Connecting your paper notebooks to the digital age

One weird analog note-taking trick

I have a notebook problem. I have four different notebooks on my desk. One is a general inbox for brain dumps and another is for meeting notes and work related stuff. There’s also my daily planner and one for field notes that I used during a recent trip.

I’ve ‘gone analog’ for about six months. I was drowning in a sea of digital tools, so I decided to go back to basics and just use pen and paper.

Now, here am I, with four notebooks in front of me. At least I’m using them.

Most of the subjects I write about are related to abstract artifacts — emails, meetings, web pages, digital pictures. One of the things I missed most after switching to pen and paper was having a reliable way to reference these digital bits. However, I devised a plan to fix that.

What I needed was something that would link the current content to a data artifact such as a Link. Realizing that, I put my plan in place.

I opened my browser and logged into my Hover account. Within minutes, I purchased a .link domain for $9 (can’t recommend Hover enough). Next step was creating a bitly account and configuring the domain there. Boom! I had my personal short URL service.

The process

With this procedure in place, when I need to reference something, I just create a bitly URL for it. If it’s an image or document, I grab the link from my Dropbox account and shorten it. I then jot down the link near to the note I’m writing in a notebook, using a simple markup I created. Here’s the gist of it:

The Markup

I extract the random part of the link and put it inside a HTML-like tag. For example:

If my URL is

I write down <11yuePc>

In fact, my handwriting is so bad that I underline the characters that are caps just to make sure I can type them accurately later.

If I see something like this anywhere in my annotations I know it is a link, and I can fire up my browser and access the linked resource.

It’s as simple as that. Do you need your own domain to do it? No, you don’t, but I like the idea. If you are over the fence on that, try it with plain bitly URLs. It’s a simple system to set up and it will make your life much easier.

Analog, yes, but not disconnected.