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.
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.
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.
leuchtturm has every feature of moleskin and costs less and better paper quality.
I don't use page numbers though - I do date every single entry.
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 like it. I'll still stick with my Leuchtturm :)
It's this one:
I love it and use it as my main journalling system.
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.
(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.)
TODO lists in particular, I feel gets stale very quickly and accumulates obsolete info.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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).
I'm gonna give Notes a try for a while and also Notability, because it appears I purchased it years ago.
For what it's worth, I don't think notability has OCR. GoodNotes appears to though. I might have to give it a try.
1. It can be searched
2. It can be backed up
3. It is accessible from nearly anywhere
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.
It's a bit of systemic investment which provides future payoffs.
How valuable is your past journaling in the absence of 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.
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.
Ink will run when wet. I recommend taking notes with a pencil.