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Taking Notes When You Don't Have a Computer

Yesterday I talked about taking notes using Google Docs. It's a great way if you've got multiple systems (especially with different configurations) to be able to store and organize information. But what about when you don't have a computer? And for this, I'm also including mobile devices, because they can often serve as a note taking tool. It's not unusual to see my eating lunch with my Blackberry out, typing in notes from what I'm reading. I can then transfer the information to another document later, and I don't have to lug around a laptop to do so. But there are times when none of that is feasible. So what do you do then?

You use a notebook. Or a notepad. Something small, portable, and built to write in. The idea is to get the information down. There is an additional step later to type in what was written down, but that's a better option than trying to remember and never doing so. Now you don't need a big, fancy notebook like Steve or Joe had, it just needs to be something you can use. And it should be something you can carry with you anywhere (within reason). The latter is extremely important. You want to have that note taking device with you wherever you go. You'll never know when a thought might come that you want to record, a task may get thrown on your plate, or you hear something you want to remember. Having that notebook or notepad is key.

This was a lesson I learned from a high school friend. He's now Dr. Brygg Ullmer at LSU and he's a smart guy. When we were in high school together he was doing things that left the rest of us in awe. Not just the fact that he was doing them, but the idea to do them in the first place. I remember one of his projects was to see if his computer could spit out an understandable report. He coded it in LISP, if I remember right, and he went around gathering electronic copies of reports and the like to feed into his program. For a relatively quick project, it did a amazingly passable job. I remember Brygg was always thinking and he was always on top of things. It was a couple of years later, when he came back to present to a group of rising 9th and 10th graders during the summer that I gained a little insight as to why: Brygg had a notepad with him at all times and he wrote in it a lot. He would go back over his notepad periodically and review what he had written down. It was a good system, one I'm still trying to emulate.

So if you don't have access to that computer or mobile device, go for the low tech solution. Make sure you get your notes down, whether you're reading a book, hearing a technical briefing, or listening to someone recite Keats. If you get a few snickers for pulling out a simple notepad, then it's only because the others haven't realized its usefulness. And that's to their disadvantage.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Steve Jones on 18 December 2009

My wife was just talking about carrying a notebook around with her the other day. She says she sees lots of technical people using them. I know Andy Warren likes carrying one around as well. I tend to use the iPhone for little notes, sending myself emails.

Posted by Nicholas Cain on 18 December 2009

I've found that carrying a notebook can be not just useful, but at times critical, not just for taking notes but for jotting down ideas or thoughts.

I would highly recommend a molesikine notebook for any purpose, for me www.moleskine.com/.../ruled_soft_notebook__pocket.php is great as it fits in my back pocket, add a www.officedepot.com/.../Zebra-G-301-Gel-Ink-Pen made from stainless steel so it won't bend or snap when you sit down and you are all set.

Of course, if you carry a bag you can get a larger notebook, I would still strongly recommend the pen though.

Posted by narendra.forum on 23 December 2009

If you cannot carry notebook all the time it is better to keep two three notebook in all plcaes you frequenlty visit like kitchen, tv, GYM.

and then note it down in a common notebook or device.

Posted by bwillsie-842793 on 23 December 2009

I carry a small pocket sized notepad and a small pocket recorder.

The recorder is great while driving or recording meetings.  The notepad is for restaurants, theaters, etc. where I need to write something down without disturbing others...

I find trying to take notes on a computer or blackberry more distracting than usefull as I invariably have emails, calendar notes, tasks, etc. popup while entering notes...

Posted by jsanborn on 23 December 2009

Sometimes the low tech solution is still the most versatile solution...

Posted by Mr. DBA on 23 December 2009

Dude.....really?  What has this world come to.  WhoTF actually looked at this and said, "Wow, a notebook!  What a great idea when I don't have my computer near me!"  And then the person who put the links up to notebooks he likes, come on - geta life!  What's next a nice series on the usage of pens and pencils or maybe crayons?  One more thing, people who send themselves emails are stupid.

Posted by Robert Sterbal on 23 December 2009

I use the book fold with a blank sheet of paper:


and a Fisher space pen (which fits in my wallet):


Posted by gren on 24 December 2009

I use tatooing - you only have to remember a sharpened-up ink fountain pen, and you never forget what you have written. But at the last meeting they almost threw me out when I flopped out my last remaining bit of space to write on...

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