Tech Tools

Is your desk littered with dozens of little pieces of paper? Phone numbers, reminder notes, the name of a great audition song, flight information for your sister's visit next month, the confirmation number for that phone payment you made on your credit card—all just waiting to be put somewhere?

If you're really organized, you could—when you finally make the time—enter much of this information into your address book or Day- Timer/calendar.

But maybe you're not so organized, or maybe—in the tradition of the junk drawer—you just want a place to toss stuff you'll grab later. The problem with a junk drawer, though, is that it's hard to see everything in there or, worse, find it when you need it.

For your computer, however, there are wonderful, relatively inexpensive programs that let you jot down notes or enter any information you want—even pictures or video clips—and then easily find it later. And there are equally fine solutions for Mac and PC.

As a Mac user, I've tried several programs that function quite similarly, including Circus Ponies' NoteBook ($49.95), AquaMinds' NoteTaker ($69.95), and Chronos' StickyBrain (the bargain of the bunch at $39.95). NoteBook, for instance, uses an interface that recalls a simple notebook from grade school. Feel overwhelmed with too much to do? As you enter information, NoteBook gives you an outline, a structure, a table of contents, and an index. So if you bring in, say, a video clip, the program automatically puts it in the "right place"—an intuitive function that helps organize with almost no effort on your part.

If you're online, these programs are incredibly helpful for grabbing things on the fly without pen and paper. Perhaps while reading an article, you find one bit of information you want. You don't want the entire piece, and you don't want to open another program, like Microsoft Word, just to jot down this one little thing. With a note-taking program, you can highlight the sentence or image you want and drag and drop it into a note—and there it stays.

The chief difference—aside from the price—between these programs is how you'll like the interface. There's no right or wrong; it's just about what you find easiest and how you like to work. For example, I'm a big fan of the StickyBrain interface. The good news is that all three come with a downloadable 30-day free trial. Bonus: These programs also back up onto a Palm PDA or iPod.

The PC solutions are equally useful. OneNote, a Microsoft product, is terrific. The comprehensive program allows you to customize your notes in a variety of ways that you choose. And as part of the Microsoft family, it syncs seamlessly with Outlook and Word. OneNote is a bit pricey at around $85. Cleverly, it offsets its price tag with a free 60-day trial—the better to hook you with, my dear.

One of OneNote's chief competitors, TreePad, offers many of the same features but sells for around $30. You can try a fully functional TreePad for 21 days; if you're not sold on its usefulness by then, you've lost nothing.

One great feature of note-taking software is that notes, once input, don't have to be "saved"—that happens automatically. If you've ever been in the middle of something when your computer crashed, you'll know what a great feature this is.

Think of these programs as a central clearing-house for any kind of random or regular information you might gather—which is exactly how our brains work and so useful for an actor who needs to juggle lots of information.