Notes on Notes

I hate clutter. I love feeling organized.

School is a source of chaos. Handouts, notebooks, physical papers and study guides drive me crazy. I spent 6 years perfecting a system to tame this mess. This spring I threw that away and tried going digital.

I took notes on my computer and iPad (in Evernote and Penultimate). I requested digital syllabi and handouts. I purchased books on my iPad. I purchased the Evernote moleskin (Allows one to easily photograph pages and import to Evernote) for the times when paper was necessary. Here are my thoughts thus far.

Electronic books:

I purchased all but one of my books on my iPad (from apple and the kindle app). Everyone should do this. Digital textbooks are cheaper, rentable and more useful than their paper alternatives. Highlighting and taking notes in the margins is easy, and margins are infinitely large. These notes and highlights are easy to browse, making reviewing reading easy. Search is another incredible feature. I know books have indexes, but they aren’t as quick or powerful as search. I can find specific quotes and passage in a heartbeat. The other feature I love is turning on “frequent highlights.” Then the sections that are frequently highlighted are visible. My textbooks are essentially preloaded with highlights of critical passages.

Electronic notes: Evernote and Penultimate

I used Evernote programs, because I use Evernote for personal notes. The UI on all devices is slick and designed for (and I imagine created by) obsessive organizers like myself. Overall, it works well.

Using Evernote to take notes on my computer has been nice, but not revolutionary. It’s the same as taking notes in word (I can use bullets, tables, etc), but with a few other features: Evernote syncs arcos my devices, allows me to easily search notes, and deals well with attachments. It works well for writing intensive classes (for me Philosophy and Computer Science). Nothing too revolutionary.

Evernote on the computer doesn’t work so well when tables, diagrams and equations are necessary. For my Game theory and Regression analysis I have been taking all my notes with penultimate, an iPad app used with a stylus that will sync with Evernote. At first, writing on an ipad instead of paper was weird, and there was a learning curve. Initially I accidentally changed the pages, marked the page with my wrist and struggled to write legibly. I can now write efficiently and avoid changing pages. I still mark up the page with my wrist resting on the screen as I write.

For better or for worse, Penultimate is a digital replication of a notebook. They avoided too many extra features, which makes the UI simple. But I would still like a few more. Specifically I think creating a text box should be included. I also would like to select and change the size of my drawings, not just change their location on the page. This would allow me to draw something large (because drawing small is impossible) and then shrink it down.

I rarely use the physical Evernote notebook. It's a pain in the ass.


I'm really liking having electronic everything. Everyone should have electronic books, this is at a perfect point. Everyone should use Evernote for electronic syllabi and note taking in classes that are writing intensive. And penultimate.... well... it's getting there.