I created a note taking application, but stopped using it. Let me explain how I take notes nowadays.
While I think a lot about productivity and organizing things, one thing that especially fascinates me is note taking.
We all have thoughts coming to our mind and at some point we might feel a need to capture those thoughts in some way. I like to think about note taking as a way to clean up your brain. Writing down your thoughts can have the same effect, that you experience when explaining a particular difficult problem to your co-worker and at the point you are done talking, you already figured out a solution on your own. Articulating our thoughts helps us to think. You don’t need to talk to someone else to do so. By writing you can talk to yourself instead.
At some point I became excited about the idea of using technology to enhance the process of organizing our minds. Digital note taking gives us the power to easily edit and organize our writings; we can quickly search through old documents and share notes with other people.
Five years ago I decided to team up with Jan-Christoph to work on our own writing application, Litewrite. We had the goals to create a simple, distraction-free application and give users complete control over their personal notes while still being able to access the same notes from all their devices. I would say that at least to some degree we achieved those goals and even today some people use Litewrite daily.
However, personally I haven’t used Litewrite since more than three years now. The reason for this is not that I think another application is doing a better job. It is because I do not take notes digitally anymore.
I still write digitally though when writing articles or other documents, but in those cases I prefer to write using the same editor I use for all my other work and I like to share documents using Git and a web server instead of a custom application.
But I realized that digital tools do not help me organizing my thoughts. For me the best tool for note taking is paper.
When you write on paper, you are not able to change anything after you have written it down. And that is not a bad thing. You learn to think about a sentence as a whole before you start writing. And you have a beautiful record of every step of your thinking process.
Being able to search text is not a feature that helps us taking notes. I prefer having physical pages I can thumb through and after I filled a notebook with thoughts, I can review it as a whole. I can put it on the shelf and go through it again in five years.
Also sharing is helpful for taking notes. If you like to turn some of your notes into a writing that you can share with others, you can still do so. To know that your notes are not meant for sharing but only for you alone, is liberating and allows you to express yourself freely.
There are certain situations where it can be inconvenient to write down an idea in a physical notebook though. If I’m taking the subway, it is easier for me to grab my phone and write down a quick note in there. What ended up working well for me, is to send myself a message in Telegram or any other messaging app that allows you to talk to yourself. I treat these messages as purely communication, not for storing my notes. Later when I get home I go through them and write them down on paper.
To summarize, after I developed my own note taking application, I stopped using it and nowadays I use paper to take notes, my default editor for writings I intend to share and instant messages as quick reminders whenever note taking would be inconvenient.
What is your approach to organize your thoughts? What experience do you have with using a traditional notebook made of paper? Let me know on Twitter!