The other day, I confessed that I’m something of a packrat, a packrat with organizational training no less. I’m probably far worse about it digitally because there’s little room to stop me beyond the data limits of whatever app I’m using. My notetaking app is nearly always the worst, because I’ll collect clips and pictures, and then just dump them in (along with my own notes) and forget about them. So up until last summer, I had this note collection that kept growing and growing, and I had hardly any idea what was in there. What’s worse is if I wanted to look something up, I wouldn’t search those notes. I’d go looking for new information. I had created quite the monster!
Even worse than that is that I like investigating new note-taking apps. I don’t remember where I started, but several years ago I started using EverNote’s desktop app, which was great. I could load in all my notes and organize them. I could have searched them if I’d thought about it. I did actually manage to use them to get some things done, but those moments were few and far between. But then I migrated to Linux, where EverNote has never had a desktop app (and isn’t terribly interested in fixing that), so I started looking for a new app…right as EverNote unveiled their web app. So, I tried to migrate back-up files of my notes to the web app, with comical results. And I started using it to save all these notes that I almost never did anything with. But I couldn’t organize my notes in a way I liked and then I started having other issues, so I ended up leaving EverNote anyway.
It took a few months and a complete redesign on Springpad’s part, but I finally found a notetaking app that lets me just store notes or organize them as necessary. And it doesn’t have the pesky other issues that were plaguing me on EverNote.
More importantly, switching to Springpad switched on something in my head, and now I’m suddenly using my notes. There are still hundreds of notes in Springpad, but I actually search them when I need something. Notes don’t just go there to collect proverbial dust. Some of them end up linked to my to-do list. Some are dealt with fairly quickly as I work on various writing and research projects. I even periodically go through and throw out notes that have become irrelevant to what I’m working on.
A body of notes is supposed to be like a living organism, constantly changing. Notes should serve as launchpads to completed projects, or as inspirations to keep pushing you. They can serve as records, too, but even those need to be carefully organized and tended to remain useful.