This past year I’ve finally gotten busy enough to need a more robust system for keeping track of my tasks than my previous mess of memory, post-its, and smudged words on the back of my hand. I tried a bunch of phone apps with very little success, and eventually stumbled on Bullet Journaling. I’m not evangelical about it, but it’s worked very well for me. Physically writing out my tasks, moving them around, Xing them out; it’s kept me focused and given me a visual record of my productivity that’s unmatched by any of the software tools. Trouble is, it’s also meant carrying around a red Moleskine that I look at multiple times a day. Everything else I do lives on my devices now, constantly backed up and accessible everywhere. Being beholden to a stack of paper has been a source of constant, low-level anxiety. One moment of clumsiness with a beverage or forgetfulness on a bus and my life could become a desperate scramble.
Fortunately, that’s all over now. I’ve recently switched to an iPad Pro 9.7 for my mobile computing (about which a longer post soon), and with it begun using a phenomenal app called GoodNotes 4 that solves every problem with my old journal and then some. Paired with the Apple Pencil, using it feels just like writing on paper, and lets me quickly jot down anything I need to remember. It looks like this:
If you’ve done any Bullet Journaling though, you know it’s not just about the lists. The primary selling point of the system is its organization, with an index for all the different sections. GoodNotes 4 takes care of that with its bookmark system. Just drop a bookmark at each new section, the bookmarks tab becomes an index:
So that’s all the organizational features of my paper version covered. And GoodNotes 4 also syncs with iCloud, allowing me to access it from my phone if necessary and eliminating my last significant risk of data loss. On top of that, digital features like copy/paste, erase, and undo are all available, not to mention dozens of options for color and drawing style, plus the ability to add new blank pages (in any of multiple paper types) inside the journal.
All of that would have been enough to make the switch worthwhile, but it has another feature that’s incredible, and would be completely impossible with pen and ink. All of that handwriting in the images above? It’s fully searchable.
This app lets me do text search of handwritten notes, and it works almost perfectly. It’s so good I’ve found myself fantasizing about how convenient it would’ve been to have this technology when I was an undergrad, carrying around a different composition notebook for every course. Had I to do it over again, my entire physics degree would live in GoodNotes 4. As it is, I’m happy enough just saying goodbye to the last paper journal in my life.