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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Irving

Paper vs. Electronic Notebooks

Have you heard of Evernote, and asked yourself what it is, and why anyone really cares about it? I was there, until I figured out how to make it work for me. Now I have thousands of searchable notes, images and documents squirrelled away there, and can draw upon information I would never otherwise remember.

I am conflicted in writing this post. Does it make sense to abandon the paper notebook? I think when done well, the answer is yes, with some caveats. The trick to making it work is selecting one, and going all in.

I tried repeatedly to let go of my physical notepad. Tried and failed. I just couldn't get to a point where electronic was better. It was always too slow. You do not want to slow a meeting or discussion to fire up your electronic notes app, or whatever you are using to take notes.

The last sentence eludes to the problem I experienced, which prevented me from moving ahead. That is, I couldn't decide on the best app to use. I would waste time trying to figure out where I recorded that note (notepad, email, Word, Excel, etc). This fragmentation of my notes led me to always fail back to my notepad.

What led me to fully make the switch was Google Keep. Our organization had adopted Google Apps (Now G Suite), and it meant having a robust notes app that was attached to my work identity. 

In addition to being distinct from my personal identity, it had the following capabilities:

Cross Platform

Given you don't always have your laptop with you, modern notes apps must be available via native mobile applications. Google Keep has a great iOS app for this purpose. I always have my phone while working.

Simple and Minimalist Design

Once you decide on a notes app. Be militant with using only that app, and put it on the most accessible menu of all devices. Ensure it's signed in automatically (and of course password protect your device). Develop your reflex to open it and start a note when you normally would grab a physical notepad.

Support for photos, audio and to do lists

When using photos for planning, it's very helpful to embed the photos in the notes. Get in the habit of using the app to grab photos, and you'll get the benefit of having them in the correct place. Trying to find planning photos in your regular photo library is a pain as they're mixed with a mountain of personal photos.


Most notes apps allow collaboration, meaning if you have a tech savvy team, you can invite several people to a given note to view or edit, often in realtime.

By getting in the habit of only using Google Keep, I had my workflow down solid, and it led to better overall notes. I always had my phone on me, so I always had all of my notes, ever. Keep the current ones at the surface, and archive those you've dealt with; they're still searchable if the need arises.

Notes Apps to Consider:

Why bother? I'd list these to support my personal switch:

  • Accessibility - Always with me

  • Better Security - Cloud hosted and 2 step authentication

  • Environmental - Paper and transport free (ok, electricity required)

  • Multipurpose - Photos, audio, contacts, text, websites

  • Searchable - Optical Character Recognition supported

  • Easily shared - When collaborating

All of this being said, I still say there is a time and place for handwriting, and it likely depends on the person. For me it's when I have to design a complex quantitative model. Mapping it out freehand on a big 11x17 paper can help gather my thoughts and lead to a better concept before getting it into Excel. Admittedly, it's hard to recreate that experience on-screen. I think products like iPads are approaching this functionality, but we're not quite there yet.

Sometimes going low-tech still makes the most sense.


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