In my last gadget diary post from over a week ago, I announced that I was going to give up my paper notebooks in favor of a digital To-Do system to help me manage my tasks. After I published that post, quite a few of you gave me ideas for different apps to try (thanks!). Some suggestions included Evernote, Todoist, Trello, Wunderlist, and more.
There are too many apps for that
I was excited to try each app that was suggested and I set out doing just that. But after trying a handful of them, I grew frustrated. Each app had features I liked, but features that I wanted but not available.
Most of the apps offered free and premium versions, with the free version offering a watered down feature set, vs. a paid version that required a monthly fee to unlock all the good stuff. Since I already mentioned in my previous gadget diary post that I don’t want to pay for a new system/app, it didn’t take me long to strike several suggestions off the list.
My aha moment
My sister commented on Facebook when she saw my post about ditching my notebooks that she gave me 2 weeks to change my mind and go back to pen and paper. It didn’t even take me that long to figure out that I love keeping a notebook for the following reasons:
- It’s a tangible object that I can hold that doesn’t run on batteries and won’t shatter if I drop it on the floor.
- I don’t have to flip to another tab in my browser or have the app own in a window on my computer because the notebook is always open next to me so I can see the 3-5 daily tasks that I want to do that day.
- Drawing an X through a box with pen on paper when I finish a task is more satisfying to me than clicking a mouse button.
I realized that my simplified Bullet Journal system that I’ve been using for the past few years has been working just fine for helping me productive with my list of daily tasks. I don’t need a digital task manager at all, what I really need is a better way to record and then later find ideas and notes on a variety of subjects that I jot down in the same notebook that I use for my daily To-Dos.
I’ve decided that I want to use Google apps like Gmail or Google Docs, Sheets to build my customized note-taking system because I’m a Gmail ninja and I already use Google Docs and Sheets for other things. So it shouldn’t be that difficult to create a way to keep track of ideas, notes, and other things using these tools.
Ideas I’m considering
The first idea is to record my ideas and notes in a separate section of my paper notebook. This is attractive to me because it means I have one place where I keep everything. But, it’s also the same reason why I want a better note taking system. Finding individual notes that have been written on paper is not easy unless I’d create an index. But, an index is only useful if everything is recorded in it. Otherwise, I’d never find notes on that crazy idea I had 2 months ago about a Gadgeteer podcast without flipping through 2 months worth of pages.
Another idea is to use Gmail to send myself notes with specific labels/tags that I can later use to search to see matching entries. I am a heavy label user in Gmail, so it would be simple to do this. I could use labels like postideas, healthnotes, tripideas, etc.
Another idea is to use a Google Sheets spreadsheet and add a new row each time I have a note that I want to save and have the first row be a label/tag so I can sort on that label to see all the entries with that label.
I think the Sheets idea might be the best way to go just for visual reasons. Here’s an example of the way I’m thinking about setting up the sheet.
I’m not a spreadsheet wizard so if I go with this system, I’ll have to learn how to set up the sheet so I can just display rows based on the tag column if I only want to see health notes for example. I don’t even know if this is possible in Google Sheets. I know you can do it in MS Excel because I’ve seen pivot tables. But again, I’m not a spreadsheet expert.
One more idea I have is to use a flat text file that I can use Unix commands like grep to sort and display only the notes I want to see at any given time.
The biggest issue with this idea is the ability to access the text file from my computer at home, my computer at work, and my phone or tablet.
So that’s where I am right now with this “project”. Just like before, I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions.