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I've been keeping a paper notebook since I started my MS in computer science, which I graduated from about 10 years ago. It's something that really helps in software development work too. It's amazing how often the same stuff comes up over and over again, and keeping it all written down really helps. I've got them all going back to 2004 except for one which I seem to have misplaced.

Some things I'd recommend:

- Keep it chronological, don't try to keep a half dozen notebooks for different subjects or projects (unless you have to for privacy/secrecy/etc. reasons.)

- Number and/or date all of your pages. I date at the start of each day, and number all pages, although I don't date all the pages.

- Number your pages sequentially across multiple notebooks. This is nice for when you want to write a reference to a previous page, even when it's in an older notebook it's not a problem. I started doing that about 3 years ago, before that I'd start back at page 1 for each notebook. I'm at page 1947 right now, I think I'll be lucky to get to more than 20,000 pages before I die.

- A few pages in the back for a simple index is nice.

- Use ink, not pencil, and don't actually scribble out or erase, just a simple line through is good. Sometimes you want those wrong ideas after all.

- Put a Tile or similar tracker on your notebook. They are pretty cheap now, and losing your notebook can really suck.

I've used notebooks for decades. I buy a kind that is pre-numbered, and in which the pages larger than 8.5x11 inches, so I can tape in graphs and printouts of US letter size.

During my PhD, when I was scared of losing things, I made photocopies of my books when I completed them, and kept the copies in a separate location ... now I can scan them.

I have a simple cross-reference scheme. To refer to a result on page N of book M, I write [M.N]. If it's a certain figure or equation on that page, I just write e.g. [M.N.f3] or [N.M.e5].

So far, I think this is all quite conventional. But I do one more thing that's simple but has proved to be very helpful. I write forward references in the top margin of pages. So, if book 10 page 3 refers to book 2 page 9, I write <10.3> in the top margin of page [2.9]. This simple scheme makes it really easy to take care of ripple effects of errors.

Oh, and you've got to use pen, and you've got to use clean cross-outs when you find errors. Otherwise you'll get hopelessly lost.

Now I'm curious. From an archival standpoint, wouldn't a pencil be better than a pen unless you're using some really high quality ink? I find that ink degrades much faster than graphite when it is exposed to light and moisture.

India ink is a good solution to this problem. Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph pens are good for this application because they have a nice mechanism for breaking through dried ink on the tip of the pen. Even a ballpoint pen is quite good for being moisture resistant, although I don't use them so I don't know much about fade resistance except a guess that black is best.

The idea of not using a pencil is to prevent changes later. It's really important not to make changes that cannot be tracked. The best is to cross out, write in new text, and sign+date in the margin. Leaving lots of space helps in this. Frankly, though, I've seldom found small changes. When an analysis turns out to be wrong, I simply make a new entry. With my forward- and backward-referencing notation, it won't matter if the new entry corrects an error later in the day, or a decade later.

I've never worried about sunlight because my books remain closed on a shelf, when not in use. As for water, choosing a good ink helps a lot (even my fountain pen scrawls can resist quickly-dabbed-up tea stains), but making copies/scans is really a great solution.

An addendum to my earlier post -- it helps to title each entry (which often corresponds to a day or two of work), and to type those entries (plus dates, book number and page number, and also some keywords) into a file that can be searched. I recommend one line per entry, and a format that is uniform enough that you can use grep (or similar) actions to produce specialized tables of contents for individual projects, years, etc.

I'll occasionally take a scan (actually usually a photo with my iphone) as a super quick way to share a diagram. I'd love to get them all scanned in and indexed somehow. That would be the best of both worlds.

I started using leuchtturm1917 notebooks recently and love them. Mine come with page numbers and several pages of index at the beginning of the book. The paper feel is great.

If you are doing fountain pens (which I highly recommend!) then leuchtturm is the only way to go, every since moleskin downgraded their paper quality!

leuchtturm has every feature of moleskin and costs less and better paper quality.

I've been using the Moleskine Cahier XL for 3 or 4 years now, and I love them. Soft cover is flexible for folding back, they're lightweight, a comfortable size for carrying with my laptop, and hold up well. Each book is roughly 8 months of working life.

I don't use page numbers though - I do date every single entry.


Those look awesome, mostly I've used the ones from Eureka Lab Book[1] which seem similar, although I'm a big fan of mixed graph paper and lined. Which paper rule do you use from Leuchtturm1917?

[1] https://www.eurekalabbook.com/lab-engineering-notebooks/

Dotted. Even better than graph paper if you draw a lot of diagrams/figures, in my opinion.

I use Fabriano dotted saddle-stitch as a cheaper and lighter alternative to the Leuchtturm1917, for instance when I'm traveling or at a conference. The paper holds up to any non-calligraphic fountain pen I use.

I'm using one from Fiorentina, it's hardbound with a dragon and a griffin on the cover, I've been using them for a while now. They are really well made, but I mostly like them for the cover :)

To save the next person 30 seconds of googling around: http://www.fiorentinaltd.com/index.php?option=com_virtuemart...

I like it. I'll still stick with my Leuchtturm :)

That's not it, but I like that one too. That's the right brand though.

It's this one:


Came here to say this. The included spine and cover labels are a nice touch.

All this is party of the bullet journal system. For those curious: http://bulletjournal.com/

I love it and use it as my main journalling system.

Yeah, bulletjournal (w/ some ui stolen from sliceplanner) works great for me.

That’s the first I’ve heard of sliceplanner which looks interesting. Are you using an official sliceplanner journal so you can benefit from the cloud ‘sync’, or just copying the radial calendar idea into a regular paper journal? The one way manual sync seems a bit gee-whiz since the biggest issue for most would be getting calendar invites from the cloud back onto paper.

Yeah I did buy one actual sliceplanner but didn’t like the form factor and never integrated it digitally. Agreed it’s a “gee-whiz”/ meh feature, for my uses anyway. But I loved its visual time-tracking idea and lifted that into my custom bulletjournal system. I use terrific little paper journals (Moleskine Cahir quad-ruled 5x8, one per month.) I crafted a circular clockface template which I stash in the back cover flap, and use to draw a 12h clock for each day, in pen. (I put am stuff inside the circle, and pm outside, to account for overlap in my ~15h days in a single clockface.) Having the paper journal completely offline and separate from phone or laptop is ideal for me - not just for time-tracking and planning, but also for ideas and misc notes. There’s something special about a graph notebook and a good pencil (GraphGear 1000 0.5mm, best $11 I ever spent).

I'm assuming you're doing a radial daily plan in a regular notebook. I'm curious about: 1) Why you felt this would help you? (Do you have a lot of tasks in a typical day? Or did structure help you stay on track?, etc...) and 2) To hear a little more about how you're using it. Is it in place of the daily module? Or alongside it?

Yep. I just replied at some length in a peer comment. As an entrepreneur, consultant, father and musician I have an extraordinarily busy life and multifaceted set of active priorities, and bulletjournal was a revelation for me. I do a new quad-ruled journal for each month, w/ simple structure: index, future log, month page (w/ a row for ea day, and columns for tracking key items: sleep, run, zen, code, music). I use a nice fine-tipped felt pen to number the odd pages. Then use about a page or maybe a full spread per day, w/ sliceplanner-style 12h clockface in pen (drawn w/ a template I keep in the journal’s back flap). Moleskine Cahir 5x8 quad-ruled (80 pgs) and a GraphGear 1000 0.5mm pencil are both indispensable to me. Having some empty pages at the end of a month means not stressing about writing too much. I can always reference things across journals (eg “bj8p37” or by date). Truly important stuff I retype in markdown docs organized by week. Sometimes I’ll reference docs from journal entries (“cf ~/docs/we171125.md”). It’s not a perfect system but it keeps evolving and so far it’s been instrumental in helping me achieve things in mylife that matter to me — including self-care (sleep 7h, run 1-2mi, meditate 10min) etc.

PS To answer your 2nd Q, a given day has both the radial planner (sized almost 1/2 the page height, used to track passage of time and hard stops / events) and my variation on “standard” bullet journal signifiers (., -, x, >, <, *, $, !, //, o, etc).

This looks really interesting, thanks for mentioning it. I make use of a notebook daily(ish). Bullet looks like a lightweight formalized process that can help me get a little more out of my notebook while keeping things simple.

Do you attempt to group your notes by subject and project within the higher-level chronology?

I also keep a paper notebook for software engineering, but I find it less convenient than my old chemistry lab notebooks were. The problem is that in my software engineering job, I must alternate between tasks and meetings many times a day. So either I keep things strictly chronological and have a difficult time maintaining a usable table of contents, or I have a new page for each of the day's projects, at the cost of constantly jumping from page to page and inefficient use of the notebook's space. I've yet to find a happy solution.

I'm experimenting with a combination of loose sheets of paper in a binder, and re-writing. I tend to favor rewriting to summarize coupled with archiving as I find I rarely actually go back and review the notes otherwise, and rewriting them tends to lead to summarizing and compacting and excising unnecessary information, while I can keep the old pages.

(This is especially relevant for things like task lists, plans etc., where things often change substantially over time, though it's important not to overdo it and "lose" context etc.)

Recently I've tried something similar, using paper notes as a temporary store and every few days rewriting into my wiki and agenda. The process is similar to a GTD inbox that gets processed regularly. Lots of the TODO items can be handled while rewriting(e.g. email Casey about the widgets).

Exactly - I think one of the great benefits of rewriting is that it creates work that makes it pointless to defer small tasks, while it also lets you weed out a lot of things that have become irrelevant since you wrote it first time.

TODO lists in particular, I feel gets stale very quickly and accumulates obsolete info.

Nope, purely chronological. I do a short index in the back, that's as close as I get to subjects.

Thanks, I'll give that a try!

I've used https://www.rekonect.com/ (magnetic notebook & paper) for solving precisely this problem. New page for each project/meeting and then just pull it out and slot it in to the correct spot. Can be done cheaper with a 3 ring binder but cheaper isn't always the goal.

On paper notebooks -- I keep one, too, and I tried subject grouping which always failed for me within a few months.

I now write clearly visible headings and maintain chronological order. I often color code the headings: just underlining or highlighting the title with subject color makes it easy to find. Thid, with chronological order ingeneral, works well for me in lieu of a table of contents. YMMV.

I keep one, too. I don't bother with keeping subjects. I thread them - there are references pointing to different page numbers everywhere - just like computers do.

The way this was approached with paper back in the day was a chronological journal + subject files.

I find that this works for me. I keep the journal in hand-writing form, and subject files digital. This also has the advantage from my perspective of keeping my thought process on an analog medium that is easier to control.

Some type of disc bound notebook might be good, unless of course you require something bound. I like the Arc from Staples.

What sort of things do you put in them? I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly running experiments. Do you have a format that differs from purpose, procedure, results?

I'll start with the date and a big horizontal line.

For meetings I'll put the start time and a quick header, then some quick notes, usually not even complete sentences, I'm just scribbling things down to remember.

In deep coding, debugging, or infrastructure stuff: I'll keep short notes on infrastructure stuff, URLs, hostnames, ports, function names, file names, lots of breadcrumbs basically. This is often great the next day, where I might not really remember how I got from A to B, but all of a sudden need to make a document describing it for other people to repeat. This is the part that is most like a "lab notebook."

If I'm designing something new or exploring something, I'll often sketch system diagrams or the like. I'll maybe try to diagram flow between components, user steps, basic algorithm steps, etc. Think design document, version -1.

I'll often intersperse TODOs as well, which I'll try to quickly migrate to something real (Jira here at work, or my iPhone tasks list.) I don't use it for task tracking, although I used to do that.

Exactly my scheme! You are going at about the same rate too: I’m on about page 1500 since 2009.

My one difference is that I don’t keep my notebooks. I scan them then discard the originals. I’ve got so much material hoarded that the only way I can afford the storage is to keep digital copies only.

I would love to hear thoughts on digital vs hardcopy notebooks

I have an ipad pro specifically to use as a digital notebook. I use notability, and discovered I prefer to write on black background with white, red, and blue ink. I skip green as I'm colorblind and will mix it up with red.

I don't know if it is my color deficiency or generally applicable, but the colored ink really pops on a black background. So if I have little annotations that I want to point out on a diagram, that helps.

The iPad Pro with the Pencil is almost a perfect device. I use GoodNotes rather than Notability, but I think the capabilities are roughly the same. It's great to be able to write by hand most of the time, type when I need to, paste images, insert snapshots of white boards, etc...

The OCR is very good too and even my handwritten notes are indexed. I'm not sure if it indexes the text in images though. I used to use Evernote and it did an amazing job of that.

I used to use text files exclusively, then I moved to Microsoft Word so I could paste in images and other non-text items. I missed the handwriting part of it. Something about using those muscles and going slow helps me absorb the material better.

What size of iPad are you using (you and parent post)? I've been considering getting a pro+pencil for this purpose. I like to scribble on paper, but I'd really like archived, searchable copies that don't take up physical space.

I have the 10.5" one.

The rumor for next year's model is that it will get face id and that's something I definitely want.

The one big downside to note taking with an iPad is that it turns itself off frequently. Having to authenticate frequently with the home button is a pain and I think face id would be a lot less intrusive.

FWIW, I still scribble on paper, but that tends to be for very ephemeral things (like a number I need to remember for the next 5 minutes).

Thanks, I ended up going with the 10.5" one. It's the size of the steno pads I scribble on and weighs less than the bigger on. Not a lot of space on my desk either.

I'm gonna give Notes a try for a while and also Notability, because it appears I purchased it years ago.

I use the 12.9" (?) whatever the bigger size is. The screen is just about as big as a sheet of paper.

For what it's worth, I don't think notability has OCR. GoodNotes appears to though. I might have to give it a try.

I have switched away from all apps and mobile devices for anything note-related. I feel like it's not worth trying to adapt my note habits I've had since graduate school just to appease the latest iOS or App idiosyncrasies. I also need to switch between computers and operating systems frequently, so the most reliable device I have is a notebook sitting next to my desk.

I prefer digital because...

1. It can be searched

2. It can be backed up

3. It is accessible from nearly anywhere

It's also incredibly easy to misplace files and forget that you wrote notes altogether. I've lost many notes.txt throughout the years. I've recently forced myself to use Evernote, which for me is better than any file-based system, but it is a bottomless pit with poor discoverability. A physical object doubles as a reminder.

With respect, that seems like less of a problem of digital note-taking in general, and more of a problem of the specific digital note-taking systems you have tried. Using notes.txt files is a bit like writing notes on napkins and leaving them scattered about. I don't know anything about Evernote, but I'd be interested to hear what issues you had.

What works for me is taking notes via email. Backing up, organizing, searching, and distributing email is more-or-less a solved problem, and my note-taking inherits those solutions. I can read and add notes from my phone and from my computer, with the ability to choose from a plethora of applications. I have multiple backups of my email around the world via standard email syncing. My email host has been 100% reliable in not losing my emails, as well. If I want to migrate to a different email host, that is trivial.

That's a solution I might want to try. But how do you differentiate between your notes and the dozens of emails you receive every day? You can filter by sender, but then you often get your sent mail, depending of how filtering is set up in the email client.

I have my notes at work as org files, and simply added them to a git repository.

And in my case, it can be read. Important, as my hand writing is atrocious!

I keep it paper for various reasons. I've played around with digital notes, the main problem is it's hard to sketch stuff quickly, even though I have a nice wacom tablet, and it's horrible with just a mouse or trackpad. And there's always a need it seems to try to edit existing stuff. That's why I use ink. I can't erase and "fix" it.

Digital lets me find things much more easily, but for maths-heavy notes, I prefer hardcopy. I'm not as quick with LaTeX as I am writing, and I couldn't get the hang of using a stylus for maths. Wish I could more easily get the best of both worlds.

Have you tried TeXmacs for math-heavy notes? Thanks to copy/paste, I find I'm quicker in it than on paper, as long as the work isn't too diagram heavy. For simple diagrams, there's a vector image editor built in.

I have lost countless notebooks and other notes on paper. For those I haven't lost, I find it really hard to find what I'm looking for. I started consolidating my note-taking in google docs and haven't looked back.

Seems like you might need a better indexing system -- table of contents in the start of notebooks, and perhaps a directory consisting of copies of those ToCs in a loose-leaf binder for the entire set?

That... sounds like a lot of work

It's part of an ongoing process.

It's a bit of systemic investment which provides future payoffs.

How valuable is your past journaling in the absence of such a system?

How valuable is your past journaling with such a system?

I use a mixture of Vim with text files, and the Windows Sticky Notes app, for my notes. The text files go into a folder related to what I'm taking notes on, and are for longer storage. There's usually other file types in there too, and the folder can be backed up and/or version controlled.

Short-term and quick-access notes are in Sticky Notes, which plaster the desktop on one of my monitors. That's where I keep meeting notes, TODO lists for the next day or two, time-tracking if I'm not putting it directly into my time-tracking app, etc. Generally, none of that is worth saving beyond its immediate usage.

I've rarely needed to refer back to any of this stuff beyond the few days where I'm using it (Sticky Notes) or the duration of a project (text files). I don't delete the text files, but I hardly ever need to refer back to them.

I've been relying very heavily on index cards and finding it well-suited to my needs


Various other methods are also in use. I've found journals less than intuitive, as there's a distinction between keeping a notebook vs organising/recording routine activities and events that I find difficult to span and/or separate.

Online/electronic systems remain insufficiently flexible for daily activities, though I've gone through several iterations of shell / vim / org-mode systems.

I use both where each excels - paper for capture, org files or what-have-you for persistence.

Interesting. I find paper to be far more "persistent". I have notebooks I kept in high school and college, but have lost most of the digital files from that time, or can no longer read them due to their being in a file format long dead. Corruption also plays a role, as they've moved through a variety of storage media in that time. I find digital works best for me for keeping shopping lists (that sync up with my wife, so we both know what we need and can add things), giving me reminders of appointments and time sensitive tasks, immediate communications, or as a tool for projects I'm currently on (I use org-mode heavily and particularly like its linking features for getting back to config files on remote servers, emails with instructions, etc.). All quite transitory.

I keep a small moleskin book with me with a pen loupe I added as a part of my every day carry. I jot down projects I am working on and it’s great.

I use Quo Vadis notebooks with unlined creamy French-milled thick paper that is absolutely wonderful to write upon with a fountain pen.

> Use ink, not pencil

Ink will run when wet. I recommend taking notes with a pencil.

Not all inks. This for example withstands pretty much any liquid (yes, including industrial strength solvents -- I've checked): https://www.amazon.com/Noodlers-Black-Waterproof-Fountain-Pe...

Get better pens. There are waterproof ones that I use, they are the anti-fraud ones that they market for use with paper checks.

I use Staedtler pigment liner pens (http://a.co/i0tN5Bz) and they have never run on me. The different widths really help for sketching vs writing vs annotating too.

I was reading through some of my journals that I wrote a few years ago and noticed that the ones written with a pencil are much more readable than the ones written with a fountain pen. I guess picking the right kind of paper and ink is very important for a notebook not to lose its quality.

It may not last for long on the paper, that's why it is suggested to use ink.

I have 20 year old notebooks that are mostly filled with pencil and I refer to them occasionally. They are all perfectly legible still and I used a wide variety of pencils.

For true lab notebooks pencil is unacceptable because of their erasability, not longetivity. A formal lab notebook is used in such a way to provide a nearly immutable record. That's why corrections are done with a single line, blank space is blocked out, the notebook is bound with numbered pages and used chronologically, etc.

In a college chemistry class I took our lab notebooks had carbon(less) copy paper for every page. It made handing work in easier, but it also made an unerasable copy of the original record. Quite handy.

Why are your notebooks wet?

Stuff spills, rain, etc... accidents happen.

Use the cheap bic ballpoints. They don't run or smudge.

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