I've always struggled taking notes. For personal projects and ideas, I love the creativity of clean sheets of paper. And for a one-off project, I'd happily use a nice notepad or journal. But recently I started a new job, and with it I have many actions to track, ideas, projects, issues and conversations.

So now I think note taking needs to be a structured part of my life. But I can't (yet) make it work for me and stick.

Notepads are the most natural, and fastest method - but then the thoughts and ideas captured on page 1 are long forgotten when I get to page 20. Revisiting my boss after a week, I find I've got a collection of unaddressed actions to explain - if I can find them at all.

He uses OneNote, he types as he's meeting you. I'm not sure I can get onboard with typing whilst meeting (although maybe more now, during Covid). And then OneNote is a digital notepad... so what's the point? It's hard to find all your tasks, and even harder to find notes related to a specific subject captured across meetings and reflects. It's no better than paper. So what's the point?

Surely, if an app is going to take an advantage over paper, then it must do something more? Paper is natural, easy, fluid and forgiving. An app must provide something more than search functionality to beat it, given it needs a keyboard, power supply and heavy computer as a baseline.

I've since tried Notion, Evernote, personal wikis and more. They all replicate the paper experience at best, and many have convoluted systems to get started, or ridiculous subscription models (surely it's not right to pay more for a cloud-notebook than a VPS or a whole Microsoft 365 subscription?) I'm starting to think the right app isn't out there. Surely others have faced this issue?

So I revisit paper again. There's books on the subject. They promote ruling out margins, templating your pages by prepping before using them, colour schemes with multiple pens, and more. So paper notekeeping is best done with more complexity than using a computer?

Yuck, yuck and yuck.

What do I want to do? Let's summarise:

  • Take notes
  • Take notes naturally in meetings and discussions, possibly covering multiple topics
  • Take notes when I'm reflecting or prepping for the day
  • All of this to keep track of salient points and actions
  • Easily find notes related to a subject
  • Easily find actions outstanding

I think that's it? Seems like a short list. If you know of an app that makes this easy, or maybe even a device of some sort, please let me know!

Otherwise this may be the beginning of trying to solve this myself.