Technology still can’t beat pen and paper

I am a tablet PC guy, no question. My tablet of choice is the Levnovo x201t, but I’ve tried several and enjoy the constant hunt for a new one. I don’t travel with it much these days as I’ve grown tired of carrying multiple machines, dealing with security, etc. But when I’m at home my tablet PC is a workhorse. Between Microsoft OneNote and Evernote I’ve basically eliminated my need for a notebook. Or so I thought.

For whatever reason I decided to take a long hard look at my note taking needs this week. I’ve been rather irritable lately and found myself nitpicking many of the cons associated with using a tablet PC for taking notes that I previously overlooked. The shortcoming of using a tablet PC are obvious: battery life, “boot time”, size and the mother of all….you can’t take notes on a tablet of any kind when it’s turned off, which has been a real issue for me while traveling.

Before going further I should explain why I take notes. After all a lot of people take notes. I still have notes from pharmacy school even though I’ve never looked through them. Notes are only valuable if one returns to them for information, which I typically don’t. For me taking notes is about recording my ideas. Several years ago my brother, Robert recommended that I start putting my ideas on paper. He’s been doing it for a long time. My brother is a sharp guy and his recommendation made a lot of sense, so I started using Mead Composition Books to record my ideas about pharmacy, computers, gadgets, etc. I’ve since moved on to Moleskin Notebooks, but I use them the same way. This was all before I discovered the joys of using a tablet PC to record my thoughts. The advantages are obvious as the tablet PC allows me to file, sort and search my thoughts much more efficiently. I can add links to other files or websites, photos, videos, audio recording, etc. There really are few things you can’t do with a computer. Throw in the fact that I can sync my OneNote Notebooks and my Evernote collection across all my devices and it becomes a no-brainer. Until this week that is.

As stated previously I’ve been a bit frustrated with using my tablet and gone back to my Molesking Notebooks and a JetStream pen; my favorite pen in the world. And before all you iPad-toting zealots start screaming about using the iPad for taking notes, remember that I’ve been down that road. Also tried using an couple of Android tablets. It simply doesn’t work for me. Those devices are not designed for taking notes with a pen. None of them are with perhaps the exception of the Galaxy Note 10.1-inch tablet, which I haven’t tried yet. Consumer tablets from Apple, Samsung, Motorola, etc. have changed the world we live in, but in my opinion they still don’t replace a tablet PC for taking notes, not to mention that they don’t even come close to good old fashioned pen and paper for that activity. If you think otherwise you’re delusional and should stop reading now and move on. Sorry, I digress.

Back to my note taking crisis.

Monday morning of this week I decided to keep a notebook and pen with me throughout all my activities. Even as I sit here typing this, my notebook is readily available. An idea pops into my head, I open the notebook and sketch it out. The notebook is instant on, never has to be charged, weighs less than my wallet, doesn’t have to be powered on or off during taxi, landings and take-offs, never has to be updated or rebooted, doesn’t cause eye strain after 10 hours of looking at it, and so on. I think I’ve recorded more ideas on paper this week than the rest of this year working from my tablet. Why? Because it’s quick and easy. The process of picking up the notebook and writing something down doesn’t detract from what I’m doing on the computer. You all know what I’m talking about. You click on a link and end up spending two hours on something totally unrelated to what you’re working on. The notebook offers no links, although that would be cool.

Sometimes the simple things really are best. Pen and paper are currently my best tools for recording ideas. And honestly, until a tablet computer from any company can equal their ease and flexibility they will remain my tool of choice.


10 thoughts on “Technology still can’t beat pen and paper”

  1. Perhaps your stylus is the problem. Look at the iFaraday assortment. I’ve found they are the absolute best.

  2. Could be Robin, but I doubt it. I’ve tried several styli (styluses?) and the result is basically the same on the iPad; not good. Tablet PCs still beat them for note taking, hands down. Thanks for the information though.

  3. Jerry,

    Just figured I’d expand on our “conversation” from Twitter.

    I can certainly see all of the points you highlighted and there are of course advantages for both. In recent years we have become pretty reliant on technology, and for some it’s been a great addition to our lives while others may have experienced a few headaches and productivity has suffered.

    I made an attempt to go back to pen and paper about a year and half ago. I purchased a Franklin Covey planner, and added and extra section for note taking.

    At first it seemed as though the simplicity of it was a huge win for me, and many who know and work with me thought my shift was something in the realm of anti-religion, although I never swore off technology I just tried to integrate something “old school” back into my routine.

    After about 3 months on this new kick, I discovered that my productivity went down. I work in multiple locations and have multiple devices that require syncing information almost on a constant basis. There are plenty of great apps for that as you’re aware of, and I’ve implemented a few slick technologies into my business.

    For me, everything is a billable hour. My time has to be accounted for. Even if it’s a large project I’m working on that’s not hourly, I still account for where I am and what I’m doing and the technology that I utilize works well together, keeps me on task, and improves my productivity tremendously.

    That savings of course can be passed on to my client. Ultimately I think it just comes down to what works best for you both personally and professionally.

    I also have small kids around and boy do they do the craziest things. One of them decided my smartphone needed to be cleaned, so they threw it into the wash. The phone was of course retired, but fortunately all of the data was synced. If that was a notebook, my work would have been lost.

    One last point though. If I do use pen/paper to jot stuff down, I do scan it into Evernote and just create a searchable document. I still think that’s a viable option for individuals who still gravitate towards the pen and paper.

  4. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for sharing. It sounds like you have quite a different use case than me. I don’t require the same time/date detail that you do. I simple need to record ideas, make a few sketches, etc. Nothing all that involved. For scheduling, contacts, correspondence, document creation, presentations, sharing information and so on, I still my tablet PC. Funny though, I still remember carrying a Franklin Planner around in my backpack; those were the days.

    Neat idea for scanning documents into Evernote. I’ll certainly give it a shot.


  5. Jerry,

    I share your frustration with technology and its failure to capture notes quickly or ideas while they’re fresh. My solution is to pull out my Pilot G2 and Field Notes.

    Check out I found it after reading your article. There’s a whole world out there for analog reord-keeping!


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