Digital notes are better than paper

Sat, Jun 26, 2021 3-minute read

Techie people regularly rediscover paper and write about how they've created a good note taking system with it. I'm envious of them, as I've tried this many times but can't do it. I keep thinking I’ll like writing on paper, but I don’t and likely never will.

A few years ago I started keeping a digital daily journal, not so much a diary with entries like "today I feel…", but a record like "changed the van’s oil. Drove the kid to camp. Called Mom."1 I was using Drafts on my iPhone as a sort of bullet journal, augmented with an action group I wrote. After a year of this, articles rhapsodizing on the wonderfulness of handwritten notes convinced me to switch to a paper journal and to get a nice fountain pen.2 I've used the physical process for about a year and a half now, and when I fill up this current notebook next month, that's it. I'm going back to digital.

As I keep having to be reminded, pen and paper note taking is vastly inferior to digital in every way I care about. Other people love writing notes and that's awesome, but I can't escape the fact that I hate handwriting, and I often cut my thoughts short because I want to quit scribbling. Worse, the analog notes aren't actionable. My Drafts workflow turns my day's worth of bullet-style notes into a set of digital diary entries, new calendar events, and tasks in my task manager. I already carry my iPhone with me almost everywhere3 so I don't have to remember to drag something else along. If I'm jogging and think of something worth remembering, I can say "hey Siri, remind me to..." and it records a note without me having to pause and jot the thought down. Paper would be nice for impromptu drawings, but since keeping a paper journal, not once have I drawn something in it.

For me, for my workflow, digital is vastly superior. Paper has its strengths, but none of them apply to how I want to use it. I mention all this for the benefit of other people reading articles about the benefits of paper note taking, and who feel vaguely guilty for not toting a notebook with them all the time. I think the important part is writing a note, not the medium it's taken with.

  1. This is enough of a trigger for me to remember that day when I look back at it later. It’d be useless for anyone else reading it, but I write for me, not for a hypothetical person who gives a care about what I was doing in 2021. ↩︎

  2. Rhodia Webnotebook A5. Lamy Safari fountain pen, Noodler’s Baystate Blue ink. If I were ever going to enjoy handwriting in a book, I'm sure this is the setup that would have won me over. ↩︎

  3. None of this applies while on camping trips. I take a paper notebook with me to write in because I don't have to charge it. ↩︎