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Author Topic: Organizing daily notes  (Read 1424 times)

Aimless

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Organizing daily notes
« on: 04 Aug 2014, 11:13 »

I've just (once again) spent a few hours and a great deal of emotional energy going through literally hundreds of folded pieces of paper in search of an A6-sized treasure containing notes from a seminar that are crucial to the resolution of a research-paper that's been the bane of my frickin' existence for a very long time. Although I was finally successful, and am relieved, this episode demonstrates once again the total inadequacy of my approach to note-taking and organisation, and I'd like some tips on approaches that may be better.

My approach is borne out of a need to take notes very quickly and very often over the course of a day (every day), some for short-term use and some for long-term use. Dedicated notebooks fill up extremely quickly and are therefore unsustainable. Taking digital notes on my phone is too slow, even with helpful apps like Swiftkey. Moreover, the phone has difficulties with unorthodox abbreviations and unusual terminology. For these reason, I use the phone inconsistently, and so it isn't a reliable method for me.

I think I may have more success with a phone that lets me write down notes eg. with a stylus and that automatically stores and processes those notes via a suitable services such as evernote, onenote etc. Unfortunately, phones with this sort of functionality seem to be so large as to be unusable by my tiny hands and unsuitable for my tiny pockets.

Whatcha reckon? And what's your approach?
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hedgie

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #1 on: 04 Aug 2014, 11:22 »

I'm a little old-fashioned.  I tend to lug a laptop around for course notes, and use the voice recorder on my phone if I want to speak a quick personal notes.  My typing speed and endurance are far greater than I can write by hand anyhow[1].  When typing, I tend to just use a text-editor and write in LaTeX, so I don't have to worry about formatting, just content, and I can work with logic symbols easily.  Yeah, it means that I'm carrying this heavy thing around, and had to learn a new markup language, but the few hours I spent running through tutorials on the basics have paid off in time and frustration saved.

[1]  I have pretty bad RSIs in both wrists.
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nekowafer

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #2 on: 04 Aug 2014, 11:40 »

What about a small binder, like a daily planner type of thing? You can buy a bunch of paper packs that are the right size, and refill as necessary. Then you can get a little plastic organizer (or make your own) to then file those notes away.
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Papersatan

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #3 on: 04 Aug 2014, 11:41 »

I have struggled with this my whole life.  I have trouble reading my writing, I have trouble keeping track of places to take notes, and then the notes I took.  When I was in middleschool I actually wore a small notebook around my neck because otherwise I could not keep track of where and when I needed to be with what (I can't believe noone thought to screen me for ADHD back then :/ ) 

This past year when I worked 32 hours a week and took my final classes in grad school I got the closest I have ever had to a good system.  I use Microsoft OneNote, This is my tool only because I already owned it, I'm not endorsing it over similar systems.

The architecture of the software divides your notes into "notebooks" "sections" and "pages" pages scroll down and can go on as long as you need.  I keep one notebook for work, one for school and one for other crap.  In each notebook a section for each project at work, each class and each life thing that needs keeping track of.  You can sync your notebooks across multiple devices, including mobile devices (though I never did), which lets you read your notes and enter new ones. 

The pages work almost like a collage, you can click anywhere and it make a text box where you can type, you can draw you can drop a file into it or an email, or an image.  This was great for me because I don't take good linear notes, I write a few words here and arrows and a chart and so on, and so this lets me take notes in the same way I would on paper.

 I agree that trying to enter notes on a mobile device is a pain and I have never masted it for more than quick reminders, but you can take a picture of your handwritten notes and upload them.  I also found that it made it easy for me to type a note next to that image later in the day, to make sure I knew what it said, or what it was about. 

This was the only semester I went to study and actually had notes to do it from.  In addition, when I left my co-op in May, I was able to type up notes for my replacement because I had everything saved. The only struggle, like every system, is remembering to use it.  I had to set up a time each day to update it with any postits laying around my desk, or any emails I had sent myself with images of notes or whatever, but once I got into the habit, that didn't take much time, way less time than my other searches for "that piece of paper that is in the pocket of whatever dress I was wearing on Tuesday, or was it Wednesday?"
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Mlle Germain

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #4 on: 04 Aug 2014, 14:59 »

I find it funny that hedgie calls using a laptop and Latex old-fashioned.

My really old-fashioned approach that does not need any technical equipment and works everywhere: I take hand-written notes on everything - even most of my revision notes for exams, when I have time to write. I've only recently started writing up some of them in latex for long-term use. My brain can remember hand-written content much better and I'm still quicker like that as well (especially when it comes to sketches and diagrams).
I then use a folder like this with lots of compartments to organise all my notes by content and importance. When I attend lectures, most of the compartments are for the different subjects, but I also have some for organisational things. The folder is easy to carry around with me everywhere; I just need to empty it every few months. At this point it is good to have more folders at home for different categories to file old notes into.
With my notes for uni, this system has worked very well and I was always able to find everything again, even practice calculations or proofs from a few semesters before. I have one huge folder for each semester, with different compartments within, so I always know where everything is.
Since I usually just pile important papers (like bills etc. I mean the ones that are not connected to my studies/ work) unsorted onto my desk and, when the pile gets too big, into one "Important papers" folder, I'm not quite as fast finding those again - although I usually find them in the end. I bet I could be better with those if I used the same system as for my uni notes.

Edit: The same system that I described for my lectures also worked while I was doing a research project. I had one compartment for papers I was currently reading with annotations written on them or stuck in between, one for notes taken from books and one for my own calculations. Since you can not always completely separate these, they sometimes got mixed up, but all in all, that worked well, too.
Also, I never throw away scrap paper with notes/ calculations unless I am absolutely sure that I have written down a neat version and know where that is.
« Last Edit: 04 Aug 2014, 15:04 by Mlle Germain »
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Aimless

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #5 on: 04 Aug 2014, 15:29 »

Neko you're a goddamned genius!

I can get a filofax-/binder-like thing that I can just fill with loose holed sheaves of A6-paper. It'd get around the cost-issue, let me easily throw away notes I don't need and could be made to work with eg. photographing or otherwise digitizing notes in order to keep them safe and accessible. One way to do this: http://markrevans.com/2012/08/26/evernote-moleskin-trying-the-new-features/

On the techy side of things, I find myself once again keen on trying one of LiveScribe's offerings. Apart from the pen's fatness, it seems like the one solution that checks all my boxes, but that doesn't say much about execution.
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nekowafer

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #6 on: 05 Aug 2014, 07:24 »

I am useful occasionally.

Personally, I love Evernote. You can draw with your finger/a stylus (my phone has one attached), you can include pictures, or you can just type everything. But then I don't take too many notes.
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hedgie

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #7 on: 05 Aug 2014, 13:28 »

I find it funny that hedgie calls using a laptop and Latex old-fashioned.

I was half joking, and half mortified that last term, I saw as many people trying to "type" on the screen of a tablet as using real computing devices.  It wasn't just the lack of tactile feedback, but the risk of repetitive strain would be so much greater than even the keyboard on my inexpensive laptop.
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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #8 on: 05 Aug 2014, 13:30 »

When I was in college I always used pencil and notebook to take notes. Except for that one religion course I took where I got so bored I brought a Handheld PC (specifically a NEC MobilePro 780) and played Nethack on it while pretending to take notes.
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Barmymoo

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #9 on: 05 Aug 2014, 14:38 »

I always, always take notes by hand. Yesterday I was copying out a large amount of information from some case notes which will eventually have to go onto my computer and I still decided to do it by hand because it just wouldn't feel right typing. I don't really understand why, but it's how my brain seems to work - I think on paper.
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Akima

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #10 on: 05 Aug 2014, 15:52 »

Me too. I have tried several approaches to note-taking on a portable device, and I find it just gets in the way compared to notes on paper where i can combine text, diagrams, arrows etc. instantly with the same equipment. I use both a ring-binder system (based on A4-sized stationary) and hardback notebooks.

The idea with the hardback notebooks is to be a "running narrative", and my motto is "Never rip out a page!". Every morning, I draw a bold line across whatever page I'm up to and write the date against it. As I work on problems at work, receive phone-calls, attend meetings, or whatever, I write notes as a "Captain's Log". At the end of the day, or the following morning, I review the previous days notes for action-points etc. and may transfer stuff to my diary, subject-matter-centric notes etc. but the basic idea is that if I can't remember something, I only have to think "I worked on that... last week some time?", and page through the notebook covering that period. For professional reasons, I also have to keep track of how much time I spend working on various things too.
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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #11 on: 05 Aug 2014, 16:59 »

Being a debater has greatly improved my note taking ability and led me to switch from taking notes on a laptop back to pen and paper (it's easier to write quickly with a pen.) I know a lot of shorthand to use. I type a solid 80 WMP, but where handwriting has the advantage is that I can quickly draw arrows to things, do side-by-side notes, or do a table, whereas that would take me too much time to set up in word. And then every class has its own notebook with a page for every day, instead of it just being scattered about different documents.

I've always been terribly slow at typing on phones and tablets, so that definitely wouldn't work for me. I've done some voice recording but a lot of professors aren't comfortable with it, and I have to listen to the entire lecture over to pick out the most important parts. Poli Sci professors tend to go off-track a lot.
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nekowafer

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #12 on: 06 Aug 2014, 07:03 »

My handwriting is really terrible, and it actually hurts a lot to write for any longer period of time. And I'm a quick typist, so I always prefer typing. If I can't type, I am much less likely to take any notes at all.
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Barmymoo

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #13 on: 06 Aug 2014, 13:05 »

I definitely type faster than I handwrite, but still prefer handwriting. I actually tried to learn shorthand for that reason, but never got anywhere with it.
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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #14 on: 06 Aug 2014, 15:35 »

I can probably type faster than I handwrite, but it is the "fluidity" of pencil/pen and paper that is key for note-taking, I find. You can switch instantly from writing words to drawing diagrams, with the same tools, in the same "window".
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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #15 on: 06 Aug 2014, 15:45 »

When I take notes in a hurry, I almost always do it by hand, for the reasons described above. It is for me the fastest, easiest, most flexible and least intrusive/distracting method. When I compile prepare notes for studying, writing etc, I am more likely to use a computer in order to cut, paste, move, edit, format, link, enrich etc. Under some circumstances, mind-mapping software have been more useful to me than mind-mapping on paper, and I have a particular fondness for this one mostly because of the visuals: http://thinkbuzan.com/products/imindmap/

I have at times used approaches such as the Cornell Notes method (see wiki) with good results, but rarely found the need to use it for long periods of time.
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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #16 on: 06 Aug 2014, 16:21 »

There's been some research that says writing something by hand will cement it in (your) memory better than typing. 

There's also been research showing that taking notes in a class by hand stimulates deeper thought than typing notes does.  Part of that is the necessity to paraphrase, since most people can't write as fast as they type. 

My handwritten notes are barely legible, but that's OK, because I remember what I wrote, having written it.    <--- world's worst sentence. 

I have no references at hand, but I'm sure they're out there. 
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Mlle Germain

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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #17 on: 07 Aug 2014, 12:54 »

There's been some research that says writing something by hand will cement it in (your) memory better than typing. 
This is 100% true at least for me.
I think on paper.
Great way of saying it - that is precisely how it works for me, too. I can't remember or comprehend stuff well until I write it down and in 98% of the time, this means writing down by hand, not typing. Different people learn better using different methods and I am definitely in the group of people who learns best writing by hand. Funny how that works.
It might partly be due to the field I work in: In mathematics, almost everybody develops their thoughts by hand first. Lectures (at least everywhere where I've attended any) are handwritten with chalk on an acutal blackboard; you could never follow the thought process as well with a powerpoint presentation. Mathematicians explain things to each other on a blackboard. When I want to do a proof I haven't done before, I need to start off by writing down all the preliminaries and go on from there. On the computer, this doesn't work as well.
For exams at uni, we were often allowed to write one paper with formulas etc. on it to take into the exam and very often I spent ages writing the thing in tiny handwriting the day before the exam (already having done the rest of my revision, of course) and then didn't look at it more than once or twice because just writing everything down again directly before the exam made me memorise it better.
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Re: Organizing daily notes
« Reply #18 on: 08 Aug 2014, 02:39 »

I always start with paper when I'm planning an essay, and then shift to the computer to organise my thoughts once I've figured out what I'm writing about. It's odd, really. You'd think that the process of transferring words from your brain to writing should be the same whatever the medium, but it's definitely not!
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There's this really handy "other thing" I'm going to write as a footnote to my abstract that I can probably explore these issues in. I think I'll call it my "dissertation."
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