How to Manage Paper and Digital Notes

I’m the type that doesn’t like to start a project until I know how I’m going to organize the beautiful mess I’m getting myself into.

To give you an idea of some of the items I work on, they range from writing pieces, to film projects, photograph collections, lesson plans, and presentations.

There’s a ton of software, apps, and gadgets out there to keep things organized. At times, I felt like using them was getting complicated and away from the point of keeping things simple. The following is a list of what I found works for me and what doesn’t. Hopefully, you’ll jump into a workflow that’s productive for you sooner rather than later. Keep in mind I’m a mac user, however, some of these apps are cross-platform and are have similar counterparts.

How I Start a Project

Notes, Rocketbook, and Paper

Everything starts with an idea that’s likely jotted down. Or, maybe it’s a picture that inspires a project to move forward. I jot those ideas down in a couple of places.

Here I’m starting to gather images and ideas for a new Instagram project.

Digital Note-taking

I’ve used both Notes and Evernote. Notes (for MacOS) wins…

Here’s why I don’t use Evernote anymore.

It costs money, I found it buggy, and the only feature it really trumps notes in is its ability to add tags and some organizing features. If you’re not familiar with tagging, it’s essentially assigning keywords to notes so you’re able to categorize them in a fashion different than folders. It’s a great concept if you have a note that can be dropped into different folders.

Actually, thinking about that prospect as I type wants me to jump back into the tagging game. But I got out of that long ago. Why? Because assigning tags in a non-complicated manner is a complicated venture. My advice is to just keep things simple. Use a note-taking app like Notes and don’t move on until you exhaust every feature. There are some tag workaround for Notes (you can always hashtag and search by them) but remember, you can just merely search by note anyhow.

Paper Note-taking

Rocketbook Wave

A Rocketbook is a reusable notebook. Put the notebook in the microwave with a cup of water and like magic your writing disappears. On top of that the notebook is connected to the cloud. “A paper notebook connected to the cloud?” you say… well, here’s the catch.

  1. You need to use Pilot Frixion pens — essentially, erasable pens. This makes it reusable.
  2. The cloud connection relies on a smartphone app. You make a little mark on the page, take a picture through the app, and it automatically files it to the designated cloud folder.

Is it worth it?

Rocketbook now has two products, the Wave and Everlast. The Wave lasts about 5 erases before it gets looking a little beat up, while the Everlast is meant to last much longer. They’ll run you $27–34 USD respectively which includes a pen.

However, the only real advantage I found was that the app takes pictures quickly. If you’re willing to wait a few extra seconds, download Scanner Pro for $4 (which also features OCR, Rocketbook only does if you pay a monthly fee to upload to Evernote) and you pretty much get the same cloud service workflow. Buy yourself some Frixion pens, and choose any notebook you’d like.

Rocketbook can do things a traditional scanner struggles with, fixing distortions, and automatically enhancing text (image from https://www.macstories.net/reviews/scanner-pro-7-adds-ocr-and-workflows/)

Of course, you’re using more paper in this case — since you’re less likely to erase every pen stroke from your page without the microwave trick.

The idea behind Rocketbook is keeping in line with minimalism while still being able to use paper. Instead of storing notebooks you can save space doing so digitally. What I’ve found useful is being able to look at multiple pages at once on dual monitors for referencing while still being able to work on a new note.

Right now I’m on the fence about about the Rocketbook. I also had a water bottle leak in my bag and beat up my Wave notebook a little bit, however, I don’t think an Everlast notebook would’ve taken the same beating.

However, if you tend to juggle digital notes and paper notes, these are currently your best options on the market.

UPDATE: I recently left Apple Notes for Google Keep. If you want to know what happened, click here.