Most Software Professionals and Engineers take and keep notes in some form, which is an essential tool. This post will cover why I prefer physical notebooks over their software-based counterpart. Before I go into detail, I will say that I also keep notes on computers, and I am an avid Org Mode user. However, I find physical notebooks more suitable to my needs for a couple of reasons, which, as stated, I will cover here.

First portability! And your first question is probably what the heck is he talking hasn’t he heard about laptops, phones, and tablets? Well, of course, I have, but let me tell you a little secret, I have attended meetings where all electronic devices were disallowed in the room, even in buildings. Therefore, pen and paper was the only option for notes. In extension, I also find that I lose focus on the meeting or presentation given if I sit with a laptop, which I do not do when I only have a notebook. So many times, I will not bring a laptop to a meeting, and I will not pull out my phone.

Then there is the doodling. I have for decades used associative memory techniques without knowing it. During a meeting, lecture, or whatever, if I doodle at the same time next to my notes, I can recall almost all information from a meeting (I have scared people this way, it is fun) if I combine my notes and the doodles I make. Doing this allows me to scan my notes and get a map of what happened during the meeting. I can not do something similar in most note-taking tools on computers or tablets. The only app I found that comes close is GoodNotes for Apple’s iPad. Unfortunately, I do not have an iPad or an Apple Pencil, and for Android, I have not found an app that gets close to GoodNotes.

But my drawings are not just limited to doodles. I regularly draw up system diagrams and architectures as I research topics, new features, new products, etc. Thereby as I draw, I can visualise what my plan is, and I can have multiple designs easily side by side. It is super convenient. I also draw things like sequence diagrams or flow charts, which are very handy. Also, when I outline books or plan plots for stories. I draw maps where I plot the course of people or do other weirdness. It is convenient, and again for a software version, GoodNotes is the only close thing (I am guessing I should state by now that this post is not sponsored by GoodNotes, but it is fantastic).

Then there is flexibility in the workflow. For example, I keep multiple notebooks for different topics. Which can be quickly done in software and in physical form. But for some reason, context switching is easier for me when I swap physical items over changing a file or tab in the software. So to me, it is a more flexible workflow, and I know I am not the only one that has it that way.

Writing by hand enhances my recollection of the subject. I have for years and years aspired to have my notes electronically instead of on paper. But every time I have tried, I have realised that with notes I write by hand (using a pencil/pen), I can recall things better and easier. So another clear advantage for handwritten notes: GoodNotes is giving me some of the same benefits.

Finally, and a little bit funny, (joke) ENCRYPTION! I have the benefit of having handwriting which not even doctors can read.
This means people cannot just read me over the shoulders or upside down, that is pretty cool and something I like. Yes, I can read my own handwriting.

So this is basically why I prefer physical notebooks over software-based ones.