It might seem strange that, as the paperless guy, I find myself using old-fashioned notebooks more and more frequently. But that’s just what I am doing. I wrote a post over the summer about the qualities of useful paper. Since then, I have continued to use notebooks to capture quick thoughts, ideas, to-do lists and other things.
The Moleskine notebook goes with me to every meeting, whether it is a work meeting, a homeowner’s association meeting, a meeting with an editor. I also use it as a kind of lab book while writing code or planning requirements for projects. And I use it for taking notes when I am reading articles, or learning something new. I try to maximize the use of each page. I single line across the page separates one thing from another (meetings, notes, sketches). A double-line indicates a change of date. I try to record the date for each day I have notes. Eventually, I use Evernote’s Scannable app to get these pages into Evernote for longterm safekeeping.
I carry a Field Notes memo book with me wherever I go. I use them so much that I have taken to wearing shirts with pockets just so that I have quick access to my notebook and pen.
This memo book has become a substitute for my short term memory. I’ve found that, as I get older, I remember things better if I write them down, as opposed to typing them in. Besides, these are short-term things. They are not the kind of notes I’d store in Evernote, as they would just clutter things up. I capture blog post and story ideas, to-do lists, and things I need to remember in the very short term—like the office number of the person I need to visit. A typical page will often combine many of these things.
I don’t worry about dating the field notes because they are short-term notes. But I do check off boxes and cross out ideas once I have used them.
Most apps that I have tried for taking quick, disposable notes have not worked well for me. Even Evernote, which I use for many other things, puts up too many barriers to taking quick notes. I am much more likely to record a note if I can just pull the notebook out of my pocket and start writing.
I have gotten used to pulling out my notebook in public to write a note, or capture an interesting observation. I suppose this is something that journalists are used to, but it took me a little while to get over the looks that I sometimes get. I did get over it. When I look back through my notes, I find that I have often captured everything I need, and no longer have to flex my memory to try to remember a particular fact. This comes in handy for things like writing blog posts. It also makes Kelly happy when I come back from the store with everything she asked me to pick up.
This may seem like a step backwards—going from digital notes to paper notes—and perhaps it is, but I enjoy jotting things down in my notebooks more than I ever did on my iPhone.