I've switched to digital note-taking!

I've been taking evening classes for career enhancement since January. My schedule is to take 2 classes each 6 weeks term, so I can earn a certificate by the end of December. My schedule is pretty relaxed: I take each class once a week and study on the weekends or when I can on the week days. I just finished my first 2 classes and this week, I'm starting 2 new classes this week. At some point I'm going to have to cram in 3 classes a week so I can graduate on time, but for now things are going really well with just 2 a week. I'm not feeling burned out and I'm genuinely learning something. I even got excited about a subject that I thought would bore me to tears but turned out to be the most interesting of classes I've taken since college. I'm really curious to see how these new ones are going to feel, given that I'm really interested in one class but have no idea how I'm going to feel about the second.

My classes are brick-and-mortar, but I have tried to cut back on all paper note-taking in favor of using GoodNotes 4 on my iPad Pro.

Taking Notes on an iPad

If you're thinking about switching to an iPad for note-taking, please consider the following: first, get a PaperLike screen protector first. It's a matte screen covering that will make your iPad's screen resemble a piece of paper. To me, it makes note-taking on the iPad a much better experience with the Pencil. There's that added bit of texture and friction to make writing feel natural. Though I noticed that the iPad did nothing to improve my handwriting, but I never had the best penmanship anyway. :)

Even with a PaperLike screen protector, there is a minor learning curve taking notes on an iPad. For me, I was afraid to rest my hand on the screen like I would a piece of paper in fear that the side of my hand would create smudges or smears where I was taking notes. This isn't unfound – drawing on apps like Procreate means I have to keep my hand completely off the screen lest I accidentally erase or smudge my drawing. It might also be because I have a strange pen-holding posture, too:

My bad handwriting has nothing to do with the app itself. :)

All this aside, it really did not take long to get used to writing on the iPad. I practiced with the good ol' Notes app for a while but eventually I wanted to move onto an app with a bit more functionality.

Getting Started with GoodNotes 4

The beauty behind GoodNotes 4 is its simplicity: pick out a notebook cover and "paper" type (grid, lined, blank, etc) and start writing. You have a tray of writing options: pen, highlighter, eraser, lasso, and disable (for when you want to flip through notes and not leave a mark). Each tool comes with its own options that you can customize. For example, you can customize the pen tool to write like a ball point or fountain pen, plus select from various ink colors and pen tip sizes for more precise handwriting. My favorite tool, however, is the lasso tool which allows you to select, resize, and move text to another area of the page. There is also an option to turn your handwriting into text, but 1. it doesn't work that well and 2. my aforementioned handwriting is too illegible to convert to text well anyway. I've read that Notability has this function that works a bit better, but I can't verify that. You can also use a shape tool which turns your imprecise scrawls into legible triangles, squares, and circles, but I haven't used that function too much.

You don't have to just take notes with GoodNotes, either. You can import files like PDFs, images, and even Power Points into your notebooks to write on. Since my classes rely on all three of those for a bulk of the class material, I can easily just import from Google Drive and jot down any notes during our classroom discussion. It is much quicker and easier to write quick notes over the handouts rather than write everything down.

The Apple Pencil at Work

I have the iPad Pro 2018 with the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, an upgrade from my previous iPad Pro and 1st gen Pencil. Both were great deals in the refurbished store and off Swappa, so if you're looking to buy I encourage you to check for pre-owned products rather than buy brand new. You don't have to have the iPad Pro to use a Pencil, but 2nd gen Pencil is not backward compatible. Be careful if you buy the iPad and Pencil separately so you're not accidentally getting the wrong Pencil with the wrong device.

You can use GoodNotes on either device, however. The 2nd gen Pencil will let you tap it twice to switch from the pen or highlighter to the eraser. It's a second or two quicker than manually touching the eraser icon, but if you fiddle with your Pencil as much as I do, you'll notice yourself switching to the eraser tool much more often than you intended. Several times I've gone to write something down in class and wound up erasing something.

Final Thoughts

If you're looking for a good note-taking app that has more functionality than the onboard Apple Notes app, I would recommend GoodNotes. Yes, I was hesitant to purchase an app, too, but for the ease of use and importing of files, it's worth every penny. GoodNotes has also released GoodNotes 5 in the last few weeks, too, with some improvements: new searching functionality, scrolling, color wheel, etc. I was in the middle of my first term when it came out so I was hesitant to upgrade, but I think I might take the plunge. Note that it's free if you paid the full version of GoodNotes 4, so you don't have to pay for a whole new app.