I’m a Note-Taking Luddite, I Admit it. Here’s How I’m Adapting My Ways to the Digital Age

So look, I’m just going to say it: I’m a caveman when I comes to taking notes and keeping track of to-dos. I can’t help it. Lord knows I’ve tried: Evernote, Apple Notes, OneNote, countless Apple Pencil-enabled note-taking apps, you name it. They just don’t work for me. And so I wind up with little spiral notepads, big spiral notepads, sticky notes, you name it. I’m a mess.

I can’t even bring myself to use to-do apps for the action items I’ve got.

I know, it’s disgusting.

I was complaining about this to a friend this past November, and was delighted when I got a Rocketbook from him for Christmas.

Now, I’ve looked at the “smart paper” notebooks before, and I can’t use them. I just need to write on actual paper. There’s just something about it. It’s informal, I can make little * and ✓ symbols everywhere, I can make columns in the middle of the page, I can draw → next to important stuff, you name it. I’m a very unstructured note-taker, apparently.

But Rocketbook is DUMB paper.

The schtick with Rocketbook is that the pages are made of, like, Tyvek or something. They’re waterproof and tear-resistant. You write on them using Frixion gel pens from Pilot, which are erasable, and you can just wipe off the entire page with a wet rag. And the notebooks come in a number of sizes; I’ve got the full 8.5×11 size, but they make a smaller “executive” size too. The version I got has lined pages, “calendar” pages, and “grid” pages, so you can do a variety of note-taking. They even make a version for people who use “Panda Planners,” although I’m not one of them.

But HERE is the REAL shtick.

At the bottom of each page are a series of symbols. In the Rocketbook mobile app, you connect each symbol to a “destination.” Then, when you’re taking notes, you mark off one symbol on that page.

The Rocketbook app is used to scan each page using your phone’s camera, and they have been SMART about it. The pages have a black border, which makes it easier for the app to get a solid scan. It looks at which symbol you’ve X’d out, and then processes the scan based on how you configured that symbol in the app.

So, for my work notes, I have them auto-send the scan as a PDF to my work address, with a specific date-based email subject. We use Gmail, so I filter those into a “DailyNotes” label/tag/folder/thing. I have it OCR the scan as best it can and embed the text into the body of the mail. BOOM! Searchable text right in Gmail! At the top of each page, I write a heading like ## 8-January-2021 ## and that becomes the name of the PDF (the ## is a Rocketbook header convention).

My new work routine:

  • Every morning, start a new note on a fresh page.
  • Scan the page of the day before.
  • Transfer any outstanding to-dos onto the current day’s page.
  • At the end of the week, wipe all the pages and start over.

I’ve linked a different symbol to my personal iCloud account, where I just have files go into a folder. That’s been great for notes on whatever novel I’m writing, design ideas for my new 3D printer, stuff like that. Inside the front cover is a little “directory” of which symbol I’ve assigned to what, so I can quickly refer if I’ve forgotten.

BTW, Rocketbook CAN scan to Evernote, OneNote, and all kinds of other places, so it integrates well if you’re already a digital note-taker and want to make paper-writing a part of your life as well.

Pilot makes Frixion pens in all kinds of colors, too, so I got one of those ones with four colors in a single pen, so I can use red to cross stuff out, green to check off “done” things, and black for general writing. I don’t like blue ink for some reason. I’m working that out.

Anyway, if you’re a similarly primitive note-taker like me, I can’t recommend this Rocketbook thing enough. Give it a look (the links I’ve included are to Amazon searches; remember to switch to Smile.Amazon.com to have your purchase benefit a charity like The DevOps Collective). Going into the new year, this has seriously changed what my desk looks like and how I’m organizing myself, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

What’s your go-to note-taking solution?

One thought on “I’m a Note-Taking Luddite, I Admit it. Here’s How I’m Adapting My Ways to the Digital Age

  1. Ed

    I’m also a note taking luddite, so this was a great post! Like you, I’ve tried Evernote and so on, mostly to no avail. I’m currently trying to be better with OneNote as that’s our company tool of choice. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that I enjoy writing my notes by hand (in mechanical pencil, no less), even though I’m a competent typist and could probably get the information down faster on a keyboard.

    I’ll definitely take a look at Rocketbook, and suggest it to a few colleagues who also are still stuck with us in the pen (or pencil) and paper past.

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