Ditching a Paper Notebook?

This post builds a bit on my Life Philosophy, as outlined in a previous post, feel free to read the first part of that post if you want more background!

Oh, and this is another long one, so if you want the short of it, here it is: I’m going to try scanning analog notes to a digital format to improve productivity, but I’m not sure how it will go. Thus starts an experiment in digital archiving documented online!

So if you’re a frequent reader (Thanks for being one of a handful), you’ll recall my previous post about trying to simplify my life possession-wise. And you’ll remember a part of it was devoted to carrying less to work each day. In the week between that post and this post, I realized something about how I use my Moleskine notebook.

And that simply was that during some weeks, I don’t use it at all!

Let me take a step back and talk about why I pay (willingly) more for a run-of-the-mill notebook just because it says “moleskine” on it. It all has to do with something I found out in 8th grade, when I started using a nice retractable ballpoint pen at school. The pen itself cost around $8 (something I vividly know since I broke a number of them as an awkward teenager), but it was silvery-sleek and wrote well. And I found something out about myself when using it: If I buy something a bit more expensive, I’ll keep track of it and use it until it’s dead – something that cuts down on waste in the long run.

For most of my adult life, I’ve kept notes from classes or meetings on a computer if possible (This is why I can post an essay I wrote for College Comp 1 here if I so chose to…), but more impromptu meetings posed a considerable challenge. I’d usually either grab some scrap paper and make notes on it (Which invariably resulted in me losing the paper sooner or later), or I’d scrawl notes in the margin of a paper we’d be discussing or a meeting outline (Which also usually got lost, or filed somewhere I’d never think to look). About 2 years ago I saw the Moleskine brand notebooks and though “Hey, those are reasonably good looking, look rugged enough, don’t cost too much, and are small enough to carry in my cargo pants”. So I bought a few, and have been using them ever since. I recently filled one up completely, something I feel very accomplished about – it’s the first time in my life I’ve filled an entire bound notebook of ANY kind.

So my Moleskine began to be an indispensable companion, with my co-workers fondly remembering how at a meeting in January I could look up notes from July, and quote them humorous anecdotes from said meeting (I have a habit of writing down funny ‘quotes’ people let out during meetings). This week I was happy to find that a case I had from my old iPaq h6315 fit my current Moleskine exactly, and thus it could be clipped to my belt instead of wasting pocket space.

But let’s return to the usage scenarios for the Moleskine in general. To whip out the notebook, the following criteria must be met:

  • Small-group meeting (less than 20 people) where laptops are not present.
  • Need to write down actionable points to follow up with later.
  • Need to reference material later, however generally this material is a 1-liner or something that would never require a whole sheet of paper devoted to it.

The meetings I generally end up using the Moleskine for include things like lab meetings, meetings with colleagues and advisors, personnel interviews, anecdotal mentions (e.g., Hey, check out this website…), etc… And it just so happened that this week, I had none of these to attend! While I was at work 3 days this week (I passed up the chance to go in on Wednesday and hang with the drunks in NYC), most of Columbia was on spring break, so many of my meetings took place via e-mail conversations, something already documented. I didn’t take the Moleskine out once, and I felt really annoyed that I carried it back and forth. It could have sat in my desk drawer all week, which leads me to think that in the future, that’s possibly what I’ll do.

But this doesn’t mean I’ll ditch it entirely, I’ll just see how it goes trying to convert my analog notes to digitally recordable and backup-able notes via Evernote. I plan on taking notes like I always did, but then allocating 10-15 minutes daily to scanning them (Using my cell phone’s 5 MP camera) and saving them to my Evernote notebook. Evernote can search written notes, so hopefully this will give me the best of both worlds – analog text, and digital omnipresence. I just bought a $45 Evernote premium subscription so  I’d be set to try this, and I’m sure paying $45 a year will motivate me a bit (at least it should – it has in the past!). And with a bit of luck, I’ll be down one more thing to carry on a daily basis! I already ditched the iPod thanks to the Nexus One, but since it’s only been 1 day so far doing such, we’ll have to see if that holds.

I plan on posting updates from time to time, so if you’re curious how I’m doing, feel free to check in here.

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