Making Notes on Outlook Emails… What you want… what you currently have… and why existing note taking techniques are NOT good enough

By standss Friday, April 23rd, 2010

I recently asked more than FIFTEEN THOUSAND of our current readers and customers… do you need to make notes on your emails… and if you do, HOW do you do it?

The question was related to a new Outlook addin that we were about to release so I also asked them… WHAT would you like in your ideal email note taking application?

Here’s what I found out… most Outlook users NEED a way to take notes on emails… many have come up with their own systems to do this and most agree… that they want a BETTER system

You said you wanted a system in Outlook that is…
as easy as sticking a post-it on a piece of paper
… and it must also meet these requirements

Here’s what you said the Perfect Outlook Email Note Taking System MUST have.

Easy-to-use… As easy as sticking a post-it to a piece of paper

You should be able to add a new note or view an existing note by simply clicking on the related emails and clicking one button.

EmailNotes should be attached/linked to emails and easily retrievable for reference/use

Notes must not sit in isolation. Instead notes should be attached to emails. It should be immediately obvious which emails have notes attached to them and you want to be able to view and edit the note simply by clicking a button.

EmailNotes must be NON-DESTRUCTIVE to the original email.

The original email would ideally remain unchanged by the note… so that you still had the original content to refer to… and for legal reasons.

EmailNotes must be PRINTABLE

You must be able to print out the Notes for an email easily. This makes the notes usable in discussions away from the computer.

EmailNotes must be CONFIDENTIAL

Not all notes are meant to be shared with others. You should be able to reply, forward and print the emails without the notes

Email Notes must be SHAREABLE

You should be able to SHARE your notes by forwarding or replying the email with the notes attached. Ideally the notes should be attached in a format that can be read even if the recipient is not using MS Outlook

Email Notes must be SAFE and EASY-TO-BACKUP

The notes should be stored within Outlook so that they would be backed up anytime you backed up your emails.

Early next week we are releasing Email Notes for Outlook… and it will meet ALL the above requirements… Making notes on emails is going to be as easy as sticking a post-it on a piece of paper.

I’ve already started receiving requests from customers that they need the program NOW but please give us a few more days. We are fine-tuning and adding to the software based on your suggestions.

It’s going to be a busy weekend but we are committed to releasing the program within the next 5-7 days.

In the meantime, I thought you may be interested in the various methods that Outlook users are currently using to keep notes on their emails.

Here’s HOW you said…
You are currently taking notes and why it’s not good enough

There are a range of “systems” that our readers are currently using to keep notes on emails… these ranges from writing on paper… to using other applications such as Word… to some cool tricks inside Word.

Editing the actual received/sent email

Many users edit the actual email (Actions-Edit Message from the menu) and then type in their notes in the email either using capital letters or with different formatting/colors etc.

The disadvantage of this is that it is definitely DESTRUCTIVE as the original email is no longer intact. This makes it difficult to reply to the email in the future as you will need to remove your notes… or risk passing on notes accidentally to the wrong person.

There may also be legal reasons why it would be useful to retain the original email in an unchanged format.

Editing the Subject of the Email

This is a slightly less destructive alternative to the previous option. It still has ALL the disadvantages listed above and also allows a very small space to enter and view comments.

Forwarding the Email to Yourself

Some users forward the email to themselves and then write their notes in the forwarded copy.  The disadvantage of this is that it leaves multiple copies of the email in their filing system… and your notes are still not linked to the original email.

Converting the email to a Task (and then adding notes)

Several users drag their emails to their Task folder which automatically creates a new Task with the email attached to or inserted in it. They can then write notes on the Task.

This is an OK system for keeping tracks of emails that still need your action if you are an active user of Tasks.  However the notes are not linked in anyway to the original email which makes it ineffective if you wish to keep notes after the task is completed.

Creating Posts in same folder

Some users create Posts in the same folder that the email is saved in. The disadvantage of this system is that there is still no way of linking the Post to the email which makes them difficult to use unless you only have a few emails in the folder.

Flagging the Email with a Reminder

A few users add Reminder flags to their emails and sometimes type a tiny note as part of the flag and then “remember” the rest.

The obvious problem with this system is that there really isn’t much space for the actual note so most of the note stays in your head. The other problem is that any email with a reminder also appears in your To-do list (Outlook 2007 and later) which is a nuisance if you are simply typing notes for later reference.

Using other programs such as Word, One Note or even NotePad

Many users copy the email over to other applications such as Word or OneNote and then write notes. The problem with this is that your notes are no longer connected to your email system (Outlook). This makes it difficult to both find and use the notes quickly when you need to.

Printing Emails and then Writing on them

Many users simply printed out their emails and then made notes on it using a pen or pencil. Some filed these printed notes into paper folders and others scanned them back into their computers. The majority simply put the printouts “somewhere” where they would hopefully find them when needed.

The disadvantages of this system are obvious. It wastes a lot of paper and in most cases the notes are difficult to find for later use.

Printing Emails and then sticking Post-Its

This one is self-explanatory and suffers from all the disadvantages associated with printing plus there is the risk that your Post-It may fall off.

Using Notebooks (the kind you actually use a pen to write on)

Several users said that they kept a Notebook handy on their desks in which they wrote down any notes/ideas that came up when reading or discussing emails.

The disadvantage of this is that the notes are not electronic, not connected to the email in anyway and generally time-consuming to refer to. Several readers also complained that even if they find their notes they couldn’t always read their own hand writing.

Email Notes for Outlook is going to make taking notes on emails as easy as sticking a post-it on a piece of paper.

Early next week, we are going to release Email Notes for Outlook. It’s going to take a few extra days to complete because we’ve implemented some ideas you suggested but…

We are going to introduce a brand new pricing system when we launch Email Notes for Outlook… and there will be a discount for people who purchase in the first 7 days.

So keep your eyes on your Inbox… Email Notes is coming very soon.

Regards,
Sanjay Singh

PS: The new pricing system and the launch specials will definitely make it worth your while to look at Email Notes as soon as it is released.

Categories : Email Notes for Outlook, Outlook Email Tips

6 thoughts on “Making Notes on Outlook Emails… What you want… what you currently have… and why existing note taking techniques are NOT good enough

  1. What about integration with a Blackberry device??? Many of us read the email while out of the office, we could use a vehicle for making a few notes on the email and then having the notes and email saved to remind us to deal with it when we are back at our office or laptop.

  2. Sanjay,

    Thank you for this research, blog and Email Notes application. I look forward to trying the application as I have always found journaling activities, information and notes for the business day difficult and poorly integrated within my PIM of choice, Outlook. OneNote should be the ideal partner to Outlook to accomplish this however, like so many Microsoft products, the integration between their family of applications has a long way to go. I am hoping your Email Notes will bring me a little closer to tying the business day together. If I had Email Notes now I would cut and paste this comment into the email you sent to me directing me to this blog so that I would have a record of my comment to you!

  3. Sometimes I check my email from other computers, mobile devices, etc. where I’m not using Outlook. One feature that the perfect email notes solution would have would be for the notes to be able to be created, appended, edited, viewed, shared, etc. regardless of the way that I or others access their email.

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