Why am I using this paper notebook for notetaking? It may surprise those of you who have been following my work here, especially since I’m one of the biggest cheerleaders for digital publishing and blogging. Sure enough, my messenger bag carries three digital devices for reading, writing and entertainment. But mixed in with my iPod, Droid cellphone and MacBook Pro is a Moleskine notebook: black cover, ruled sheets, pocket in the back.
Why You Need a Notebook
It’s like collecting puzzle pieces. Use your notebook to store the pieces. Then put them together when you have time. And you’re going to need less time than you think if you keep a good notebook.
Also, the fact you’re taking notes will help you retain the information. You may not need to refer to your notebook as much as you think because your memory for the noted information is better.
What You Need in a Notebook
Here’s what you need to look for:
- Something portable
- Easy for you to use
- Accessible to your workflow
- Convertible into another format or media
Searchable, “tag-able” and sharable are good — but those traits don’t make your notebooks practical. For example, many people love Evernote. It’s a handy online notebook that I find great for research. And it has tools that make it easy to file notes and pieces of web pages.
But to be honest, it’s not really part of my workflow. I don’t refer to it very often. Thus, my notes are forgotten once filed. I don’t think of looking through it very often. (What I really want is an app that streamed those notes onto my refrigerator!)
The same can be said about the papers you just scribbled on. If your notebook simply sits in your bag without you going through it, those notes will never do you any good.
Unfortunately, the text on paper isn’t very convertible. You can try to scan it into your computer, but it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth. Or you can summarize your notes each day in a digital format. This should reinforce your memory of the material and put the highlights in a searchable and organizable format.
Confessions of a Geek
I love my computers and devices. I love storing documents in the cloud. Bookmarklets are the coolest tool for curating content and publishing it. I even figured out how to use a WordPress blog as an online notebook. And I have lousy handwriting.
But after a lot of experimenting, organizing, interviewing and note taking, my Moleskine notebook is the best tool I have for collecting content. It feels good in my hands. The size and rigidity are good for writing so that you don’t need to have a flat surface underneath.
Paper to pen is the fastest, easiest method I have at my disposal. I can easily review and accent my notes with a highlighter, looking out for material that I can use in a column or blog post. Then, I can outline the content in Google Docs. Those outlines can be converted to content quickly when needed.
There’s one more reason I use the Moleskine notebook. Right or wrong, it suggests status. I must be successful if I can afford to spend that kind of money on notebooks. A bit shallow, yes. But is it any more shallow than dressing in a nice suit for an interview or sales presentation? Let’s face it: you’re not going to get the gig unless you project confidence and success.
So, why is this “dead tree” system my preference?
- It’s easier: Sometimes we make things harder than it has to be. There’s a simplicity to pen and paper that no app has replicated. I’ve tried taking notes in word processing documents. But when I want to transcribe the notes into a column or blog post, I rewrite everything anyway.
- Paperless is overrated: As much as I love gadgets, computers and digital publishing, I can’t get away from using paper to conduct business.
- Paper creates a bond: There is an emotional attachment to things we can hold. Especially paper. The words have more impact. And writing reinforces the memory.
- Digital distraction is a huge problem: Your brain doesn’t work as well when you’re in front of a screen all of the time. It really helps my thinking to take my notes offline and reorganize the most important points into an outline or two. There is compelling research into what digital devices are doing to our brains.
Give me a pen and paper every time over all things digital. It has no operating system that needs tweaking, never needs rebooting and requires no upgrading.
Well, maybe the last one counts if you consider my Moleskine an upgrade…
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