November 29, 2015

Digital vs Analog Note Taking

➔ Handwritten Notes — The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks wrote this good piece on analog vs digital note taking. I have asked myself these same questions. At work I use a combination of both, but primarily when I go to meetings I take a notebook and pen. I’d say 90% of my notes are taken on paper. Then a small fraction of that is actually consolidated and written down into an Evernote note.

There are many times when I find that I need to get a lot of information down quickly. In those cases digital note taking is almost always better. It is so much faster for me to type. I have never been one that can scribble notes quickly. When I get into this situation and only have pen and paper I feel lost. I miss too much detail unless I am able to ask for things to be repeated.

When I take notes digitally I feel like I am able to get more stuff down. What’s even better is that information is stored in Evernote where it is easy to search and parse that huge list of items you talked about. When you have to reference something later digital is almost always better.

In my experience, I think it would make sense for me to take my laptop or iPad (with keyboard) to every meeting I attend. The benefit of having those meeting notes and thoughts stored digitally would usually outweigh the negatives for me.

➔ Which Do You Enjoy More? — The Brooks Review

The next piece from Ben addresses that inexlicable pleasure we get from these things. Should we do something because it is objectively better, or should we do something because we enjoy it more; ultimately making it more effective?

Like Ben, I don’t really care which method I use for taking notes. I love using pen and paper but in my job the most important thing is bettering the pertinent information down. Digital is probably the most efficient way to achieve that.

My quandry comes in journaling. Up until recently (in the last 3 years) I dint have a good digital solution for journaling. Then I found the Day One app. It looks great. It makes it easy to tag entries and attach photos. The calendar view makes it simple to look back and read old entries… and all the entries are searchable. Day One is awesome and makes organization easy. Objectively it is clearly better for journaling.

However, I still keep a paper journal. I cannot clearly explain why, I just enjoy it. I like the feeling of a fountain pen nib scratching across the paper. Hand-made lines on a page are so much more personal than a keyboard’s apathetic text. I don’t think I will ever stop writing in a notebook. Using pen and paper seem to help find clarity.

So now I have two separate places to store my thoughts and I don’t like that one bit. I have tried to integrate the two. I created a script on my phone that allows me to capture the physical book and page number, type in a quick synopsis of what I wrote about, and create a digital entry as a placeholder. I can then search for something and see that I wrote about that topic on this day in this notebook. This obviously requires numbering and catalogging all of your notebooks. The concept was great, but I have never been able to keep up with it. Even though it isn’t time consuming, I rarely create the Day One entries.

Every now and then I get renewed focus on a hybrid journaling system, but it never seems to stick. For now I will keep waffling back and forth. It seems to be working alright. At least I am writing.

I have also considered going through each month and dictating all of my analog entries into digital entries. Again, this is time consuming and I ultimately I have never been able to keep up with it. For fun I dug out a notebook from 14 years ago and started creating the Day One entries back on the corresponding date I wrote it. Reading those entries out loud made me cringe[1], but I’m still glad I wrote them.

  1. Mortified is a really entertaining podcast. You should listen.  ↩

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