For an overview of this series, see the debut post on my morning routine.
I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook in my back pocket. Several times a day, I pull out my notebook to jot something down: an idea for a post; notes from a podcast; the names of people I meet; items to pick up at the grocery store; the name of the server in the restaurant we ate at; funny lines I hear at a gathering. I do this so that I can remember these things later. Some of them find their way into posts I write, some into stories. Other things are more ephemeral, but even a server’s name in a restaurant can be useful if I am searching for a character name in a story.
I’ve filled more than 30 of these notebooks since 2015. They sit in a nice row on a shelf in my office. Occasionally I go back to them, to look for something, like when I was searching for a particular brand of beer recently. The problem is, I only have access to them when I am sitting here in my office. It would be nice to have access to them no matter where I was.
This weekly playbook is a kind of experiment. I began with the idea that I wanted to be able to access these notes anywhere. I had two ideas:
- Transcribe the notebooks into Obsidian, where my other notes live, or
- Scan them into Evernote
I decide to try both in order to see what worked better for me. The playbook section below has the procedures I followed for each. In each case, I used my most recently completed notebook, book #30. I’ll describe my findings in the commentary.
Transcribing notebook into Obsidian
- Create a Field Notes folder in Obsidian
- Create a new note called “Book 30 – March to June 2021.
- Begin typing in the notes using the following guidelines:
- Make each “day” a header in the notes
- If my handwriting is unintelligible, put question marks and move on.
- Wherever I have a dividing line in my notebook, include a divider in the notes file
- Use only one file per notebook
Scanning notebook into Evernote
- Create a Field Notes notebook in Evernote.
- Using the Scannable app by Evernote, scan in all 48 pages of my notebook #30, including the cover and inside cover.
- Once scanned, put the note in the Field Notes notebook
- Title the note “Book 30 – March to June 2021”
- Set the create date of the note to March 1, 2021
It probably took me an hour to transcribe the first 15 pages of the Field Notes notebook into Obsidian. After an hour I stopped. It is easy enough to estimate that a full notebook would take me a little over 3 hours to transcribe.
On the other hand, it took about 15 minutes to scan the entire notebook into Evernote using the Scannable app. (I think Evernote’s Scannable app does a slightly better job at scanning than the regular iOS app does.)
For me, the Evernote scan is the better over all option. There are several reasons for this:
- It is quick enough to make it worthwhile. Investing 15 minutes to have the contents of the notebook available to me anywhere is a worthwhile investment of time. 3 hours is a little much. I am not likely to invest 3 hours, but 15 minutes is no big deal.
- The notebook really is available anywhere. The screenshot above is from my phone. I can flip through the pages just as I can with any PDF.
- Scanning preserves everything in my notes, include occasional sketches and diagrams that I make.
- Evernote uses its AI to attempt to make the PDF searchable. It is supposed to be able to recognize handwriting. I made several attempt, but I think my handwriting is too messy. Still, for people with very neat writing, the notebook is searchable. I keep the notes in their own notebook in Evernote for this reason: when I want to search for something in a Field Notes notebook, I can limit the search to notes in the Field Notes notebook so that I don’t get results from other sources.
There are a few cons to using Evernote over Obsidian:
- The notebook is not as searchable as it would be if I transcribed it into Obsidian. I could probably find things faster in Obsidian.
- My notes would be in plain text format and could be manipulated like any plain text.
- I could do more dynamic linking of my notes to other notes using Obsidian. (You can link to other notes in Evernote, but there is no practical way to do this in scanned documents.)
Another consideration is that I want to get my entire backlog of notebooks in a format that I can access anywhere. Transcribing 30 notebooks into Obsidian would be an investment of nearly 100 hours of my time. Scanning 30 notebooks into Evernote is an investment of 7-1/2 hours. From a practical standpoint, this is a no-brainer.
Then, too, since the notes already exist, they fit into the model of using Evernote for curation and collection, and using Obsidian for creation.
Remember, my goal at the outset was to be able to access the notebooks from anywhere. My goal wasn’t to make them as searchable as they could be. I’m fine flipping through a PDF to find what I am looking for. It usually doesn’t take very long, so it seems like the investment in time to manually transcribe all of my notes would be overkill.
Going forward, when I finish a notebook, I’ll follow the procedures for scanning that notebook into Evernote.
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