Ever since I got my first iOS device, a 2nd generation iPod Touch, I’ve been on a quest to work out the best way to take notes. I’ve tried a shed load of different apps, Simplenote, Evernote, Notesy, the built in notes app, NVAlt… in fact if you can name it I’ve probably tried it. I’ve always read with interest articles on note taking setups, how people use them, how their go to app on their iPhone works so well for them, and I’ve always struggled to figure out how or why that is.
You see I’ve tried so many times to get into the habit of using an app, or a suite of apps, to make my notes in. But for whatever reason I’ve never been able to stick with one. I’ll go through a spell of forcing myself to use them, to form a habit so that my first thought is to use my phone or the Mac app, but they never stick. I can never get to the point where I can declare, so and so is my goto note writing app.
Except, now that I think about it, I can.
My goto for notes sits right beside me on my desk. In fact for the whole of my working life it’s sat right next to me on my desk, or in my back pocket. What’s it called?
Well it’s called paper, or a notebook, and I make my notes on it with a pen. Try as I might I can not break the habit of using a physical notebook to make my notes.
The habit stretches back to my school days. I always had a notebook, or the back of my exercise books, which I would doodle and scribble in. Then when I was 16 I started a Saturday job in a family run hardware store which further ingrained the habit. I always needed a piece of paper and a pen in my pocket, to make a note of measurements, stock numbers, phone numbers, delivery addresses, you name it and it was on my note paper.
Then when I started uni the habit continued, my sketch book was always with me. I’d use it to make note of ideas for projects, to record comments from crit sessions with my tutors and when I got the odd freelance job, to make notes from client meetings. The way I use my notebooks has barely changed since then. When I meet a client I take my notebook and my iPad, but it never feels natural to pull out my iPad to make notes (I use it to show work). It does however feel natural to pull out a pen and jot down some comments.
There’s something about the convenience of a notebook and pen that an app and my iPhone just can’t break. The technology, which on the surface presents a far more superior experience doesn’t seem to be able to break the hold a nice notebook and pen has over me. With my iPhone I can make a note, I can tag it, it’s automatically dated and I can search to easily find what I need. It should be the best way of making notes. Except it isn’t.
Tapping out a note on my iPhone, just doesn’t give me the mental connection that I need when making a note of something. It may be less efficient, in the sense that it might take me a little longer to find a note because I can’t search for it, but I do (generally) remember where on the page I wrote it and over time I’ve developed little quirks to help make things stand out. Tasks get a little box to the left of them, if I think it’s important when I write it, it’ll either get a star or often a box drawn around it. Information gets segregated on the page by lines, but more often than not, the simple act of writing it down is enough to commit it to my memory. It’s something which, in this digital world we now live, I fear we will lose. Processing something in an analogue manner can have a far more lasting effect than doing something digitally.
There’s also something rather nostalgic about using a notebook and pen. I have every single notebook from my professional life as a designer on a shelf. I can pick them up and look back to a certain moment in time and have an instant connection. I can remember where I was, who I was with and what was going on in my life at the time. Some of them are all neat and look like they’ve barely been used from the outside. Most of them are nicely worn, weathered with age they bulge in the middle. But I think most importantly, they present a physical instance of the work I’ve done in my life. The vast majority of it is created on my Mac, sure some of it’s printed, but the ideas and beginnings of it all are in my notebooks. You don’t get that with a list of files on a computer screen, you don’t get little sketches or doodles that seemed like nothing at the time but which turned into a substantial piece of branding. The throw away moments that are so commonly created in a notebook don’t even get considered in a notes app. Those are the very moments I can’t give up, the very moments I won’t give up. They’re the very moments that bring the best out of me and my pen and notebook are the most powerful tools I own.