using apps with an iPad tablet. Mobile apps allow me to focus in on specific tasks and do not distract me with a lot of other features that I don’t need. More specifically:

  • Using an app on the iPad takes me away from the clutter of my desktop computer and its multiple open windows and file servers and folders.
  • Apps are specifically designed for the task at hand. For example, Evernote is designed for taking notes and helps me do it really well and really fast. All the steps are super easy and simple: naming, creating, filing, and sharing.
  • Similarly, using Notability on the iPad, I can draw my flourishes of exclamation points and gold stars with my fingertip, satisfying my need for tactile interaction with the documents. I don’t have to print anything and I don’t have to use stilted annotation tools in Acrobat.

Continuing My Journey To a Paperless Workday

I confess I still have pieces of paper with notes on them. Old habits die hard and it takes some discipline to turn to my iPad when a pen and paper seem much more handy and immediate. Notability has worked great for specific situations where I planned out a strategy for managing documents and information. And combined with Evernote, I see the potential to maintain up-to-date documentation of active projects and eliminate the use of paper file folders and their contents. I can honestly say it has been quite a while since I have inaugurated a new project by starting a paper file folder. And I can’t remember the last time I went to the supply closet to get a fresh pad of paper. So I do believe I am approaching the end of an era.

I still find myself at meetings from time to time realizing that some important bit of information is back on my desk on some random pad of paper. But for the most part, my handwritten notes are reserved for things that are short term – a phone number I need to call back, a list of things I want to remember to do when I get home. In my new mindset, I ask myself if something is important and likely to be relevant to a larger project, then I take that extra step to create a category in Notability or open up a notebook in Evernote and I know I will have no regrets.






2 thoughts on “Exchanging my iPad for Paper

  1. This is helpful for those of us moving to use less paper! i have not used Notability, but am using an alternative app for pdf’s on the iPad, iAnnotate, which I strongly recommend. It has a full suite of tools for annotating pdfs, including the ability to write on the pdf. The ability to manage pdf libraries and interface with cloud storage is also extensive. When I have had a question, it has been answered promptly by iAnnotate support. They are clearly investing in creating a high quality app. Updates are coming out regularly that keep enhancing the app. I too have found that I now prefer reading pdfs that I need to annotate on my iPad rather than a laptop as it is easier and more satisfying to annotate by drawing on a document than trying to do this with a mouse.

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