Evernote Founder Phil Libin’s Secret To Looking Interested During Meetings

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By Blake Thorne


“I haven’t actually told this to anyone before.”

Anytime you hear those words, pay attention to what the person says next.

Anytime you hear those words from someone who’s co-founded three multimillion-dollar companies, drop everything and start taking notes.

In this case, those words came from Phil Libin, who co-founded and until very recently served as CEO of Evernote. He helped grow Evernote from a simple note-taking application to the billion-dollar productivity suite it is today.

Libin was sharing his productivity tools and tips in an Aug. 4 podcast interview with Tim Ferriss.

“So here’s how this works,” Libin said. “You know how if you’re in a meeting, and you’ve got your laptop open and you’re taking notes in your laptop. That sort of creates a barrier between you and the other people. And it sometimes feels a little bit distant. Like a little bit intimidating.”

We’ve all been there. Go on, Phil.

“Or you can use a phone. But if you use a phone in a meeting with someone, then it just kind of looks like you’re not paying attention to them.”

Right. Been there. Give us your secrets already!

“If you use a notebook, if you like write in a notebook while you’re talking to someone, they’ll feel like ‘man this person really cares about me.’ It totally flips the odometer the other way. You are signaling deep caring and interest.”

It’s simple, it’s efficient and it’s productive. Would you expect less from the guy who brought us Evernote?

How many times have you talked in a meeting and looked across the glazed-over eyes locked onto screens. There’s definitely a barrier there. Sure, that guy in the back on his phone might be taking notes. But he’s probably on Twitter.

The trick is, you don’t even have to be paying attention. Writing in a notebook makes you seem engaged whether you are or not.

“Even if you’re just drawing houses and clouds and unicorns,” Libin said.

Seems counterintuitive coming from a company that helps you record and store all your notes digitally. But Evernote understands the power of the analog experience and has incorporated it into their product. Their Scanner app helps you take photos of physical documents that are automatically tagged and stored into your account.

The Evernote Moleskin.

Evernote also teamed up with Moleskin to make beautiful paper notebooks optimized for capturing digital scans and uploading to Evernote. You don’t need one of these notebooks to scan handwritten notes into Evernote. Any old notebook, cocktail napkin or chunk of tree bark will do the trick.

Turns out there’s some science behind this approach.

University of California, Los Angeles researchers have reported that students learn better when taking notes by hand as opposed to a keyboard. The research suggests that analog writing triggers a process of reflection and information manipulation that improves understanding and memory encoding.

From their study, aptly titled “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking

In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.

Libin said he uses notebooks during meetings and conversations to jot down specific words or phrases that will serve as cues to remind him of the bigger conversation later on.

He immediately then scans the notes into Evernote. When he’s skimming Evernote later on, those cue words will “pop the whole meeting into my head,” he said.

Not bad advice. Try it next time you’re in a meeting and want to remember things later on. Or if you just want to look like you’re paying attention.

So you can get back to drawing unicorns.

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