Learning and Unlearning: The Parable of the Bluetooth Keyboard

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By nature, I am a note taker. As a project manager, I am frequently projecting what’s on my laptop, sharing my screen via Live Meeting and taking notes at the same time. This can be tricky.

The first note-taking setup I tried involved extending my screen to the projector, sharing only what was visible on the projector with Live Meeting, and taking notes on my laptop screen. It didn’t work well. The screen sharing would stop working randomly, switching between sharing applications was choppy, etc. The problem was due to Live Meeting.

I abandoned digital note taking and switched to pen and paper. The main disadvantage of paper was that I had to type up the physical notes in order to share them with others. Certain days of the week I am in several consecutive meetings, and the paper notes build up. Additionally, my email builds up during the meetings, because I am almost always projecting my screen and cannot multitask like others in the room. When I get out of the back-to-back meetings I have a buildup of paper and a buildup of emails.

Then I noticed that a co-worker sitting in my row (also a technofile) had a Bluetooth keyboard that he connected to his tablet to take notes. I don’t want to carry a tablet around with me in addition to my laptop, but it occurred to me that I always have my phone with me and can connect it to the Bluetooth keyboard. Problem solved.

I got a lot of strange looks and heckles when I first pulled out my Bluetooth keyboard, phone, and old plastic cassette tape case DIY phone stand. People joked that Accenture could afford to buy me a full-sized tablet. Jokes aside, that setup saved me over an hour of time each week and doubled the quality of notes I captured. Action items were more specific, decisions were captured and communicated, and I could send notes out immediately after meetings.

An unexpected advantage of this setup was that I could take digital notes without being distracted by the broader digital world. How often do you find yourself on your laptop taking notes, then distracted by email or a different alert? It can be rude to sit across from someone and type on a laptop, even if you are truly just noting down important things. Taking notes on a phone removes the distraction and the rudeness.

Fast forward a year, and my client replaced Live Meeting with WebEx. I kept taking notes on my Bluetooth keyboard, and the system still worked great. However, WebEx doesn’t have the same issues Live Meeting has when switching between multiple slide decks or applications. The problem that caused me to switch to Bluetooth went away, but instead of reassessing the situation I just continued in the pattern of behavior that had been set. It took Jeff Soong, who joined the project after Live Meeting was gone, to question why I was still doing that and to move back to WebEx.

In a way, this is a post about learning and unlearning. Adapt and find ways to be more efficient, but don’t be afraid to unlearn them and change when they are no longer relevant.

For the curious, Microsoft OneNote has been my note-taking tool of choice since college. It’s free to use for everyone. I can’t say enough good things about OneNote. I’ve tried dozens of others (Evernote, etc.) but always come back to OneNote. The notes I take on my phone synchronize with my computer.

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