Meeting Notes, Text Files, and Dropbox

Part of my job involves going to or leading meetings.1 I generally try and take notes that I think will be helpful to me in the future2. For a long time I’ve relied on a file-naming system for my text notes, so notes about meetings are generally named along the lines of ‘mtg RCO 12-09-04.txt’. More recently, however, I’ve decided that it’s going to be more helpful to keep running documents. I rarely take enough notes during a meeting to warrant a whole file, and usually it’s of more use to be able to quickly scroll back over my recent interactions with someone. This also provides a venue for those (rare) times when I have a meaningful interaction with someone that I want to remember, but which doesn’t immediately result in an action, an Omnifocus task or an entire note.

The good thing about having all your meeting notes in text files, of course, is the extreme versatility and easy access to data 3. If you stick those files in a Dropbox folder the functionality increases tenfold. On my iPhone I use some apps, which are the 4 which have survived a couple of vicious app-cullings.

They all support Dropbox integration,to varying degrees of functionality and ease of use. Some act as if you are working directly in the cloud (Writing Kit, Byword), whilst others have a more ‘FTP editor’ feel to them (Nebulous Notes, Textastic).

Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to share my notes with other people, or even give them the capability to edit them. For this kind of functionality most people seem to use Google Docs, but I don’t like this for two reasons. One is that it allows people to add all sorts of cruft to documents: colors and rich-formatting and so on. That’s fine for them, but for a file that I’m going to refer to I’d far rather it was written in plain text or Markdown.

So the fact that my files are all in Dropbox is handy, because it’s simple to share a folder or file with another Dropbox user, and it’s also simple to share that file publically with others without giving them editing capabilities.4 So, for example, today I had a meeting, the notes of which I appended to a running document, which I then shared with another Dropbox user for further additions, also providing the public link to other attendees of the meeting who don’t need to change the document. This took an extra 30 seconds, and didn’t require me to change my workflow or venture outside of my favorite apps at all.

  1. I am aware that this may not make me the uniquest snowflake. 

  2. Although, really, this doesn’t always pan out. If you’re anything like me, you frequently look back at fragmented lines in old notes and wonder about them. “What the heck does ‘NB: plan comp. for others’ mean?! What is this sequence of letters ‘A, S, Su’?!” 

  3. Not to mention the fact that you will still be able to read the data in 20 years. 

  4. It might be worth mentioning that, at time of writing, the Dropbox iOS app still supports creation of dropbox public shortlinks to files, whereas the website and desktop app appear to have deprecated this functionality, in release-speak.