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When keeping numerous notes on any number of subjects, whether personal, work, school, etc, it's easy to let the notes grow out of control, and start missing things. I run into this a lot. I have notes scattered in notebooks, post-its, text files, and Evernote. This seems chaotic, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who deals with this!

How does one get a balance between having everything in one place, and the redundancy in tracking information in multiple locations?

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Closing as not appropriate to the format -- there's no right answer to be found here. This is a "let's discuss..." question (off topic) not a "can someone explain..." question (on topic). Please see the FAQ if you need more info. –  HedgeMage Jun 22 '11 at 22:02
I've edited the question as I believe the last sentence falls within the "can someone explain" guidelines. –  Huperniketes Jun 23 '11 at 2:09
@Huperniketes: Indeed looks on-topic, we need one more vote. –  Tom Wijsman Jun 25 '11 at 10:23
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8 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Notes will come from all sorts of places: post-its, "note.txt", back of your hand, your brain's cache etc. and its nearly impossible to control that.

More important  is to capture everything you can but as soon as convenient,
process every disparate note and put them into one trusted place.

For myself I have a few common sources for capturing:

  1. Email
  2. A little notebook I carry around w/me at work
  3. A folder for all other physical items that I need to process

Whenever I have time I go through all of these different things and create entries (if needed) into my system (which happens to be within my email).

So in summary:

  1. Keep all of your notes in one or just a few places
  2. Don't let them pile up too much
  3. Review / Process them regularly so that you don't have to depend on all the disparate note sources
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And backup, backup, backup... –  Hendy Jun 22 '11 at 20:50
TJB makes the most important point. Capture however you need to but process into a single system. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 27 '11 at 2:04
Good advice, capture where/when needed, and funnel the items into a single system for tracking. –  Grant Palin Jul 12 '11 at 17:13
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When I was in college I brought my laptop to every class and used Microsoft OneNote to organize every note I took. I kept a physical notebook with folders for those times when teachers would hand out things that I needed to keep track of or when I wanted to draw something out, but 95% of my class notes existed in OneNote.

I also backed up the directories where data was saved on a very regular basis (this saved my bacon more than once) which is always a necessity when dealing with important digital data.

These days I make use of Dropbox, Epistle, Hamachi, Google Chrome's browser sync, GMail, and many other tools just to keep my data up to date between all of my machines at home and at work. I hardly write anything down by hand anymore, and having everything available wherever I happen to be is something I consider essential.

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I make To Do lists in many different places.

Then once a week (or when things get really crazy) I transfer all the lists to a single list or notebook.

I find that it is easier to prioritize if you have a total overview of what needs to be done.

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I've started to use Evernote to organize. It's cross-platform, cloud-based, and searchable, and seems to be better than other things I've used.

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Adding Livescribe smartpens as a way to write stuff down could be useful, they have Evernote integration, but I have not used them. One virtue to Evernote, is that you have a copy of your data on your computer, so you can make sure it gets backed up, can export if they go away, etc. –  Ronald Pottol Jul 28 '11 at 23:21
The questioner already uses Evernote: this answer doesn't answer his question. –  David Dec 28 '11 at 18:37
@David: True, but it's superior to other answers here that are up-voted more (One Note). I think the trick is to reduce the number of places that notes are placed, and to enable sharing and backup of those places -- which Evernote does very well, IMHO. –  Peter K. Dec 29 '11 at 1:32
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I capture notes with Simplenote. For editing I use Notational Velocity (mac), Resophnotes (Win) and Simplenote.app (iPhone/iPad). So, those are all my places I make notes, but everything is in sync. When I capture a written note, I add it to this system as soon as the meeting (e.g.) ends.

I'm commenting notes that contain a task with 'todo'. This way I can query on 'todo' (on my GTD moments), remove them from my notes and add them to my GTD system.

It's also important to consider removing a note if not needed anymore to declutter your notes.

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I ran into an interesting approach some time ago: getting rid of todo lists. For me, I don't believe in getting rid of them completely. But, sometimes with not-so-important tasks, you can just forget it and if it comes to your mind, just decide that you will only do that one thing today. This way you can minimize your todo lists and instead use some of the time that goes into managing your todo lists to actually get things done.

For actual todo list, I recommend systems that have a reminder functionality. I use Outlook and Microsoft Live calendars and in home I have one todo pile of papers and that's it.

For just notes I use One Note in my Windows Phone and Outlook email drafts in my laptop (both are backed up automatically and they are fast to use). I also have a paper notebook. For me, it's not a problem to have many places for notes, but it is a problem have too many todo piles.

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I use WikidPad for notes and store these notes as individual text files in my Dropbox account. WikidPad has a great wiki-like syntax for linking between the files, also it has fast searching, formatting, marking things as complete, etc.

Because the note files are still text files, they can be edited by any text editor when WikidPad is not available (e.g. with the iPhone PlainText application that integrates with Dropbox).

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My own personal solution to this has become fairly dependent on two tools - one hardware, one software:

Hardware: Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner. I have the S500, which is now something like 5 years old, and is still running great. This thing beats the pants off of scanners that are built into typical "all in one" print/copy/fax/scan devices. It rarely jams or sucks in multiple pieces of paper. And it scans both sides of the paper in one go, which speeds things up quite a lot. I

Software: Evernote. Running on my Windows PC, Evernote has a neat function where it can import in all scans it finds in a particular directory. And then it does its OCR magic, which makes most documents (even my handwritten ones) text-searchable.

So the combination of these tools means that I can take handwritten notes wherever that works, and just scan them into my computer later, via the ScanSnap. So my goal is to either take notes in Evernote directly, or to scan handwritten ones into there later. Evernote easily syncs across multiple devices (for instance, laptop-desktop-smartphone), so this encourages me to make sure all my notes are eventually corralled into one spot - my group of Evernote notebooks. They are also accessible via the web, so basically anytime I can reach a computer, I can reach (and search) my Big Stack Of Notes.

Eventually I just shred or throw away the paper version of my notes.

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