I recently came across a great post by Tom Lipton of Ox Tools, who designs and builds “special tools, instruments, and mechanical devices for the scientific, medical, product development, and metal working industries.” He has some great thoughts on why it’s important to keep a paper notebook, and the contents of his own notebooks are fascinating. Here’s some excerpts:
In the late eighties I started keeping an industrial notebook. I think the habit started when I was taking some math classes at the local community college and got rid of the standard school loose leaf binder. Later on the idea was further driven home when I was involved with several patent applications and the need for documentation of the projects and inventions I was working on. For me my personal notebooks are a place with no rules, where I can jot down a thought or explore an idea or simply keep track of something I’m working on. Even today with the fantastic electronic devices available to us I still find a need for the paper notebook format. One of the engineers I work with and I frequently discuss the difficulty of capturing all the different types of information that come into our possession and how we can organize them and keep track of the valuable bits. My industrial notebook is one just one part of my personal information storage and retrieval system.
We have quite a few electronic options available to us today, but I would argue that few have the simplicity, reliability and versatility of the lowly pen and paper. My version of the industrial notebook is just a simple continuum of thoughts and observations related to my current interests and projects that happens to end up on paper. The content of these notebooks cover every style of writing from notebook, logbook journal and diary to shopping lists for parts and materials. Officially each of these is a different type of note keeping with its own rules, format and content. I’m not much for the rules of the road with my note keeping. The things I put in notebooks are mainly for me, so whether someone else can follow what I’m up to is not as important as writing it down in the first place. Someone said, “The faintest pencil line is worth a thousand times more than the best memory.” Sometimes all I’m doing in my notebooks is talking to myself by asking questions in sketches and by the act of recording the dialog to paper for possible future use.
If you are interested in buying the kind of notebook he uses, it’s this: