There are many things in my life that I've chosen to transcode into a purely digital form. Reading, writing, taking and editing photographs, even communicating in some cases. For a long time that was my outlook on everything; all-digital, all-the-time. Over a couple months in the past year, I've begun to realize that some things should stay as purely analog aspects of my life, and this process all began with a 3-pack of Field Notes.
Field Notes is a small brand which has been taking the internet by veritable storm for the past couple years starting in 2008. Based out of Portland Ore; Aaron Draplin, creator of the venture known as Draplin Design Co, also co-brands Field Notes and has led them to quickly become an internet sensation in the tech-circle that I frequent.
I was first turned on to the notebooks themselves when Andrew Kim wrote about them in his Summer Selects post around the end of last August. In the piece, he talked about the Shelterwood edition that had come out this past spring and it's unique cover made from a combination of actual American Cherrywood and kraft paper bonded together. I looked into them online at the time, but they were all sold out and the other Field Notes Colors editions that were available didn't interest me. Pass.
I'm really quite glad for what happened next, as just mere days after reading Kim's post I actually spotted a 3-pack of the Shelterwood edition at a small knick-knack store in a nearby downtown. I had no real use for the books at the time, but decided to snatch them up on a whim as I knew I'd probably never have another chance to purchase a pack, and snatch them up I did.
Like I said, I had almost no use for the notebooks at that point, and so in what basically amounted to blind faith in the internet writers that I looked up to and that they knew what they were doing, I slipped one of the Field Notes in my back pocket, and kept living life.
Surely enough, before long I found myself spending little bits of time doodling and sketching in my Field Notes. I did it whenever I was bored in class or waiting in line, I did it to feel a little better about my day if I hadn't done anything else creative, and soon the hobby began morphing into other tasks that I'd do in my little book. I was writing down half-formulated thoughts, outlining blog posts, or just visually mapping concepts that I had floating around in my head. It had become a thinking resource for me.
Since then I've realized that, at least for me, there's something slightly magical about putting pen to paper. I'm able to get my thoughts out by hand so much more easily than if I'm typing them. Somehow pressing a key is so much less organic, creative, and romantic than writing out the letters with one's pen. The visceral reaction I get from looking over a handwritten outline now is very different from looking at the same result in a typed form.
Of course, after I realized that this analog accompaniment was something I planned to keep in my life for the foreseeable future, I did what I do with just about anything I'm passionate about; I read up on it. I'd long since filled my first Field Notes, and so I delved into investigating what other kinds of notebooks I could try.
The product that stood out the most in my research and reading was the Apprentice notebook from Baron Fig. Baron Fig is another small notebook brand which was a smash hit on Kickstarter and went on to garner a niche market for its clean, minimal design, paper ruling choices, and near-constant reform of their products designs based on customer's feedback.
I picked up a 3-pack of their Apprentice notebooks with the dot grid ruling to try something different than my Field Notes, but ended up deciding in the end that I preferred Aaron Draplin's creation instead. The Apprentice are a supremely solid choice, but I prefer the Field Notes branding and character over the Baron Fig's clean minimalism. I also found that I preferred ruled paper over the more abstract dot grid formatting, and that the reduced dimensions of the Apprentice, while not actually posing a problem, just simply weren't as roomy as a Field Notes notebook was.
I think the Apprentice would be an excellent choice for someone who was looking for a notebook with the specific strengths it garners. Minimalsim of design, portable size, and the flexibility that it's dot-grid pages can offer up all are defining characteristics of Baron Fig's offering, but they're not quite the right books for me. I used one for the better part of two months, but eventually decided to switch back to my Shelterwood Field Notes.
This brings us to today. I recently made the decision to switch back to Field Notes alongside my decision to pull the trigger on a DDC Stuff Sheath; a leather cover for Field Notes books that doubles as a stuff-style wallet (it's actually arrived since I wrote this, hence the above picture). I've been dying to try it out since Joshua Ginter reviewed it for Tools and Toys, but those are all grounds for another whole blog post in it of themselves, so I'll move on.
With my decision to switch back to Field Notes, I've also taken the opportunity to re-evaluate how my analog-writing interfaces with the daily digital logs I keep, and I've also started to write out my daily to-do's and thoughts in my Field Notes to accompany the other electronic forms of organization and records that I keep.
As far as my daily digital logs go, I use a combination of the excellent Day One Journal app, and Launch Center Pro to ask myself a simple series of questions at the beginning and end of the day. These can be as simple as a "Did you work today? Yes or No?" or more in depth questions like "What did you accomplish today?" and "Did you dream last night? If so, describe." This allows for me to get a quick summary of what I did or thought that day, it doesn't take much time, and combined with Day One's location, movement, music, and weather data it becomes surprisingly easy to form a comprehensive daily journal.
I first heard about this style of logging from Chris Gonzales on his blog The Spark Journal, which then led me to dig through several useful links that helped me set up a logging system of my own. I'd recommend this style of logging to pretty much anyone who has an interest in being able to look back a year (or several years) from now and see what they were up to and what their day was like. It does require some light reading and a basic knowledge of Launch Center Pro to set up, but once in place the process to log every day is next to effortless. Banging out these entries on my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard every night has become one of the things I look forward to in the day, and I'm hoping my conviction to it continues to hold true throughout the year.
On to my daily analog process. The basic gist of it is that my daily tasks, thoughts, and goings on will all be logged in my Field Notes, before the page number of that day gets logged in my Day One Journal for later reference. I constructed how my process works based on Shawn Blanc's Confidant/Omnifocus workflow and Kevin Kortum's fusion of Bullet Journal and Sketchnote style journaling. I don't incorporate all of either of those writer's analog styles into mine, but I've come up with a sort of hybrid system which is simple enough, flexible enough, and detailed enough for me to express my daily tasks and thoughts in a way that will both satisfy me, and help me get things done.
At the top of my page I put the name of the day in the top left, and the date in the top right. So far I've just written this in my normal handwriting, but in Kevin Kortum's post above he tries to make every week have a specific theme and then draw or write all of the day names in that style. Fun, but I don't know if I'm that creative early in the morning. Underneath the title line I list out my day's to-dos with a dash next to them. Once completed, those dashes will get crossed off with a vertical line - turning them into a plus. If I need to defer the task to the next day, I turn the dash into an arrow and then write the deferred item in the next day's tasks as well.
Below the tasks I leave about half the page empty to fill up with thoughts or goings-on from the day. Sometimes I'll need to devote another whole page to a specific outline or seperate thought process, but for the most part I can get the smaller thoughts, bits, and bobs from my day to fit in the space I leave for them. Still underneath those I leave a little space about an inch wide and tall for a small sketch from my day. Something that will sum up what I did and will hopefully bring back the day's memories by just glancing at the sketch. So far I've drawn the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. logo, a broken car battery, and two plates filled with mexican cuisine. Those little drawings will help bring back the memories from that day, and I think it's a really good idea which I've adapted from Kevin Kortum's post.
Finally at the bottom of my daily page I put the page number so that I can reference the book and the day's page number in my evening's Day One log. This way I can connect the two easily and always be able to reference one or the other from a specific date. The last thing I'll put on my page is a little empty circle if I deferred any tasks that day. This lets me know that I still have to complete something from that page, and I'll come back and check it off once the deferred task has been completed. All together these things make up a little system I've developed over the past few weeks and days. It's an amalgamation of things that work for other people, but in a way it's also completely mine. I'm hoping that it'll be a system that will be simple enough to not create too much friction in my life while still giving me plenty of rich memories and data to look back over in the future.
This has been a fairly abstract post as I look back over it now, but that sort of sums up how I feel about these analog pocket notebooks and how they work in my life. It's not a specific digital syntax, or a perfectly straight line of pixels. It's an organic, analog facet of my life that I've come to appreciate over time, and I hope it will continue to mature and age alongside me, not just fall by the wayside with time.
I might be doing more of these analog-themed posts in the future, it's something I've been considering for a little while and this post was the first step in that direction. We'll see.