Note taking, you’re doing it wrong, maybe

Zac Walberer
Nov 26, 2017 · 4 min read

I’m 100% a digital person. I love pixels. I use Bear app for note taking and storing ideas, both personal and work-related. I’m pretty entrenched in Dropbox and its ecosystem. And without having to mention it, I have a lot of automated tasks set up to help with my workflows. But nothing beats a good physical notebook.

At work, I use a notebook from Baron Fig, the Confidant model, and then I use a small moleskin for my personal life and daily to-dos. When things come to mind I write them down or plan out my day in the morning. I still use Wunderlist for some of these same things but honestly checking something off on paper has no equal.

Here are some reasons why a physical notebook, for me, beats out any digital product.

Engagement with others

Meetings are unavoidable at work. But that’s another topic for another day. When I go to meetings I bring my laptop, but 80% of the time it stays closed. It’s kind of just like a back-up in case I have to use it for something relevant.

I bring my notebook to meetings and keep my laptop closed because it helps me appear and feel better engaged. Now, I wouldn’t really suggest you do anything just for appearance’s sake. You end up caring more about what others think of you than who you actually are and what you bring to the table. If you have to convince someone by appearing better than you actually are, something is obviously wrong to begin with. Make some changes. I want to appear engaged because when you are on your laptop, who knows what you are surfing for or reading or typing, it can be distracting or discouraging for the other members of the meeting.

Sometimes I’ve thought someone was incredibly engaged only to shuffle past them and see they are just cruising Amazon. I could be 100% engaged using a laptop or notebook. But I want others to know I’m engaged as well and that they have my full attention. I’d say this is more for the presenter and teams sake than my own.

Better note taking for yourself

There are so many distractions that can happen when focusing on a computer while taking notes. Notifications from Twitter, an email, working on that project for just 5 more mins, scrolling through Medium, etc. Even though I’m good at not falling into those distractions when I have a computer open, I still feel it’s more worthwhile to just take the temptation out from in front of me altogether when I’m focused on a meeting or while taking notes.

For me, it’s also a learning discipline to use pen and paper as a way to block out any other ways of being distracted. When I’m jotting down notes or writing, it cognitively helps eliminate all the other ways your attention can be fought for. Your focus is more narrow.

When I’m taking notes from a notebook it also gives me a great way to follow back up on that meeting. I usually mark my pages with the name of the date and make titles for each part of my day where the notes came from. Now to be fair, some software helps you find notes amazingly well and organize them. Better than a notebook could. But I personally love the idea that all the notes I took is right at hand and I don’t have to sift through software to find what I need.

A lost skill, handwriting

When was the last time you did a lot of handwriting? Probably a while ago. I wonder what my kids will think of using pen and paper 20 years from now. There have been countless other industries and ways we once did things for productivity purposes that have now been replaced by better, faster software.

Handwriting is a lost skill. Although this is about note taking and not necessarily writing long-form, I think the principle still applies. I definitely don’t have the best handwriting but its legible and better than a doctor’s. Handwriting and taking notes connects me to some sort of piece of history and nostalgia.

In conclusion

Products like Bear, Evernote, Dropbox Paper, and others definitely make life easier. They solve a problem that people need to be solved. Note organization across devices, in the cloud, and the ability to share these note with others. I still use these products and they help me in many ways.

For me, there is still something really satisfying about using a physical notebook for note taking and I’ll stick with it when it makes sense.

Zac Walberer

Written by

Product Design @GustoHQ. Sports generalist. Burrito enthusiast. Professional learner.