Select Page

For someone who loves gadgets, I’ve settled on a decidedly low-tech way of keeping all of my random notes together. Everything that comes out of my printer that is not used goes, upside down, into a cubbyhole to be used as scratch paper. I haven’t bought small notepads in years, so my desk was always littered with dozens of those pages with the address where to send the wedding present, recipes, URLs, notes from customer-service calls, guest lists, passwords, menus, FTP settings, grammar tips, and all manner of other ephemera scribbled on the backs of them. That stack of paper (consistently a couple of inches high) is great for shopping lists, taking measurements for projects so that I can bring the piece of paper from the kitchen outside downstairs to the saw (and forget the paper on the saw and so have to grab another one for the next measurement), and leaving notes on the door that say “Buy cat fud!” But they weren’t so great for keeping track of everything I was trying to keep track of.

Fascination with gadgets is in my blood and I am no stranger to electronic organizational gizmos. My dad created a searchable index for the contents of all of his Vette Vues magazines on his TRS-80. My uncle suggested he had too much time on his hands, while I thought it was an excellent use of his time. There is an old Palm Zire 71 sitting on my desk, now being used as an address book. I’m on my second Windows Mobile phone and have downloaded all kinds of note takers. I’ve created databases and Word files to act as repositories for all this information. I’ve investigated many and downloaded some productivity tools designed for declutterization. Devised filing systems to collect and organize all this stuff. Unless you use any of them, though, they are just more clutter. The road to clutter-overload hell is paved with just these sorts of good intentions to categorize all those scraps of information. The way out of that hell is to find a solution and stick to it, no matter how much you want to resist the simplicity and dead-treeness of it.

This is working for me:

composition books

Composition books. The saddle-sewn kind, not spiral bound or anything with pages that tear out easily. I’m on my second one and am astonished to see that my first one covers December 2005 to December 2007 (clearly, I haven’t been diligent about recording everything in these notebooks or I’d have gone through a lot of them by now). Nothing is organized beyond that it’s all in one place. I recently had to find all the information regarding passwords and access settings for several e-mail addresses (of course, I thought I’d recorded that in a file), and it took just a minute to look through one of these notebooks to find it all. All jumbled together on just these four pages are

  • phone numbers and part numbers for some not stupid-expensive yet high-quality drawer slides (Gliderite, and we’ve been very happy with them) that I found recommended in the home forums on GardenWeb (by far the single-most useful site for whenever I do any home-improvement project or appliance purchase) when researching the kitchen project
  • measurements for the proposed soapstone countertops (we ended up using slate) specs from a Tom’s Hardware System Builder article when I was researching building another computer (I bought one instead this time)
  • info on Vista 64-bit vs. XP 64-bit
  • dates, flight options, and other details for C2’s friend’s wedding in another state (all for naught because C2 didn’t get back from Chile in time, but I can tell you how much a flight from Seattle to Garden City cost last December)
  • a list of Paul Newman’s movies because after he died I realized that I hadn’t actually seen more than a few of his movies, and that’s nearly unforgivable
  • notes on adding extra brake-light sockets to my existing tail-light housings

There are so many better and more efficient ways to organize this kind of information, but unless you do the work necessary to keep up those systems, they’re useless. Besides holding information I may need to retrieve later, my composition books end up as journals. I can see that I was researching a new cell phone at the same time I was looking for oxygen and acetylene tanks for a Christmas gift at the same time I was looking for pork marsala recipes for dinner with friends. At night, I can use the light from the Zire’s screen to find the part number for my headlight clips in my composition book.