A system for succeeding in higher education is defined in several broad categories:
- What would I physically bring with me to class?
- How would I take notes that are relevant immediately and in the future?
- How do I manage time & tasks?
The old-fashioned computer geek in me wants to build out "the" system. A single machine on which you can run anything you install and you're nest is built just right. You carved your own empire out of the stone, every decision deliberate and all details put to your desire. When you are in your chair, at your battlestation, you are limitless with what you can accomplish. Your CPU is more than enough engine to take you anywhere you want to go, and you're the engineer.
...but your computer could crash, your OS could corrupt, you could get a virus, it could get stolen or destroyed. No matter what, you're eventually going to upgrade to something else. Also, what about those times where you want to do work, but aren't at your desk? What about when you're out and about and you need access to your documents? Your tricked-out computational kingdom is great - but it's a single resource at a single location and serves a single point of failure.
On the other hand, is "the cloud" really all that great? You can't really (yet) do any serious video editing, photo or music production, or development. Sure, having your toolkit with you at all times is great - but is that worth shrinking your set of tools? Also, what tools you do have are subject to change without notification, consent, or your control. You may put all of your eggs in one, beautiful basket just to find someday that your basket has changed into something you didn't like - or worse yet - it's not even in the tree of "supported products" by whatever 3rd party owns it. Who's to say their company and their service has any longer lifespan than your own computer? People who put tons of work & time into Google Reader might warn you not to get too invested in a product you can't prevent from destruction.
The Cloud and Local Resources share similar-yet-opposite advantages and disadvantages:
> Ubiquitous access
> Hardware failure isn't likely to kill your projects & content
> Generally gets better & faster over time
> You need an internet connection
> What services you use may die on you
> Security threat: Hackers
> Permanent access, so long as your computer runs it won't go away
> Total control
> Powerful applications - video, photo, code, & music production
> You need to be at your computer
> What hardware you use may die on you
> Security threat: Viruses
You can see how that was originally going to be its own Column. But why write more than one ultra-long piece about this something so similar in theme?
So - why bring that up at all?
The ultimate conclusion from the Moleskine entry is that you just have to decide whether you're going to use web services or a local program to accomplish tasks on a case-by-case basis. Some cases are simple: who wants a local email client anymore? Video editing is clearly something that works better locally. Notetaking, though, is kind of in an in-between state. You want access to your notes everywhere, but you'll also want the horsepower and staying power of a local client. You want your notes to be permanent - so that makes cloud solutions less appealing (two separate cloud-based notetaking platforms I've used in the past are no longer a thing - I'm very glad I never put much stock in either). You also want your notes to be available when you need them - i.e. on your phone.
There are essentially two "serious" notetaking solutions available right now: Microsoft OneNote and Evernote's namesake product. There are other ways to skin a cat, though. You could just have a folder on your computer with tons of text documents, or word documents. You could back up that folder in Dropbox or Google Drive. Google Drive has the added benefit of including a native document/spreadsheet editor that's surprisingly capable. All in all, it boils down to three real ways to do stuff... and each is imperfect. I have refined/expanded my list of "required features" in recent years. Here's an updated version of the table from Column #166:
** - if you pay for it
*** - if you use Outlook, so this shouldn't be here at all, really
Given the current state of affairs, I think the best overall product for notetaking is Microsoft OneNote... but I don't use it in my personal life because Microsoft wants you to use your OneDrive & Outlook.com email account, neither of which I have any interest in. If it were just slightly better, I'd suck it up and make a new "outlook" account, or whatever they are calling it nowadays. I use Google Drive plus LastPass to cover the password-protected usage case (which is critical for my needs).
Realistically - I'd guess the best way to take digital notes right now is to use something like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 + OneNote... but I'm certainly not going to put that much money into the Microsoft ecosystem right now. There is a serious void in the market for a truly great system for this. Something customizable, extensible, ubiquitous, that doesn't have a stupid user interface (LOOKING AT THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM).
As for my specific case - I'm wanting to taken Computer Science notes. Something you may not know if you've got no experience in programming is that code editors have "syntax highlighting", which basically just changes the color of your text based of what that text means in your code. I'd like to preserve syntax highlighting into my notes. I still haven't really figured out "the" solution for this yet. I'm looking at OneNote again, but may just default back to Google Drive.
3. How do I manage time & tasks?
This question has been the subject of tons of research and thousands of books. I'm certainly not an expert, but I did technically succeed in my education and work life thus far, so I guess that gives me some credibility.
The best way to do stuff is just to do it. Focus on one task at a time. Take time between tasks to look back at your master task list to ensure you aren't missing focus on something that warrants it. I like to make physical lists for each day, and a master digital list for things in the future. That gives me the satisfaction of physically crossing things off and it pits my tasks against my calendar, which is necessary.
Whatever your preferred task & time management solution is - it needs to be paired with structure and discipline to have a chance of success. Right now, I'm breaking my own structure because I'm not disciplined enough to stick to my current 30 Day Challenge's "in bed by 10" rule.
I really want to go into graduate school with a well-thought out system for doing things. Something built with the experience of high school and my undergrad degree. I don't know what platform I'm going to use for my notes, I don't even know what physical medium I'll be using. I don't want to buy into something and then switch midway through, so I'm suffering from platform anxiety. I should probably be focusing my effort more on which grad program I'll be doing & when, but that's not as fun to think about.
This is perhaps the longest Column I've written. I wish it ended with a strong "AND THIS IS HOW I'LL SOLVE ALL MY PROBLEMS" section, but it didn't end like that. It ended like this.
4. The newly merged super OS would come with a new hybrid/convertible computer, roughly the same size as a spiral notebook
3. The new hybrid/convertible computer would include a focus area on notetaking and personal productivity
2. To highlight that focus, Google announces the return of Google Notebooks that checks every box in my table
1. Someone would give me a back rub. This was an all-night type post. If you read it, I'm both flattered and confused.