As much as I use, and enjoy using, information technologies, my primary personal note taking (and storing, for that matter) media is a paper notebook. My current book of choice is the Infinity Journal from Levenger. With 600 pages, I get about a year out of each book. Everything goes into this book, including random thougths throughout the day, notes from meetings, and quotes/passages from books/websites, etc. At times I even print-and-paste things from my computer into the notebook so I have it available whenever I may need it.
Of course, paper does have some limitations. Two key ones are searchability and organization. To solve the searchability problem for key things such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, web sites, etc. that tend to get jotted down in haste, I use a Moleskine pocket-size address book. Though it is called an address book, it is really just a notebook with the letters of the alphabet on tabs every few pages. No “rules” on what should go in, just a simple way to organize. (I’ve chosen to alphabetize names by first name, since that is what I usually think of when I want to call someone.)
As for the organization part, that’s not so easy. I do use a paper calendar to keep basic schedule stuff (see my response to Jack’s post Thinking While Note Taking for more on that), but that doesn’t help with organizing the notes I have. I do number the pages, as well as date them when I jot something down, so that helps a bit.
I have tried several digital methods of note taking/keeping, but I’ve yet to find one that works for me. My first try was with a “digital pad” from Cross (the pen people) many years ago. This was (is?) basically a base-station for a paper pad that captures your writing, which can then be transferred to a computer. Very clunky, maybe ahead of its time. Next was a Palm OS based Handspring handheld. I’ve also tried a couple of different systems that tried to tie a pen-and-paper notepad into the Handspring, but they didn’t work either. The one thing I haven’t yet tried is a Windows Tablet PC. If they work near as well as they are supposed to, they may work out. But then again, I’m a Mac guy so….
Speaking of the Mac, I’ve just started trying out a new tool to organize my notes: DEVONthink from DEVON Technologies. I first heard of this on Steve Johnson’s blog and figured I should give it a try. Still in the early stages of figuring out exactly how best to use it, but it definitely has potential. I think I will keep to pen-and-ink (nothing like the feel of a good fountain pen) for day to day stuff, but this may be what I’ve been looking for to help me find what I need when I need it.
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