wtfudge is a lovely weblog that uses blogger to track my thoughts, etc. it is an offshoot of where mathew hoy does code, content, and creative for all things lovely.

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Location: London, Canada

a buddhist, vegetarian, and beta-geek, i build web sites, am an iconographer, write, doodle, and noodle. i like cookies and candy and fruit juice. do you?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


after reading some interesting (albeit diffused) ideas about note-taking, i've decided to post my current way of doing things for the mildly interested.

i take notes and take notes and take notes. i jot down events, then talk to myself about them on paper. for those who know me, it's a lot like how i act and talk. i go off on tangents, playing with words while i go, composing silly rhymes and songs at the drop of a hat. i'm good at word puzzles and rearranging letters. i love the jumble. i love(d) wheel of fortune when i was a kid. i was good at spelling - and good at misspelling words in ways i thought they should be spelled to make more sense. i like colour, but i love color. like that.

in college, highschool, elementary school, i was a terrible note-taker. in the later levels of education, i had 1" binders stuffed with paper that i didn't use. i wrote down notes in awkward ways (more on that later) and could never find them again. i had coloured cardboard tabs in those binders, but they did nothing but give me a new place do doodle and write down terrible poems, role-playing game stats (rifts was a fave), write about cute girls, and tell brief, 1 paragraph stories to no one in particular.

as i moved out of college and onto a computer, my note-taking skills were supposed to get better. i was supposed to be "getting it" and keeping files and documents in folders on my hard drive where i could find them more easily. i kept documents in my documents folder and images in my images folder. my freelance work was in a freelance folder, and my music was in a music folder. things were good and i was happy.

for about 1 week.

after a while, i created a new folder on my desktop called current projects. i kept all my client freelance work in there. my pictures folder began to include downloaded system icons and album artwork, both of which could be justifiably kept in other folders. i found i create a file and that it could fit into 10 folders at the same time.

i began to save files and make aliases to them in other spots so that they were all linked from the same file. so i could find the files no matter what folder i was in, or on what tangent i was.. on.

all this made for nothing more than confusing folders filled with bits of other files that had no place being where they were. i had documents lying all over the hard drive, often multiple copies of them, which did nothing but confuse me and help fill up my hard drive more quickly.

i posted to my web site for help. i asked others to tell me how they organised their files and folders. suggestions came, but nothing helped.

then, i got to thinking. and acting.

i got up from the computer and got a pad of paper.

i wrote notes. stupid notes again like i did in high school. ones that were related to others. ones with huge arrows that felt like sub-thoughts, like ideas within ideas. things were working well - flowing along. i was happy to be off of the computer to make notes.

then i got fired from an old job that in the end i didn't want anyways. a place where getting mental patients to do your work for you so you don't have to pay employees wasn't the kind of place i wanted to be. luckily, they felt the same way and gave me 5 weeks of severance.

during that time, i hit up the notepad again. only this time, i found a new weapon. then, i found a job placement where i got to employ my new system and found that it worked famously.

and i'm going to share it with you in case you're bonkers like me. the following is written like a gradeschool science fair project experiment summary. sorry for that. i didn't want to do it, but in the end it works. slag through it, won't you?

< purpose >
to write better. to take better notes. to learn more. to communicate with myself better. to remember more. to find information better and more quickly. etc.
< /purpose >

< hypothesis >
i think that this method of writing is great for me to help me take notes and improve my personal, working, and educational life. it may not work for you at all, but i think it will for me. (note: it does. i just needed to fill in this section to go with the overall schema).
< /hypothesis >

< materials >
- 1 piece of paper (or 1 notebook, 1 memopad, 1 forearm, whatever. just as long as you have something on which to write notes. as you'll hear later, graph paper is best - you can draw better grids with it)
- 1 four-colour pen. the kind with the blue bottom and white top. they are made by bic. the seem french. the colours are black, red, green, and blue. the white upper part has a ball on the end for decoration, putting in teeth, tying string around, and otherwise twiddling and fiddling.
< /materials >

< method >
take a piece of paper. lined is good, graph is best. at the top of the page, write the date in black. the black ink of the pen is used for all of the grid-laying. it is the constructor colour. with it, you lay out lines, create arrows, draw boxes, circles, rocks, hens, and picture frames. it is your solid. it is your touchstone. it likes you and likes to help. let it.

anyway, put the date on the page. upper right corner. this is why graph paper's best. you can put the date high up and not lose margin space. or space to other annoying "white space". you can get the most out of the page. and you can turn the page landscape if you want and still have lines to write on. yay graphpaper!

underline the date with black. 2x.

the system of writing the date is important. you must learn to write the date in a new way that isn't like how you did it before, but is incredibly better and makes much more sense than any other way you've been taught. i'd never really been taught. i didn't ever care. i just wrote stuff, left the date off and got lost.

you need to write in descending order. it's the key. the date format is this: XXXX.XX.XX, which can be translated into: YYYY.MM.DD. even further, that's 2004.09.08 (today's date). it is written in descending order because i realised when i was working on my computer that the best way to keep track of a folder was not to label it because labels ended up meaning nothing in the end, but to date and label each folder.

it just seems to make sense to me to write the date this way. you overcome y3k (or whatever) by writing out the entire date. you don't waste time writing wednesday and trying to remember if it's wednsday or wednesday or wensday. you can organise folders in this way too, which helps you keep newly created folders on top of others when you sort by name.

with this system, you can easily see when a note was written and where it should go in case it gets out of order. if you need to (and sometimes i do..), you can go further with it and include the time in the number. 2004. is an example of this. i use periods so i don't have to waste time with a colons (2 dots) or on a keyboard, shift semi-colon. who wants that? boo-urns. the date is there for you to see quickly, as is the time if you need it.

now we'll break down the other colours on the pen. they are:

the red ink is used for quick notes. the red means fire. it means rockets. it means dynamite. it's a dynamic colour and is exciting. notes taken in red are 1 lines long, often less than 10 words. anything over 1 lines needs to go somewhere else.

green ink is a personal note. like a shopping list, to-do list, note about what magazines i'd like to subscribe to, fuel paid at the pump, running times, appointments, etc. green is natural and you're notes to yourself are natural ones.

blue ink is a corporate colour and means work, or professional notes. to-dos at work, meeting minutes, etc. are all blue notes.

coloured notes can be attached to other another. for example, if you're working on a php project and realise that it could help your blog, make a green note about it. if this helps you remember that you need to buy cheese, jot that down in red.

that's an important paragraph because we're at one of the most important steps: arrows and lines. when you take a note and it's related to another, switch to black and arrow them up. you can use lines too, since arrows usually mean that the info goes 1 way and sometimes it doesn't.

i forgot an important part of the process. that's creating a margin. the margin should be a black line that runs down the page (whatever side you want is fine with me) from the top to the bottom. it should be about 4cm from the side of the page where you decide to put it. this is where you keep your main red notes and green notes. while important, they are secondary if you're using this system at work (and i do). in this case, what's important is that you use most of the page for your work notes.

begin to take notes. notice that you can look at a sheet of paper covered with notes and tell them apart by looking at them. you can see how they are connected. you can see what you need to buy at the store on the way home. you can look at a splotch of paper that's covered in ink and not dismiss it because you won't find anything on it. you will.
< /method >

< observation >
i take better notes. i am faster with thoughts. i can get things down on a huge piece of paper and fit lots more onto a page. i find it hard to get lost.
< /observation >

< conclusion >
the system works for me. and i hope it works for you.
< /conclusion >

there are other things too, like where to put the docs when you've filled the sheet. do you keep them around? if so, where? how?

i like to use spiralbound notebooks (sorta*) to note in. the small-ish ones. the ones you can keep under the seat of your scooter if need be, or in your backpack. heck, even xpad (my notepad of choice) is scaled to be that size for when i take notes on my computer. my categories in xpad are blue, mint green, and red, just like my regular notes.

i like the small notebooks. they are quick to get out and quick to put away. and easy to lug around. they are roughly 4cm thick and the metal spirals are roughly 4.5cm in diametre. the ones i use are by hilroy. you can get them a staples, or anywhere.

re: notebooks - binders are annoying. i considered using them for a while, but just couldn't justify the speed lost by having to open and close the binder rings every few minutes to put sheets in, insert others, etc. plus, the paper rips unless you get those ring protectors, and they're annoying and taste gross. so i don't use 'em. i use notebooks.

at first i didn't like notebooks either because you can't add pages if you need to cause there's more to talk about. that's why i use post-it notes too. not the big ones tho. in a pinch, i use the regular-sized ones, but prefer the ~3cm wide ones because they don't obstruct the rest of the page when you stick 'em down. those post-its can contain differently coloured notes just like the pages, but are often red notes because they're so quickly added and removed from the pages.

with this system, you may find that your notes are better taken and more easily read. the only thing that might seem geeky about it (well, aside from the fact that you've got a system to write freaking notes..) is that you're clicking your pen every few minutes in meetings or class. but sometimes it's fun to watch others flip out when you click it to draw black lines every few seconds.

ahh. give it a try and let me know what you think!

* by sorta, i mean that i'd prefer that they were filled with graph paper. in this way, i've overlooked the missing graph paper for the convenience of the size of the book.

that's why i'm looking at picking up a moleskine book in the coming weeks that's filled with graph paper that'll help me take notes better. once i get it, i'll post aboot it and let you know how it goes.


Blogger Matthew said...

Wonderfully informative post. And I can't resist any Canadian who says he'll post 'aboot' things.

September 9, 2004 at 2:31 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

Wow! When I read the first few paragraphs I thought to myself, "man, this guy is whacked out of his mind... hehee ;)

But... MAN IS THAT ONE HELL OF A SYSTEM! I think it's what I've been looking for all this time. It just makes sense.

I'm definitely going to give it a try... I just need to find those damn bic's. I loved those when I was a kid... worst part about them: you clicked them so much that they would eventually jam up. But I'm all grown up now, so that shouldn't happen anymore, right? :D

September 9, 2004 at 10:33 AM  
Blogger moy said...

hehe. thanks frank - i think. the system works for me.

i reread through the entire post and found a few spots that don't make much sense. they mainly include the graph paper bit (though i tried to fix that later) and the sidebar/margin thing.

i should also add that when i write, i write in bullet points. the bullets are small, hollow middot circles that can be easily checked off or x'd through when items get completed or thoughts become moot. doing it that way helps to keep impromptu todo lists straight, especially when they get nice and long and overwhelming. i'm the kind of person who likes to create a "jobs to do today" list that includes things i've already done in that day just so that i can stroke them out (through the middot - don't stroke through the line in case you need to read it later!) and feel like i've accomplished things.

probably the biggest things to take away from the post are the importance about the pens, and how to change your permanent style to record the date. it's easy to create folders on a computer that are labelled and dated (i'm aware you can have a "created on" column header, but if your computer's clock is off, you're muxxed). using labelling systems like that, you can easily see when things were done, and keep them organised by date, and use the dates as numbers.

the other, the pens, are just as important. i've been surprised with the pens myself. they've lasted since just after last xmas with no problems. i think the red is conking and green gets gritty (you'll see what i mean). clicking the tabs all the time hasn't become much of a problem for me. nothing's broken yet. being one of those kids who used to take pens apart and make silly weapons with them, i'm surprised they haven't broken yet. an important note about the pens - when you buy them, buy them in a package of 3. you can get them in 1s and 3s. get the 3s if you can. i lose pens all the time. it's good to know where they are. one of the reasons i use spiral-bound notebooks is because i can keep the pen's clip linked to the spirals and reduce losing-it-ability. keep 1 pen with your notebook. keep another pen at home, and the 3rd in a medium location. by medium location, i mean that the pen should be in a bag you take with you all the time in case you lose the current pen. or in your coat pocket, your pants pocket, whatever. just so you have a pen with you in case you lose it (like i do all the time). it's important that once you start taking notes like this, you continue and have you problems continuing with it without interruption, even if you lose your notebook pen.

you can get those pens at staples mostly. if they don't have them, look in stationery stops (i got my last kit at staples for your reference) and ask around. order 'em online if you need to (though don't use staples' web site - it stinks. you need to enter your postal code before you can buy stuff).

whew. back to work.

September 9, 2004 at 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this has to be one of the coolest things i've read in a while. my notetaking is abysmal. mostly done with a blue pen, or black if that's the only thing around. all scribbled on whatever scrap or sheet of paper is around.

i may just pick up one of the bics the next time i'm out and a pad of graph paper and re-read your post several times.

insightful post my good man!


September 9, 2004 at 12:33 PM  
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