Despite working in IT and owning several electronic devices that allow note taking, I use a lot of paper notes. Paper is portable, instant on, available in many form factors, works in adverse conditions, disposable … you get my drift. It may be a legacy system, but following my maxim of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”, I find paper and pencil much more convenient and productive than using any digital equivalent.
There are “systems” available, such as Franklin-Covey, which will (for a price) provide you with a large variety of pre-printed pages, notebooks and files to organize them, and accessories to punch them, mark them, etc. They also provide software to make Outlook look more like your day planner.
For those who aren’t into systems and their constraining forms and methodologies, there are “plain” notebook providers. The Moleskin notebooks in particular have become fetish objects for many, accompanied by extensive discussions of choosing the perfect writing instrument to fill the pages.
However, both of those extremes tend to violate my maxim of “function over form”. The systemic approach has too much overhead and the cool notebook approach tends to discourage you from writing anything not worthy of the notebook itself.
So, what’s my “perfect” system? Start with the cliché “paperless office” which in reality provides an infinite supply of scrap paper. Then add a heavy duty paper cutter. Voila, all the 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 scratch paper I need. Not only does the paper get a second life, but there’s absolutely no guilt from making a single mark on a sheet and then throwing it away five minutes later.
I keep a thick stack on my desk and use the top sheet as a running list of things done, things to do next, or bits of incoming information. Because it’s just a stack of loose sheets, it’s trivial to spawn substacks for micro-projects or running notes.
At the end of the day, I gather up the daily log and any other loose sheets and stuff them into a small manilla folder. Most other paperwork folded once is the same size as my notes, so everything fits nicely in the folder.
At my convenience I transfer stuff I want to keep to my laptop, cleaning it up and fleshing it out in the process. Other sheets remain in the folder as to-do lists or reference material.