Tag Archives: Productivity

Closing the loop of communication

One of the best advices a mentor gave me during school was to close communication loops as quickly as I can.  In a world when constant information flow can occur on cell phones and a variety of social media, even a one-day wait for an email reply can seem archaic.

This idea is not new, though.  A basic recommendation written in Getting Things Done by David Allen is triaging your email inbox – if you can answer an email in two minutes or less, then go ahead and do it; if not, leave in your inbox.  He also recommends cleaning out your inbox daily (using the Archive feature in Gmail, for example).

The need to close the communication loop is formally required in many organizations such as the military and in medicine.  For example, critical medical findings on x-ray cannot just be communicated to the doctor or nurse; they must be accompanied by an acknowledgment, which typically involves a read-back.

In online communication by email, texting, or social media, there are three major categories of responses in practice: (1) reply to resolve the request, (2) contacting someone else to gather information before resolving the request, or (3) diverting the request to someone else who will resolve it.

What is sometimes forgotten is that we own the communication even after we did the right thing by gathering additional information or forwarding the original email to someone else – categories (2) or (3).  In other words, the original sender is unaware of the actions taken and is still waiting for our reply.  In the end, an additional 10 seconds of our time taken to close the loop with the original sender by a quick “I will forward this email to the John” (or by simply cc’ing the sender in our actions) can significantly increase our rapport with them.

3 reasons I went back to OneNote

I let Evernote Premium expire in December after being disappointed by some of its qualities. But the problem is this: I had clearly subscribed to EN Premium for a reason – with the new void I must now find a new solution.

Here are three reasons why I decided to take up OneNote after leaving EverNote Premium – and why other alternatives leave more to be desired.

1. Formatting is Preserved When Clipping

Evernote is a good tool for clipping web articles.  It had one shortcoming – after clipping a lot of the fancy HTML/RSS (i.e. formatting) is lost, leaving only the images and text intact.  When clipping articles later reading or for recipes this tendency does not create problems.  But if you wish to mark up an article or otherwise preserve it for future reference, this becomes a problem.

Evernote butchers formatting when extracting article text.

One workaround is simply to first print into PDF format, then mark up the file using a supporting reader as one would a science article in PDF format.

In OneNote this workaround is unnecessary – the task can be accomplished simply by “Send to OneNote” from printing screen, then the article is available for mark-up immediately.

2. Annotate Anywhere on Images or Text

Because of my work, I often mark up radiographs and CT images downloaded from teaching files (copy an image, type out the expected findings, and draw an arrow to the appropriate place on the image). There are plenty of workarounds – for example, one could simply use Photoshop to edit the images – but because the volume of information is rather vast, efficiency becomes critical.

This is where OneNote provides a unique value proposition.

Send to OneNote plays well with images, text, or a combination – either for annotating actual image filese as above, or for old scientific articles whose PDF format is simply image scans of the paper format.  It is often difficult/impossible to notate such files.

OneNote’s iconic “type anywhere” function allows typing text in an arbitrary location much as one might draw arrows or text boxes on PowerPoint, so that there is no reliance on the importing document’s formatting.  Once the images are properly highlighted, additional notes can be added right beneath them and the page can be re-organized like any other OneNote page.  Creating a proof-of-concept page as shown below takes merely seconds.


This feature is available on the free OneNote apps on mobile as well as the SkyDrive web client.

OneDrive Synchronization

OneNote synchronizes automatically with OneDrive, the Microsoft variant of Dropbox / Google Drive.  The method of synchronization is peculiar because OneNote synchronizes only the modified portion of each notebook, and it attempts to synchronize in real-time.

This means that shared notebooks can be edited simultaneously and the updates sent to all collaborators in real-time (much like Google Docs).  It also makes conflicting copies nearly impossible to create.

Microsoft made an excellent choice of including OneNote 2013 in all Office 2013 installations. With increasing popularity of Google Docs and Evernote, Microsoft had to up its game.  Even without the rest of the office suite, at $49 stand-alone price, OneNote is on par with Evernote Premium in price.