Using a Permanent Notes Document

Google Drive Writing Editing

I want to share a simple and powerful way to use Google Docs that you probably haven’t thought of yet. Our team came up with this a couple of months ago and we are very pleased with the results.

This is a slightly different way of using some existing functionality. I hope you and your team can benefit from this as much we have. Be sure to drop me an email if you have any questions or feedback.

If you’re too curious, you can jump ahead and see what the cool stuff is by clicking here.

Collaborative Writing and Shared Notes

Collaborative writing – drafting and editing in real-time – still amazes me. Since Google Docs (now Google Drive) has made this freely available, the teams I have been working with have made heavy use of it.

If you are familiar with Google Hangouts 1 , you may know that it is possible to create a shared notes document right from within the Hangout.

Creating shared notes in Google Hangout

After the two steps, marked in green in the screenshot, all participants of the call can collaboratively edit the text document 2 .

Using a shared text document in Google Hangout

The Downside

Now one of the issues all teams I used this with were having, is that we created a plethora 3 of shared notes documents. The notes were useful for the duration of the call, but most times we didn’t really use them after (or we had a hard time finding the ones we were looking for as they were mostly named somtheing like "Shared Hangout Notes 2012/03/20").

The New Way

I was inspired by using bookmarks 4 for URLs I regularly visit, which, I agree, isn’t particularly new. What I discovered though, is that I can open bookmarks via Alfred (see the video below).

The second ingredient is creating a “permanent notes” document 5 in Google Drive, calling the bookmark “notes”.


Here’s the workflow for bringing it up (from anywhere):

  1. Trigger Spotlight 6 or Alfred ⌘ Space,
  2. type “notes”
  3. with Spotlight: click on the result in the list of search results
  4. with Alfred: hit ⏎ = return
  5. the browser opens the “Permanent Notes” document

And here’s a 33 second video showing how I open the notes document in the described way (using Alfred). Watch in full screen and click to play / pause.

Examples for Permanent Notes

We use the Permanent Notes document to take notes during team meetings and calls with clients 7 .

Another common use case is for drafting and collaboratively editing emails, copy, and text / content in general.

Finishing Up, TightOps Style

Let’s stay with the first example of meeting notes for a second. It’s crucial to make use of your notes after the typing storm is over.

Make it a habit to go through your notes and decide what needs to go where – this is what TightOps is about.

  1. Identify any to-dos and migrate them to your task manager.
  2. Copy the edited content to other documents, websites, or emails, e.g. create a protocol of the call you just had with the client and share it with them to keep everyone informed and accountable for what has been discussed and, more importantly, decided.
  3. Make sure to clean up the notes and delete all content that has been transferred or is no longer relevant 8 .

There you go: You’re back at having a blank document.

  1. See the Tight Operations Guide on Video Conferencing for more information. 

  2. Creating a sketchpad for drawings is another option. 

  3. “plethora” is just a fancy way of saying “a shit load”  

  4. Read The Shortcut Principle to check out more cool things to do with bookmarks (and Alfred). 

  5. The notes themselves are not permanent, but the document is. It’s like a whiteboard for that matter. 

  6. Check out the Shortcut Principle for getting started with Spotlight or Alfred. 

  7. As a convention we decided that the one(s) not talking should be in charge of taking notes. 

  8. We have sometimes been using or “inserting” page breaks ⌘ ⏎ to separate notes if some of it was in use for a few days until fully processed. That is OK, just don’t let it pile up and become messy.