Taking Notes

I've carrired a bound, grid paper engineering notebook for quite a few years now. (A habit I picked up in school from the Electrical Engineering side of my formal education.) I've written an entry for (almost) every day working.

There are a few reasons why this has been my preference to text-based note taking, for example: a simple text file, or more complex, a wiki

Low-tech solution for a low-tech problem

If I need to write a to-do list, or a reminder for myself while I'm away from my desk, it is a lot easier to jot something down and be done. I don't require to be near a text-editor. I don't need to create a wiki page, or do any post-markup to what I've written.

Also, I'm free to use a page however I need to in order to get my thought onto the page. I'm not limited to software features for my visual metaphors if I'm sketching out a diagram, or using common symbols

The downsides

This approach has bitten me a few times. When I've started in with a new notebook in the middle of a project (since bound books have limited pages) I'm stuck carrying 2 books for a while.

Text searching features don't exist in my books. At least not without scanning and OCR (Making the assumtion that my handwriting is neat enough to be read into a text form, which is an unrealistic assumption.)

Looking for a balance

It got me thinking about what I needed to do if I wanted to go all digital with my note taking, but keep my workflow intact.

The feeling of using a softer tip on a phone screen requires too much of a change to how I naturally write. I end up concentrating more just to make sure I write legibly enough for myself. Recently, I bought a hard-tipped stylus for my phone, since my experiences with other rubber tipped styli were underwhelming. An argument can be made about the price for a good styli. The good reviews start at about $20-30. A large commitment for an instrument that is only good on touch screens.

I use an Android phone, and, at least at the time of this writing, there aren't a lot of great hand writing tools. Most are marketed towards the digital artist. Lots of authoring features I don't need, and some that are missing for creating journal entries.

Fiinote so far has been my favorite. I get a good mix of hand-written options, hand-drawn, text-based. And I can create hyperlinks, and embed images if I choose to. It has only been a few days, but if the free version is this great, the obvious choice may be to support the developers by upgrading to the full version.


I recommend writing your notes down. There have been many articles and studies about the cognitive advantages of longhand vs keyboarding for note taking.

Hard-tipped styli are pretty great, and cost about as much as nicer ink pens (~$25-100+).

Good, free software for handwriting exists for handwriting. Great, paid software undoubtedly exists.

Here's to a successful experiment!