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The following is an overview of my personal note taking methods, based upon the situation, and more specifically, how long I will need the notes to last. This system has evolved over the course of many years, and is presented here out of a combination of simplicity, scalability, and necessity.
This list of methods explains the medium on which the notes themselves are recorded. It all depends on exactly how long I need or expect the notes to be available, specifically, a very short time, such as Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries, or a long time, such as the duration of the rest of my lifetime.
For quick notes that I will only conceivably need for a short, limited, or temporary time, such as a few hours, or days, I will simply take a plain white piece of paper and fold it into four squares, thus making a simple no-frills temporary notebook, or simply one piece of 8.5″ by 11″ piece of paper that fits in my pocket.
For notes that I will need for a longer duration, the obvious answer is Field Notes. With Field Notes, I record notes that are needed to last for a finite amount of time, usually in excess of about a week or two, but no more than a couple of months. These are great for notes taken in remote places or as it happens. Because these are pocket-sized notebooks, they’re available pretty much anywhere they happen to be needed, and also at a moments notice. Because of their small size, limited number of pages, and relatively inexpensive cost, I’m not too concerned about the possibility of loss.
Long-term notes that I’m counting on lasting as long as possible, there is no substitute for my Moleskine notebook, which is the only notebook brand that I trust with the writing and notes that I’m counting on lasting for a very long time, ideally, the duration of my lifetime, if not longer.
What I will generally do as a rule is to hand-copy notes directly into a higher-level notebook as the need requires. In general terms, I will copy notes into a Field Notes notebook, or directly into my Moleskine notebook if the need arises, or if the notes are indeed keeping. Generally, whenever possible, I will destroy the notes immediately after they are migrated to a more permanent storage medium. I take a lot of notes. A whole lot. Many of my notes I believe to be too personal or sensitive to fall into the wrong hands, so in most cases, destruction through mechanical shredding and recycling is necessary to protect the information.
Even with computerized storage methods, I rely upon hand-written notes for reasons of security and long-term preservation. Although there have been great advances in cloud-based note taking, nothing is ever as secure as handwritten notes in paper-bound notebooks.
I discuss my Moleskine notebook obsession a lot on this blog, but paper-based notes need not exist strictly in Moleskine products. In fact, any bound paper product will suffice. If you don’t own a copy of Mindhacker by Ron-Hale Evans, buy one; it’s brilliant and describes in detail, how to create a paper-based database filled with well-taken notes.