Many years ago I had the pleasure of going to work for an company full of engineers. That experience taught me to think in a different way. Most of the engineers relied on two things each day. A white board with markers, and a spiral bound notebook. White boards are a good way to flesh out ideas, describe basic processes, highlight problems, develop solutions. A spiral bound notebook is good to keep track of everything that takes place in a meeting, especially action items and who said what.
The world is far more digital these days, but I keep track of the day’s details– engineering style– by using a couple of basic applications on my Mac– a diagramming app, and a notes app. For simple white board-like layout and thinking, there’s Shapes, a digital diagramming app. For notes, I use Evernote, among others.
If you’re new to digital diagramming but understand the benefits of white board thinking, Shapes is a good choice. It’s elegant, almost simple, but has enough symbols and functions to be useful in almost any environment.
Shapes is easy to pickup and has almost no learning curve. Pages and Symbols are displayed in the left sidebar, while individual shape or object details are available in the right sidebar.
Shapes makes easy work of wireframes, organizational charts, processes and flowcharts. Drag a shape to the main workspace, add a caption, link it to other shapes. All the basic OS X tools are built in, too, including fullscreen mode, autosave, and versions.
Do a quick search on “diagrams” on the Mac App Store and you’ll end up with a dozen options, each with functionality similar to Shapes. My favorite is Diagrammix, which is more full featured, but also priced much higher. Likewise, Scapple has more features than Shapes, but is priced higher, too.
That’s why it’s wise to start off with an app like Shapes; if anything, to see if you can adapt your thinking and organizing process to a digital diagram app. If it works well for you, then the more feature-laden apps may work better.