What is convenient isn’t always better.

I bought an Apple Watch last week. This isn’t really about it, but the charging system Apple went for is a very good example for what I am trying to say.

The inductive charging system on the Apple watch is very convenient, you just place the watch on top of it and leave it. You don’t have to plug anything in, you just leave it on top of the charger. But it isn’t that great. My main problem with it is that it’s too easy for something to bump it off, and then you have a watch that is 50% charged in the morning instead of 100%.

You can say the same thing for a classic Bic Crystal. It is a very convenient pen, and it is pretty damn good for what it is, even though I don’t like it. It works every time, and it is cheap. You could buy a large box of them and leave a few in your bag, on your desk, in your jacket etc. But it isn’t better. You could get a much better pen, for example a Lamy 2000, but that is less convenient, even though the experience of writing with it is worse.

Convenience and the best thing is always up against each other, and you need to find the perfect balance. They work after two completely different set of premises. You want to go as close as possible to “best” when it is something that is important to you, and you want to go as close to convenient as possible when you want it to be as easy as possible.

Why I don’t organise my notebooks.

I’m not that into organising “stuff” into folders or compartments. I don’t do it more than I have to digitally or analogue. The reason I never do it is that what I am going to look for when I need it is almost always different from what I would have categorised it as. My approach is instead to organise things based on what it is. All my plain text notes are in the same place, all my pictures are in the same place; all my Field Notes are in on place and all my larger notebooks in another.

I use search to find my stuff on my computer, and I almost always find it. The way I do it with my notebook is that I write when I started using a notebook, and when I completed it on the first page. Then I write a date on the top of each “text” or “list” or whatever. Then I write “(posted)”, “(transcribed)” and so on on the bottom of each text if I have done so.

It isn’t perfect, and it can be cumbersome to find stuff sometimes. But it gives me just enough context to find what I am looking for.

And I can look through all of my notebooks many more times before I even get close to the time it would have taken to set up and maintain a good system for categorising all of my used notebooks.

End of an era, and when I discovered the benefits of handwriting.

I went to my university’s bookstore yesterday, and bought, what will hopefully be the last batch of books for subjects I am taking. I’ll probably still drop by every now and then to pick up some books.

My plan is to be done with my degree in a few months.

It was when I started at the university that I started to see the real benefits of taking notes by hand. I noticed that I didn’t really remember that much of the seminars and lectures when I took notes on my Macbook, while I remembered a lot more when I used pen and paper.

There have been done a lot of research on the subject, and I’m not going to get into that. But my observation after reviewing some of the notes I have taking both in digital form and analogue form, and my observation is that my digital note is more or less a direct transcription of both the slides and what was said. While my analogue counterparts include was less information.

My impression of my own process is that how I pay attention is the key part here. When I take notes digitally I just passively listen and just write down every single piece of information. While I really have to focus and pay attention to pick up the important information and formulations when I write by hand, because I can’t write down every single thing.

My reason for using pen and paper before I started at the university was because I preferred it, now I use it because it often is the better tool for the job, in most situations, but not all. I still think that a laptop is better if you want a very accurate transcript of the meeting.

We need handwriting.

Articles like this always drive me nuts. We still use hand writing a lot in our daily lives, even though it doesn’t have the same role as it used to have.

The author uses one of the most ignorant and idiotic arguments I have seen in a very long time:

But as a left-hander with terrible handwriting who watched my son struggle to master cursive — he had to stay inside during recess for much of third grade because he wrote his j’s backward — that is a loss I can weather. And history is replete with similar losses; consider how rarely people now carve words in stone, dip pens into ink or swipe platens of typewriters. There will be no loss to our children’s intelligence. The cultural values we project onto handwriting will alter as we do, as they have for the past 6,000 years.

School isn’t just about learning useful skills. It is also about learning a wide skill set, so that you can figure out what you want to do later in life. But the most important thing is that many things in life are hard. You still have to do them, and it is good for you.

You still need handwriting. Many subjects you are going to take require you to do a handwritten exam, not because we are old fashioned, but because subjects like Math, Physics or Logic require very sophisticated software and a lot of training before you are able to do the same thing that you can do with a simple piece of paper and a ruler.

There are also many things in your daily life where you are expected to write by hand, for example when you have to fill out some forms. Or in a meeting when you are brainstorming on large piece of paper or a whiteboard. Or in a meeting with a designer when you are trying to figure out how something should look.

You can probably do the same thing on a computer, and we do, but it is often faster, easier and better to do it on paper.

Now. Cursive. My cursive hand writing is horrible, and I hated it when I had to learn it. But it is still a very useful skill. I can read cursive because of it, even though I can’t write it myself. We have spent many hundred years, and billions of dollars to learn how to understand dead languages that we lost the direct ties to. We will cut the ties to most of the primary sources available to historians if we stop teaching cursive. That is bad. The long term problem is that we could loose the ability to read them at all. The short term problem is for everyone that need in their field or study or other work related task. Instead of using a little bit of time learning it, while learning is easier, they have to learn it much later. This means more training or education for various research positions and probably regular jobs as well before they can do their job.

How to ask the right questions

I think we have established that buying every cool thing that shows up isn’t really my thing. But I do buy stuff when I need them. And this is about how I go forward to figure out what I need.

The first step is that you need to start out with a different starting point than the product. For me it is about replacing something that isn’t what I need, removing something I don’t need or adding something new to solve a problem I don’t have a good solution for.

I always take note when I get annoyed. For example my latest change in my “workflow” for a lack of a better word, is the re-introduction of pocked sized Field Notes. As I said in the blog post, I got rid of them because the format wasn’t the right thing for most of what I were using them for. The format was way too small and limited for managing all of my notes and tasks. But I slowly realised that they were the right thing for a small sub set of my tasks and notes. I don’t always bring my Travelers Notebook when I go shopping, but I always have the room for a Field Notes notebook. There: that is a good place to start.

The reason I focus on having a use for something before buying it, is that most of us have a limited amount of money we can spend on stationary per month and year, and the less I spent on stuff I won’t use, the more I can spend on stuff I will use. It’s not that hard to spend enough on notebooks you don’t use to pay for a Lamy 2000 or something really expensive.