Taking notes: paper? digital?

Notepad and a fountain pen on a table

You’re probably no stranger to note-taking. For school, for work, for personal use… What do you use? Do you write it down on a sheet of paper? Or do you do it digitally? On your phone? Laptop?

Sure each use case is different. Today I want to share my evolution while taking notes at work.

👨‍💻 First, digital

For years now I have been taking notes at work, my to-do lists, bits of knowledge I want to get back to in the future, meeting minutes…

At first, I tried using built-in note-taking software (from Mac). I then thought that if I lose the laptop I lose the note so I started backing them up in a wiki software, on the cloud (Confluence). But that’s very cumbersome (spoiler alert: I want to use Markdown)

  • ✅ Fast as your fastest typing
  • ✅ Backups
  • ✅ Sync in the cloud 
  • ❌ Average user experience
  • ❌ Hard to export, no universal format
  • ❌ Requires internet connection

✍️ Then I went “back” to paper

When I started my journey into fountain pens I switched day-to-day (to-do’s and meeting notes) to a paper form. Notebook and a fountain pen. I loved it. It forces you to slow down when taking notes, which can be good and bad at the same time. 

  • ✅ Great user experience
  • ✅ Private
  • ✅ Not only words but diagrams / drawings
  • ❌ Slow
  • ❌ No backup
  • ❌ No sync with multiple places

🥇 Markdown for president

Enter Markdown

Markdown is a lightweight markup language for creating formatted text using a plain-text editor

I had already talked about plain text files. They’re nice.

My current setup is writing my notes on a my laptop using markdown text files.

My main pain point from paper was the slowness and the backup. I want to have my to-do notes next to my long term notes, all together, independent of the platform or writing tool.

Markdown text files give me that. It doesn’t matter where you edit your files on, the format is the same, it’s a standard and anybody can read these files and present them in a nicer way.

I’ve chosen Obsidian.md as my UI for seeing live preview when typing.

The key here is that this software simply presents the files you already have in your disk. They maintain the same markdown syntax. Tired of a specific software? Just open the files with any other. It’s wonderful.

I use a private GitHub repository to keep my notes backup up, but you don’t have to. If you don’t need sync across devices or cloud backup, you can simply keep the files on your disk (a backup is always encouraged!).

  • ✅ Nice UX and UI
  • ✅ Private (if they don’t leave your machine)
  • ✅ Fast
  • ✅ Easy to export / import, standard format. Easy to backup.
  • ✅ Does not require internet connection

I can’t think of a drawback for now. This setup up does everything I need.

Final words

Perhaps the post was very work-focused type of notes.

I’m very happy with the current setup. I feel productive and confident that my notes will live as long as I need them to without worrying about formats or outdated software.

What’s your note-taking strategy?

Ricard

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