On the one hand, I really WANT to be able to use an electronic planner, note taking system and organizational process.  I’ve tried a number of them, and some (OneNote for my dissertation and my Inbox as a to do queue) are still in use.  But not all.

I have reverted to paper note taking for a class I am in this semester (Cognitive Psychology).  For some reason, the act of writing the notes in pen helps them make the jump from short-term to long-term memory. (I blame this on growing up in the pre-digital age and training myself to learn this way.)  I’m doing the same thing at work; despite taking my laptop to every meeting, I am carrying a small Circa binder into which I make notes and add to do items.

The reason this works better is because, short of getting myself a tablet pc, there are things I just can’t do with a keyboard that I do all the time on paper.

  • Draw myself pictures to help me remember something
  • Draw lines between a current thought and one noted earlier to make it clear how they are related to one another
  • Color code my notes (do-able on screen, but takes a bit more time than just trading pens)
  • The occasional mind map (again, do-able on screen but requires learning  a new tool)

Having said that, all is not quite where I want it to be.  This method works well for taking down information and getting it into my head, but the to do aspect is not working nearly as well.  My work to do list still lives in email primarily, although I try to write one out every monday, and my home to do list *blush* lives mostly in my head and my gmail.

Therefore I am going to try using GTDAgenda for the next month.  It is a pay service, although the cost is relatively low, but of all the electronic implementations of the GTD methodology this one includes all of the core features plus a few others that seem highly useful to me.  For example, it gives you the ability to create checklists for repetitive tasks such as dealing with the administrative items for each of my classes every weekend. At the end of the month I will be posting a full review of the product along with results of my new approach.

In the meantime, however, I want to make it clear that paper has its place in my system.  Research on memory has shown that making connections between new information and what we know already is critical to memory, and paper provides a more free-form way for me to do that.  Further, the act of writing for me is an input device for my brain, whereas the act of typing is an output device.  That makes taking notes on paper a better option even if I never look at them again.