Improving My Note-taking, The Old Fashioned Way

Seeing A Change That Needs Fixing

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I am going about note keeping and why it’s not quite working out. I’ve been a heavy (relatively speaking anyway) Evernote user for several years, but my use has dropped and hasn’t really been replaced properly. Not to say that is a problem in itself, however, I’ve been running into issues of forgetting to get stuff done or missing key details I normally wouldn’t have had a problem with.

Where I’ve really noticed a difference is in meeting notes and jotting things down in discussions. I’m doing so-much of that recently and juggling more and more stuff that whipping out a laptop of phone and entering something into an app has become so cumbersome that I’m not doing it, and hence my note keeping has been dropping.

So I’ve put some thinking into it, and now I know what needs to change. Here we go…

What’s Important To Me In Note-taking

I’ve always found myself in a slightly odd position with storing notes and other information. I like things to be organized, however I despise spending any time keeping things so. I’ve come to the conclusion my mind was built for the modern age, where apps can be used to dump down data and easily search to retrieve it.

I’ve seen all sorts of techniques used by other people. A pretty popular technique looks like just the right level of organization to me, it’s called the ‘Bullet Journal’, however, there is no way I’m putting in enough work to keep that thing going.

I really want to be able to quickly get the information down quick, and then be able to find it at a random time and place in the future. Large scale tagging, placing in folders, tidying up is all just too much.

I also want to be able to keep my notes forever, and I want that to be free. I don’t mean free as in money, I mean free of effort. Keeping a large collection of notebooks does nothing for me. Having instant access to that recipe I thought of 5 years ago while I’m stood in the supermarket is priceless. The only way to get this really is digital.

Evernote Is My Storage

So my technique is pretty simple. I dump things down in Evernote, completely forget them, and then use Evernote’s search function to find them.

Of course, I do use a little organization to help me along the way…

  • Tags — I make use of some tags. Usually limiting myself to at most 10. These are used mostly for when I want notes grouped together on one screen so I can click on the tag and see all the notes together. (I guess you could use Evernote notebooks to this effect but tags are just quicker). For example, I use a note ‘usa-roadtrips’ to group all the logs of my trips around the USA together.
  • Emoji at the start of titles — I have a seperate tagging technique. I use emoji as a tag but stick them at the front of a note’s title. For example, I have a ‘book’ emoji at the front of all the notes I keep for appliance manuals and such. That way, if I search for ‘Sony’, I can easily see the manual for my Sony DVD player just by looking for the book emoji.

Storage Isn’t Everything

I’m pretty sealed on the deal that I’m using Evernote for storing my notes. And in many cases, it’s the right tool for taking them too. But what about when I’m in a meeting and need to quickly record that I’ve been ‘volunteered’ to help out the new guy?

This is where I have recently made changes in my approach. I’ve found that the digital solutions just aren’t up to the job yet. They are either too slow, or too big and heavy (looking at you iPad) or have some other issue. Paper is really where it’s at.

Paper On The Road To Digital

I now carry a small notebook around with me when I go to places that I might need to record something quickly. This is usually a Moleskine Journal Cahier.

It’s important to remember that I’m not using this book to ‘keep’ notes, I use it to jot things down before the information becomes digital. So effectively I note down in the paper book during a meeting, and then pretty quickly act on the note or get it put down into Evernote one way or the other. After that, I could really just throw the page away.


Earlier I mentioned that I’m not a fan of the ‘Bullet Journal’ technique. I do like to take good ideas, and here I love the ‘bullet key’ idea.

Each time I throw something down in my paper notebook, I keep it short and sweet, so bullet points only. And I use small graphics to indicate in my bullet list what type of information I’m writing.

So to-dos are preceded by a ‘dot’, urgent to-dos are preceded by an asterisk, and notes are preceded by a dash. This makes it really simple to pull information out when I get back to Evernote to store the information longer term.


One important variable in the mix here that I’m not really going to cover is ‘to-dos’. While I jot them in my paper notebook, I don’t later transfer them to Evernote. They go elsewhere, but that’s for another article.