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Always have a pen


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Making Better Notes

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Made with Tinderbox!

Journal © 2005 by Jean-François BODART. Reproduced by permission of the author.

Always have a pen, and always have something to write on. You can't take notes if your tools aren't ready to hand. Trying to remember what you want to write down later increases your anxiety and workload, defeating the purpose of your notebook.

If you sketch, you may need both a pen and a pencil. When you can use a pen, do: notes are for your benefit, not for the public. Hiding your mistakes from yourself by constant erasure spends time to small profit.

Choose your pen, rather than relying on whatever disposable ballpoint you happen to find in your pocket. Technical pens and fountain pens have acquired a remarkable following in recent years; both are available in inexpensive form as well as in luxury materials.

You need both low tech and high tech journal tools. You need to have a reliable paper notebook that's always handy and available instantly -- and you need a pen or pencil that's equally available. This notebook need not be large -- for some people, a handful of blank cards is sufficient. It needs to be within reach in the middle of the night, in your car, in the elevator. Its purpose is simple: capture ideas and other things you need to remember. Write them down at once: don't try to remember.

These paper notes need to be swept regularly into a permanent storage system -- a tool like Tinderbox that lets you preserve, organize, and analyze all your notes.

The more accessible your major notebook, the easier you'll find it to sweep your notes into it and to reorganize and study those notes. That means you'll want to bring your computer along to meetings and you'll want to pack it on trips.

You need at least two cases for every laptop computer. One, a conventional laptop bag, briefcase or backpack, needs to hold spare batteries, cables, accessories, and chargers -- everything you'll need for an extended trip. A second, minimalist case should give you a spare, lightweight way to carry your computer when you're just going down the hall or heading across campus.