Today I've made a decision to keep a business diary. My Wednesday post on paper vs. electronic planners and all of the wonderful responses received, has me inspired to finally get serious about keeping one.
I had the seed planted by Rick, whom I shared a story about in Paper Planner Longings. I still recall the description of his daily business diary, used to track his work notes, and how attractive this idea seemed then and now. Matt Henderson also had a post about keeping his daily business diary that made quite a bit of sense to me too. I think today, the convergence of these inspirations and my thoughts following Wedensday's post, led me to commit to a business diary of my own.
So, for the fun of it, I kept a business diary in my sketchbook today. I wanted to see how it felt to try and capture ideas related to projects I've been working on as they occurred to me. I found that ideas often float round my head but are never noted anywhere. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it felt to do this, and wondered why I hadn't been keeping notes before.
Well, I actually have taken a few stabs at a daily business log in the past few years. Once I tried using the Palm Memo, and another time, using an RTF file that synced to Wordsmith. However, I never truly committed myself to it, and never felt as I have today, keeping manual notes.
The Paper Option
Tonight, I wrote up the pros and cons of paper vs. electronic diary keeping. I really like the experience, quickness and flexibility of analog note taking in a notebook. However, it's not easy to back up a notebook, so if it's ever is lost, I'd be sunk. Further, written notes can't be searched and are difficult to modify without scratch-outs and insertion arrows.
So, while I wished the paper option was my final solution, I realized it can't do all I want in a paper system. However, I do think it should play a part — particularly for sketches. If I can find a way to quickly and easily scan in sketches for storage with plain text or RTF notes, that would be ideal.
The Electronic Option
Electronic text seems to me the best option, as it can be backed up, searched and even synchronized to my Palm for viewing and editing away from the Mac. If I store notes in plain text, then they are accessible anywhere, with no worries about backward compatibility. RTF is not bad either, sas it is plain text, with rich text features added on top. RTF was my final choice, because it offers a decent balance of utility and features.
I like the idea of using simple, rather than complex tools for this process. I'd be happy with a very basic text editor on the Mac and Palm, rather than a full-blown multimedia application. I simply want to capture raw electronic texts, store or sync that text, and save an occasional sketch from my sketchbook.
After a good discussion with my friend Andy on the topic, I spent time tonight exploring Mac and Palm tools. I've settled (mostly) on what I feel could be the ideal system for my note keeping needs, at least for getting started. Here it is:
I should be able to scan my sketchbook pages easily. I don't see myself scanning something every day, but maybe every other day, or a few times per week. This may require a new scanner, as my crusty old one is a a bit of a hassle to use. If scanning isn't effortless, I might be discouraged to scan sketches.
Mac & Palm Tools
I want to use standard tools, or tools I own and use already, on both the Mac and Palm. I like TextEdit, included with every OS X Mac, and Wordsmith on the Palm as it has a conduit for Syncing RTF files. I tried using DataViz WordToGo, but didn't like the editing experience, even though it could deal with txt files and sync them with the SD card quite nicely. Palm's Memo is ok, but a bit too limited.
I considered note taking software with hierarchal folders, categories and the ability to store pictures and such, but for my purposes, this seems like overkill. I just want a place to capture thoughts in text, which I can search and refer to later.
The master document would be a single RTF file (Diary-2004.rtf), created in TextEdit and synced to my Palm via the Wordsmith conduit. I would write in a weblog style, with a date at the top and the latest entries at the very top of the page, in descending order. At the end of each day's notes, I'd enter a character string, like --- to keep them separate from the previous day's entries.
This is a sample note entry.
This is another sample note entry.
I would record notes in the master file for a month, then make a copy, add the month number to the filename (Diary-2004-08.rtf), then clear the text inside the original master RTF file for the following month. This should help the master file from getting too large for the Palm and break up the files by month for easier access.
I've created a new folder on the Mac (MM-Diary), and have stored my master RTF diary file inside of it. This folder is where scanned sketches would reside, stored in sub-folders dated by month (2004-08). The archived monthly RTF files would then be stored in these monthly sub-folders.
There are a few things I need to work out yet, such as a tool on the Mac that would quickly paste that day's date at the entry point in my document. TypeIt4Me might do, or possibly another utility. I may also need to configure some text tags like [ACTION] or [Client - Project] so searches can be a bit more relevant.
Of course I'll need to use the system for a while and see how it shakes out — I suspect it will need tweaking as I see problems or issues in the system. But this is normal, and to be expected.
I would love to hear feedback from readers on how they manage their own diary systems, along with suggestions for other software tools or processes I might want to consider. So, feel free to suggest away.
I'll set a reminder in my Palm to report on my status in a month and share how my system is working, and how it may have changed. Hopefully this documentation of the process will help someone else faced with the same issues and ideas.
Have a great weekend everyone! :-)