I grew up a digital kid. I had my first computer at 13. I’ve always tried to be an “early adopter” when it financially made sense.
Some, like Ulysses and Evernote, added too much complexity and didn’t work out for me long term. Others, like Simplenote or Apple Notes, didn’t offer enough features to be effective at keeping information like I wanted.
I initially started using 100% digital tools. Over time, I’ve realized not everything needs to be kept, nor should everything be digital.
So instead of committing to keep the information in my life 100% electronic or analog, I’ve decided to hybridize a system between the two. It seems to be effective for a lot of other people, and greatly increases the agility of information management through engaging the right mode for the right information.
My system isn’t going to work for everyone, but I highly recommend you take ideas that stand out to you, try them out, and see what sticks.
My choice: Bear
I started using Bear last fall after exporting all my notes from Evernote due to their price increases, feature bloat, and all around lack of quality in their apps. Bear scratched the design, simplicity, and usability itch all in one nice package.
I’ve already talked through my usage of Bear’s tagging system (which works in such a superior way in my mind), but I wanted to share what modes I use Bear for.
I tried an analog commonplace notebook. It was really fun for the first 2 weeks. Once I started to have a lot of information to input, however, I grew deeply impatient. One thing I hate is having to copy and recopy information over and over again when there are easier ways available.
The beauty of using Bear for commonplacing is I can arrange my snippings in whatever way I like. I use a #topics hierarchy to add metadata to these commonplace notes, while primarily tagging these notes as commonplace articles/quotes/books for easier access.
I take lots of notes during the week, from podcasts and sermons I listen to, to meetings, and to books/articles I read. Having to manage these notes on paper would be a chore. I’ve done it in the past, and I believe it’s helped my digital note taking process.
Generally, when you handwrite notes, you try to capture concepts over a straight transcription of what’s being shared. You have to synthesize on the fly as your hand cannot keep up with your brain’s audio input processor. Conversely, when taking typed notes, you can usually keep up and try to transcribe most of what was said, with usually less synthesizing going on.
I took notes on paper almost exclusively for a few years. This built a habit of trying to synthesize information on the go. Interestingly, that has carried over in my digital note taking. Where others’ digital notes may be close to transcriptions, my notes are usually only snippets of what stood out to me and my thoughts on those as they synthesize.
When I write ideas down in a notebook, they’re never seen again. They get lost in the beauty of the pages unless I take some serious time to go back and review them. I’ve solved this problem by putting all my ideas in digital tools, mainly via an #ideas tag in Bear. Searchable, scannable, easily reviewable.
Quick Access Items
It is a requirement in my system that anything I may need quick access to in the future goes into Bear. This is the ultimate strength of digital, so I’m choosing to leverage it.
Even though I like great digital tools, nothing beats a nice notebook.
I remember the first Moleskine I bought. I thought it was an excessive cost, but magnificent as a notebook. Now, I won’t have anything less (lately my favorites tend toward a Baron Fig Confidant or a Leuchtterum 1917). I love writing with Pilot G2 0.7mm pens. They never fail writing (no weirdo ink issues like I continue to have with fountain pens), and I can quickly find another if I lose one.
I wrote previously in my Productivity Journal about the notebooks I use. It’s trimmed a bit since then.
- Main Journal - Leuchtturm 1917, black
- Dream Journal - Baron Fig Confidant
- Legal Pads (looking at the Baron Fig Mastermind now though)
I keep a shelf free for journals to store the archives. I use a trick I think I first heard from Merlin Mann - date the spines using a silver Sharpie.
What goes in those?
I use my main journal primarily for two things:
- Prayer Journaling - I keep a running list in my notebook of who I’m praying for and for what. As those prayers are answered, I make a note.
- End of Day Journaling - This is a habit I picked up in my Productivity Journal thread after discussing with @wilsonng and @joebuhlig. Instead of trying to make journaling some big thing that I do, I literally spend 2-5 minutes at the end of every workday journaling in a stream-of-consciousness format whatever comes to mind. It’s part brain dump, part emotional release, part record of the day’s occurrences. It’s a sustainable habit that’s easily been incorporated into my daily shutdown routine.
This one’s easy - I write down my dreams. Sometimes I don’t have time to write them in the notebook in the morning, so I’ll add it to Drafts and will transcribe it into the journal at a later time. I like to review my dreams periodically, as they can be indicative of things going on in my life on a deeper level.
This is a newer addition. Instead of using digital tools to do my capture throughout the day, I tend to have two yellow legal pads lying on my desk at any given time.
One is a small 8x5 pad which I use to write down my daily priorities, capture any tasks/info I need throughout the day, and take any impromptu notes if I don’t feel like typing them.
The other is a standard yellow legal pad. I use this primarily for white boarding ideas, taking longer form notes (if needed), or any other free-form tasks that require a temporary workspace.
At the end of the day, I process any relevant information on these pads into my digital tools.
I know my system isn’t final. I don’t ever plan for it to be. However, having the ability to leverage the strengths of both digital and physical tools has been extremely beneficial to me. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
The only rogue outlier here is the new 6th generation iPad with Apple Pencil support. I am considering purchasing one to try out how the Pencil works for handwritten capture. I use OneNote heavily for work, and I can see a benefit of having the iPad there in place of my 8x5 legal pad for jotting things down into a digital tool that will ultimately end up there eventually.
I haven’t made any decisions on this yet, but if anyone has used an Apple Pencil with an iPad in this case, feel free to weigh in.
The thing that scares me most is many enthusiasts lately have been saying they never use the Pencil. The last thing I need is another $100 accessory sitting around not getting used.
I hope you find this exploration into my information management systems helpful. Feel free to ask any questions about how it works!