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You Need to Brainstorm With Your Voice More – Here’s How


As I’ve learned over the past decade as a serious journalist, voice memos are fantastic for brainstorming and it’s arguably quicker than other methods out there. If you’re not already into it, I’d love to introduce you to the wonderful world of ideation with voice memos.

I’d also like to show you how modern apps can supercharge your brainstorming by transcribing your notes and making sense of your grand plans with the magic of generative AI, for not a lot of money.

What Makes Voice Notes Great for Brainstorming?

Voice memos offer several substantial benefits over other ways of brainstorming. For starters, you can capture your ideas as fast as you can talk. That’s almost always quicker than any other method you can think of.

I personally ideate using mind mapping apps like Whimsical, as well as pen and paper. But voice notes help me hear myself think. That’s a powerful way to develop ideas, approach a problem or question from different angles, and see if they can stick to the landing.

Research Shows Our Creativity Spikes When Were Walking Outdoors A Great Time To Record Bright Ideas
Research shows our creativity spikes when we’re walking outdoors a great time to record bright ideas. Image source: Theo Decker / Pexels

Perhaps my favorite thing about voice notes is you can record them while you’re away from your desk, and that’s possibly when you’re doing your best thinking. A Stanford study from 2014 revealed that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60% when walking.

According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Apple’s Steve Jobs found this useful too. He would routinely hold meetings while walking, and would brainstorm concepts for new products with design legend Sir Jony Ive.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about forgetting a big idea that came to you at an inconvenient time. I’ve lost count of how many million-dollar business ideas have slipped through my fingers because I couldn’t write them down.

Useful Voice Notes Apps for Brainstorming

If you’ve got a phone handy, you have a top-notch voice recorder in your pocket already. iPhones and most Android handsets come with a recorder app pre-installed, and you’ll find the audio quality to usually be easy on the ears right out of the box.

If you want a bit more control, you can try third-party apps, like Easy Voice Recorder Pro on Android. This one in particular lets you set the quality (and therefore the resulting file size) of your recordings, use the wireless mic in your earbuds instead of the one built into your device to go hands-free, and automatically upload your recordings to your cloud storage account.

There are many apps that can transcribe your voice notes into text. That means you can read your notes on any device with a screen, and easily add their contents to documents and slide decks.

1. Otter

Otter has been around for years, delivering high-quality voice note transcription in an intuitive app. Its modest free tier nets you 300 monthly transcription minutes with up to 30 minutes per note. Pony up $10/month on an annual plan and you’ll get 20 hours a month.

Over the last couple of years, Otter’s added support for joining and transcribing your online meetings. It also just launched a bunch of generative AI features that not only summarize your notes with key points but also let you ask questions about each recording – and this works for your voice notes too.

Otter Lets You Ask A Chatbot About The Contents Of Your Transcription
Otter lets you ask a chatbot about the contents of your transcription

In case you’ve got voice notes from another app or device, you can upload those to Otter or a Dropbox folder that you connect to the service, and have them automatically transcribed just like native recordings.

Otter’s about as good a tool as you’ll find for your transcription needs. Its transcription accuracy, coupled with its ease of use and the recent addition of clever features for deciphering your longwinded ramblings justifies the $10/month asking price.

2. Fireflies

Fireflies is similar to Otter in how it handles voice notes and meetings. Its apps work well too, and you can get a total of 800 minutes of transcription free, with no cap on the length of your recordings.

You’ll have to shell out $10/month on an annual plan to unlock 8,000 minutes of stored audio, as well as more AI-powered features like notes and automatically generated clips from your recordings.

Fireflies Uses Ai To Help Make Sense Of Your Notes With Topics And Sentiments
Fireflies uses AI to help make sense of your notes with topics and sentiments

In my brief testing, I found Fireflies to deliver accurate transcription and coherent summaries. I also love how it can beam your transcriptions and summaries straight to your Notion account, or to Google Drive as Docs.

3. Audiopen

Audiopen differentiates itself from the rest right from the get-go. For starters, it only exists as a web app. However, that’s not a problem as it’s designed with simplicity in mind, and to work as a native app once you install it from your mobile browser.

It also focuses heavily on transforming your transcription into useful and shareable content. You can have Audiopen rewrite your transcriptions with a range of adjustable parameters. The big one is setting a writing style to tweak your transcription output, so your voice note can read like a formal email, an essay, or a snappy blog post. Plus, you can publish your notes to the web as soon as they’re transcribed.

You Don't Even Need To Download Audiopen's App To Start Using It It Lives In Your Browser
You don’t even need to download Audiopen’s app to start using it – it lives in your browser

Most of Audiopen’s goodies are behind its one-time yearly pass, which costs $75 for a year, or $120 for two years. That unlocks its rewriting and publishing features, as well as integrating with Zapier to send your notes to other apps, and support for recordings up to 15 minutes long (compared to just three minutes each on the free plan).

This is a good choice if you’re a seasoned voice note-taker who regularly records memos and wants to share their transcriptions as quickly as possible.

Got a Pixel phone?

If you’re rocking a Google Pixel phone, the pre-installed Recorder app packs a bunch of transcription smarts. It will automatically turn your voice notes into text, let you search for words in your transcription, and trim the audio just by deleting text.

Google Pixel's Recorder app In action
Google’s Recorder app for Pixel phones offers several AI-powered transcription features for free

You can also share your notes on the web in full or as short video clips, with your transcription alongside the audio – no subscription necessary.

Read more: learn how to make your Android phone looks like a Google Pixel phone.

Thomas Frank’s DIY method

My favorite transcription method is a sorta DIY solution. Notion whiz Thomas Frank’s automation recipe lets you use any recording app and cloud storage you have, along with OpenAI’s powerful Whisper transcription API and Notion.

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I simply record a note using Easy Voice Recorder Pro on my Android phone, and it gets automatically uploaded to my Google Drive account. From there, Pipedream’s automation platform sends that file over to Whisper to transcribe with a summary and key points, and adds the text to my Notion database, complete with a custom title and the cost of the transcription (which is usually just a few cents).

Thomas Frank's Diy Transcription Recipe Works Like A Charm And Beams Actionable Notes To Notion
Thomas Frank’s DIY transcription recipe works like a charm and beams actionable notes to Notion

Setting this up takes less than 10 minutes and is easy enough when you follow the detailed documentation (or the video above, if you prefer).

Besides the cost of the API usage per transcription, I paid for Google Drive storage and purchased the Pro version of my recording app for $5. You don’t need to immediately pay for Google Drive storage if you’re within the free tier, but you might need to pay for a recording app if yours doesn’t do cloud uploads for free.

Also, Pipedream typically offers enough credits for just three transcriptions a day, so if you’re recording several notes daily, you might need a subscription that starts at $19/month on an annual plan.

How to Brainstorm Effectively With Voice Notes

Over the years, I’ve found the following tips helpful when ideating with voice notes:

  • Don’t think too much about whether you express your ideas clearly or if you’re rambling; just record what’s on your mind first. You can always record a second version of the same idea, articulated or summed up better.
  • Make time every couple of months to either label your recordings so they’re easy to find later, or delete the ones that aren’t useful.
  • Whenever possible, end a recording with a pause and a summary of your idea. If you’re looking at the waveform of your recording as it’s playing back, it’ll be easy to find.

That’s a wrap! Share your tips for brainstorming in the comments, and let us know which tools you prefer using.

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