Note-taker's Dilemma

This is an interesting problem that I face all the time. I write notes about everything from to-do lists to journal entries. From the coding stuff to the personal stuff, I have it all in my notebooks, my computer and my phone. The notes are everywhere and they are rich in information and knowledge. The only problem is that the more I write, the harder it is to retrieve information for latter. This is very hard with notebooks. With digital systems, it is made easier by using the search function and it works to some degree when it comes to words and phrases. However, it can be improved and become a living thing, My Living Manuscript.

When we write on that page or type on that computer, we are usually talking to ourselves. We write, we edit and we review. If it is a text message or report, we go through these steps and send the writing for feedback. We can get this feedback from other people and improve on our work. However, for notes taken, we don't get that kind of feedback. In many cases, we rarely review the notes until it is necessary to do so. The retrieval process is a hassle on notebooks and making the notes easier to index and reference faster is another job in itself, which is something that most people will never do. Michael Seibel from YC even mentioned in a podcast that when he sees a founder writing notes in a nice looking notebook, he knows that that founder will never look at those notes ever again. As he put it, those notes are as good as gone. All in all, these are tough problems to tackle and the note-taker experiences this when it really matters.

In the end, the note-taker writes notes so that they help him or her do something in their lives. If the notes just sit idle in their notebooks, never to be seen again, they have not benefitted from the note-taking process. To benefit greatly, they need a way to get their notes to work for them and they need help on this. Notetakers are a great community that needs some attention. They are getting it with note-taking apps like Notion, Obsidian and so on but there are many people who would much rather use a notebook. There is something special about the pen and paper that cannot be easily replicated by the keyboard and monitor. I have seen it with my journal, to-do lists and brainstorming notes. With a notebook, I will quickly move from paragraphs to points, points to sketches, sketches to flowcharts, flowcharts to app screens and app screens to mathematical calculations. With the stroke of my hand, I can put what is in my mind into a presentable manner that can be reviewed, understood, stored and even shared with others. The handwriting is still king and going digital will have to work hard to depose. Notebooks are like cash I suppose. They are hard to phase out and here to stay.

With the digital tools we have at our disposable, how can be assist note-takers to make the most of their notes? That's the challenge and a good one at that.