Capturing - and writing

I've become an avid "jotter" over the years, writing down little notes here and there. But my jotting has at best become incoherent and unstructured. On post-its. In a notebook. In Apple Notes. In loose randomly-placed Word-documents. For the last year, I've tried out a number of ways, to improve my way of doing it.

Note-taking is probably as much art as it is science. It is as much about personal preferences, as it is about best practice. Combining both digital and traditional paper-based note-taking, there is an enormous amount of possibilities. And I've been chasing some of them around.

In the foreword to David Allen's book Getting Things Done, James Fallows writes about Allen's

"... sensible insistence on developing a “capture” habit, so that you are sure to write down or otherwise record every commitment you make or obligation you accept rather than torture yourself trying to remember them all, and the related insistence on having one central, trusted repository where you keep such data ..."

For me that was the first step. Developing the “capture” habit. Finding a way of doing it in a sensible and structured way. I've not adopted Allen's thinking 1:1. But I've found my own way - and tools - inspired from it. This has taken me five years to realise by the way...

Basically I've ended up with four tools. Because in my reality using paper isn't always workable. But sometimes preferable. But mostly I'm on digitally capturing thoughts and commitments these days.

Very digital capturing

After having tried a number of apps I've ended up with a combination of iA Writer and Standard Notes. Because one thing I realised along the way, is that there isn't a "one size fits all"-tool for my needs. But I need it to be workable on both MacBook and iPhone.

I'll focus on iA Writer in this post, and refer to my previous thoughts on Standard Notes for now.

iA Writer gives me a clean, quick, simple and clutter-free writing experience. Allows me to quickly gain focus on capturing a thought. Regardless of it being with my MacBook or my iPhone.
Standard Notes is heavily privacy-focused with a strong cryptographic layer. I use it for capturing more private/confidential notes. It's a less clean and quick process compared to iA Writer, but the value-component lies in privacy here. Which for me is an okay tradeoff for those situations.

My writing style is basically Markdown. iA is especially strong when it comes to Markdown and the way it helps organising notes. And Standard Notes also allows for the use of Markdown. So moving content with structure across is very easy.
I actually choose Markdown before I choose my tools. After having been a user of Microsoft OneNote for a very long time, I have more or less given up of it. It's very much not a clutter-free experience, and I found that exporting notes is a very hasle-full experience. I've also tried my luck with Evernote, which initially looked promising, but as my collection of notes grew, the startup time got longer. I need to capture in the moment. Not 10 seconds later. This actually remind me of a passage from Howard Stern's book 'Howard Stern Comes Again'

Wherever I go, I carry a small wallet pad with a pen. I also have a waterproof pad in case I need to jot something down in the shower. You never know when a good idea is going to come. You have to be ready at any moment to capture it.

Less digital capturing

In fact I also have a more old-school Portable Digital Voice Recorder (DVR) for those times, where I want to be "unconnected". For me the ability to capture instantly outweighs having to transcribe at a later point.

I, like Stern, need to capture it in the moment. I don't use a waterproof pad though. But I still use the occasional hand-written note instead of the DVR. I'm note done with those yet. So I still also sport a pocket notepad. This I use mostly when I am with my kids. I don't want them to have a father with his face on the phone. Again it often mean that I have to transcribe thoughts and commitments later on. But I've actually started to write down in Markdown-style in the pocket notepad as well. Which makes transcribing very fast and smooth. And I keep notes organised the same way - using hashtags in fact. It felt a bit weird initially, but now it has become more of a habit.

More from Henrik Bøgh
All posts