Taking notes

As a new employee, I am meeting lots of new people. I have never been an avid note taker, but with a large group of new information and new people, I am finding it crucial remember names and what was said in meetings. It has me thinking of all the ways you can take your notes.

Desktop Software

There is Evernote, OneNote, and other apps that you can use for note taking. They remind of a program I used to use in the 90’s called InfoSelect, which I used to love. Basically you take your notes and then search for whatever you wrote. It’s generally good, but as your notebooks fill up it gets harder and harder to find things. Additionally, followup tasks are not easy to collect together.

These tools are best for long term text notes and searching.


Im grouping the iPad, the reMarkable tablet, and others like the BigMe Carve together. They all use a stylus to write down your notes and sometimes even dynamically convert it into text. These have many benefits, but also do not collect your follow up tasks. I’ve seen people use these digital systems pretty effectively, but the problem is that my hand starts to cramp up after writing for even a short period.

Also, some of these tablets require a monthly subscription to use. I get the economics of this, but it seems too expensive for what you get.

This method of note taking is best when you are not at a computer keyboard and need to draw more.

Paper and Pencil

I used to carry around a paper notebook and write notes and basically use them for very short term task followup. There is a methodology of hand written notes called Bullet Journaling. I used to have a simple variation of this that I would keep. It worked OK, but did not scale well and certainly was not useful for older notes. It was best for when I had to draw designs.

This old school method is best for light notes that you don’t need to search and drawings.

My Dream System

I meet with different people in the organization from different departments. Some of them, I meet sporadically and some have regular cadences. I need to keep track of what was talked about in each meeting. Also, I need to have followup actions from each meeting. Lastly, I want to remember relationships between people and projects. Who works for whom?

The design I made a few years ago would solve this problem. Basically, it was a note taking app with custom markup in the text. Some examples of markup text that I would use:

  1. @MarySmith “I think we should do XYZ”
  2. /Task Set up call with @MarySmith on #ProjectXYZ [due 9/9/2022]
  3. #ProjectXYZ The mission is to make the worlds best note taking app.
  4. @MarySmith <> @Buttons [rel=Dog]

Each one of these macros would write to the database and could be collected in a view. For example looking at @MarySmith would collect all of the notes marked as her. Maybe you could cross-reference @MarySmith with #ProjectXYZ and see all of your notes connected those two ideas. The last macro could establish relationship lines so you could say who is who’s manager or the names of their kids.

That way I could see all of my followup tasks all at once across all of my meetings. I could bring up a dossier on a specific person. I believe this would work for anyone who meets lots of people and takes lots of notes.

How do you take notes? Do you like the system? I find it a fascinating area of study.

3 responses to “Taking notes”

  1. You should look into Roam or Obsidian, which take more wiki-style relational references between notes. What you’re suggesting at the end of this post is right up those tools’ respective alleys. I’ve personally tried them, as this approach appeals to me on paper, but found them a little too unwieldy in practice – I find applying too much structure to note taking defeats the purpose, for me anyway.

    Now I do everything in huge plain text files formatted with markdown. I try to tag where I can, and make liberal use of cmd+f. Not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve found for my brain. YMMV.

  2. You should definitely try Todoist. It has versions for mobile, desktop and a chrome plugin, and when writing a note you can easily tag categories or set up TODO time as part of the content of the form.
    For example,if you write “follow up on @analytics with @glen tommorow at 6pm” it would automatically categorize it and set the due time for tomorrow at 6pm.
    About the methodology, I implemented some of the “getting things done” method in my life and it’s nice, mainly in terms of sorting and grouping of tasks.

Whatya think?

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