Jan 26, 2012

Take Note!

Recently Dr. Frank Buck posted in his blog Get Organized about a topic that has quite some pull with me: taking notes. From the most efficient, to the most modern, he considers in his posts not only how you take notes (paper & pen or digitally), but also what do you do with those notes. You know me, I love all topics related to organizing, and anything that has to do with pen and paper! (... and writing) Having been recently introduced to the wonders of smartpens - and I'm in love with my boyfriend's Pluse and can't wait to try out my sleek, fabulous ECHO - I replied to the first part of the topic (it's broken in two parts), telling him about my experiences with the smartpen and how it has improved my note taking.

As someone with a terribly bad memory and the tendency to wander off mentally whenever there's a less-than-exciting lag in the session, prone to projecting mental movies in the worse of times, note taking is actually one of the things that can keep me on the topic, on the matter and focused. From university on - when my note taking skills were honed to their peak - I devoted myself to the use of as much shorthand markings and speed up my writing as much as possible without rendeing my writing unreadable. Not an easy task, as I learned at the University, where more than once the solution was to chase the notes taken by my classmates to complete my chicken scratchings. And if you had to ever do that, you know it's a bitch, as not to students take the same notes, so matching them is quite a task, when you are trying to replace that couple of lines you jotted out that flatlined on you.

Once I started to work, the note taking didn't go away, as now it was about writing down the task you had to complete, or the directions to do something, the highlights of the seminars you are sent to, the laws you had to check out, the procedures that had to be followed, and not once, the notes of the meetings you attended.  It was basically in these last ones where I saw the benefits of taking notes digitally. Typing as fast as I could to catch every word, taking the meeting notes on a laptop allowed us to be able to send them for review as the meeting was ended. Taking these notes on paper would have meant to take extra time from your day to type down you notes into the preselected format and then send it for all to check. Basically both systems have pros and cons.

Taking notes digitally, allows you to ensure they will be always readable, and often you don't need to check the spelling, because Windows does that for you. Repeating names and concepts can also be dealt quickly, and  - what's most important - sending and filing is faster. No ripping pages or recopying them to a notebook or a file so you keep all the notes on the same topic in the same place, but there you are, already filing it where it needs to be. Also, it's much easier to find what you are looking for by opening the right file and searching in it, instead of paging through a notebook back and forth looking for a particular quotation.

Taking notes on paper on the other hand, gives you plenty of freedom regarding how and what you jott down. Going from words to a graph is no hassle, just draw the graph. It also allows you to use freely the space by drafting quick relation mindmaps of figures, if you are prone to them. Linking words, drawing arrows and balloons, or squares and brackets... whatever your method is. It's also much silent than typing, and for those exposing or talking at the meeting, you look much more involved with a notepad and a pen than typing on a computer - after all you could be chatting or looking up porn pictures while everybody else is trying to fix the department's yearly budget. Another great advantage of paper and pen is the fact that though it can run out of pages, or out of ink, it doesn't run out of battery. There were a laptop can go on for 2 hours to 6 hours (on average 2 hours), a notepad and a pen can go for months. And even if you run out of pen or paper, there's always a fast way to get around it, as usually when you take notes you are not the only one and there's always someone who can lend you a couple of sheets of paper and a pencil or a pen, which isn't the case with the laptop's charger.

Personally, I prefer pen and paper, and my smartpen is the best solution to my needs, as I can go back to accomodate myself on a small surface and jot down my notes and even my comments, while the pen also records what's being said, linking it to the scratches I make. However, when there's a meeting and I'm asked to take the minutae, it's always the laptop I resource to.

In this question, I believe we must also consider a very important component, which is the intent, the recipient of the note. Why are you taking notes and what are you expected to do with them, in what period of time? Are you taking notes for a news piece and need to post it as soon as possible, send it to the editor in the shortest time possible? Then maybe you should consider taking your notes digitally. You are preparing a piece based on something you are witnessing, and being able to draw graphs and make balloon-stick connections is important? Go with paper and pen. Are you in a History class and need to catch as much as possible? Go digital and if you can, connect your recorder as well... or go with the smart pen. Math or economics class with lots of functions, formulas and graphs? Paper and pen, absolutely, but consider pair it with the recorder or your smartpen. Inspiration can hit you anytime of day and you need to be prepared to scribble down that great post idea, or that verse for your upcoming wonderful ode to something, or finally have the piece you needed to close that chapter perfectly? Paper and pen, no doubt. Tablets can work... if you don't have to dwell with them too long to get a usable sheet you can write on before the fleeting spirit of the muse leave you for a writer much more prepared to take their dictating.

However, it's up to you. What do you feel comfortable with? What works for you? 100 gurus can give their opinion and 100 techno-whores could present you with the newest developments in the area, what matters is what works for you.

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