The Digital vs Analogue Note Taking Debate. I'm Finally at Peace

A few months back, the IT department at my work gave me the okay to use Obsidian. I told them I was storing the text files on the company OneDrive account and not syncing outside to any other devices and they were happy with my setup. They said I had done all the due diligence they would have, so they had no issue.

That set me off on a journey to write (type) everything down. I’ve always kept fairly thorough notes (meeting, reference etc), but with Obsidian, the ease and efficiency of creating new notes, linked notes, templates – I found myself being even more thorough. It was great for housing my “knowledge” as they say, but it wasn’t always clicking for me. It was almost as though someone else had written half the notes. Even though I was able to capture more information than ever before, it was hard to connect to it. I’d look back at two pages of meeting notes from just a week ago and have very little recollection about what was discussed and agreed upon, except for the “todos” I had captured in Todoist.

As a tech guy, and as a lefty with questionable hand writing, I’ve always been quick to dismiss the “you retain more information when you write it down” crowd. That said, I couldn’t deny a simple fact; with my old Moleskine notes I could recall a meeting just by looking at a page. The colors I’d used, the arrows, the headings. In electronic format, the walls of text all bled together. Nothing stood out. Nothing jogged my memory.

After the past few weeks of seeing my meeting notes as walls of text, I decided to investigate the issue a little more. It was hard for me to put my tech biases aside, but I knew something had to give. Sure enough, study after study proved that more notes doesn’t mean better notes. In fact, just the opposite. On a computer you tend to get lost writing things down verbatim, and you don’t give the material a chance to sink in. It’s like wearing a raincoat in the rain. Nothing gets absorbed. In this case, I want the rain to soak my clothes.

Finally, I came across a post in Curtis McHale’s PKM weekly which linked to this being slow blog post (shoutout @curtismchale!). I realized that my handwriting isn’t all that bad if I’m not rushing, and I need to spend more time listening and less time typing my hands off.

Here’s where I really go off course…

I’ve never been one to over complicate things with lots of apps and multiple-step workflows, but in the interest of slowing down I’ve hit upon a perfect solution for me. At least it has been so far (only a few days in)…

I use Goodnotes to write my meeting notes with my – until now – barely used Apple Pencil 2nd gen. This gives me the ability to quickly use templates (eg Cornell) if I want, a beautiful and functional GoodNotes 6 for a mere $12 a year, and gives me every chance to write by hand – something I haven’t done in a couple years.

When the meeting is over, I export the page (or pages) to PDF and pull it into Obsidian where I have a daily note that outlines my day, and links to an electronic meeting note with the embedded PDF. I then write a quick summary and a few keywords in Obsidian so I can find the meeting via electronic search in the future if need be. And like I said, it’s tied to my daily notes so I can toggle through the calendar to arrive at the day the meeting was held. I can still use the keyboard for capturing reference material and other things that require less thought.

I tried using OneNote in place of Goodnotes here, but I don’t love the writing experience in OneNote, templates are not the best/easy to implement, and I’m constantly being asked to sign into Office365 when using it.

So yeah. Old me would have scoffed at the handwriting and the extra step of moving a note from Goodnotes → Obsidian, but new me is happy to slow down a bit and be more thoughtful in the process.


:clap: :clap:
Agree. I have been on a similar road, and also landed on Goodnotes, although I sync it into both obsidian and Devonthink via the backup strategy and a hazel rule, thus skipping the need to export. See here .

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I played with that a bit, but I don’t need it to export all my notebooks or an entire notebook. I just want to do a page at a time into particular Obsidian notes. But yes, I’ll definitely investigate more. :grinning:

Fair enough. I simply have folders that are set up for such exports - for instance, I have a “meeting notes” folder that is synched, as I like software to pick up on those notes, which I can then pick up/point to. My handwriting is a mess, but it does get OCRd in the process and omnisearch in Obsidian will often find things in my scribbles, which is neat.

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It’s crucial to make the information you save in note form yours, Writing by hand really does do that. You can do a lot with section headers/color, etc., but it’s also crucial to integrate new information with known information.

I too am a digital analog hybrid. I have local digital notes for long term use in HTML.

Current working notes are in marked up hardcopy. I remember the visual blocks of text, with hardcopy.

This. This. This.

Nothing beats handwritten notes. I always feel more engaged in what I’m reading, or the lecture I’m listening to, or the meeting I’m participating in, when my notes are handwritten. On paper, GoodNotes, Noteability – whatever.



Always love reading your posts @AppleGuy.

I was going to suggest OneNote might be useful, but you’ve been down that path. Assume you’re using an iPad, can I ask which one? I have an iPad Pro 11 but wondering if a Mini would be better, size wise. for notes as it’s more Leuchtturm1917 sized.


It’s an iPad Air - couple years old now. It works great. A pro is a dream of mine :shushing_face:

Also: thanks for the compliment!

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I’m also hybrid at this point. I got into (and sometimes fall out of) the habit of planning my day in a notebook. On one side of the page, I write down my planned schedule, then I’ll later fill in what actually happened. On the other side of the page, I bullet journal my todos. At the end of the day, I type it into Obsidian quick so I can link anything relevant to the day (devotional notes, meeting minutes, etc). From there, I move the final copy to Day One and tag it accordingly.

It’s a bit of work, but I’m way more productive if I do all this extra stuff.

A friend suggested adding a daily Bible verse and a prayer journal to this routine too, which I plan on starting tomorrow.

One bit advantage with paper is the art of rediscovery later. I don’t find that happens with digital unintentionally the way it does with paper. The other day, I needed to find notes on a customer service call I had with FedEx two months ago. I had the digital and analogue notes. I searched for FedEx in Obsidian, found the date, and dug out the right notebook with the additional info in it. Made a couple neat work-related discoveries in that journal I wouldn’t have found otherwise.


I have attempted to use Goodnotes, Notability and reMarkable. My trouble is its intangibility. It’s not just what I write on the page but its physical place in a notebook. I can flick through a notebook and find things because it’s tangible and somewhere my mind knows where it is. The digital version by comparison is a black hole that must be searched to yield anything.

I realise that flicking through a notebook is more valuable than I thought and this cannot be replicated digitally. Also, I’m amazed that by flicking through a notebook I can scan material much faster than a digital notebook.


I’m hybrid too. I do use GoodNotes, but nothing beats pen and paper for some notes.

I haven’t done enough reading around the subject to know if my thoughts align with the current science, but I believe it’s to do with visualisation and navigation. Humans have evolved the ability to store complex mental maps of locations, and senses that specialise in this. We have senses to locate where parts of our bodies are (you know where your arm is even if your eyes are shut) and where we are in a landscape (we can position ourselves in a mental map we hold of our location). I think we make use of these mental maps even for non-traditional navigating. E.g. moving through books, writing across a page, etc. I think digital note-taking and reading strips some of this information, and so can’t provide our brains with the navigation context it needs. It creates “shallower” memories, where words or ideas are “recorded” without the spatial context we are used to. If you think about writing, you are aware of where you are on the page, in the notebook (if applicable), what pen you are using. Your hand moves across the page and your brain is tracking that, and as others have noted here (not specifically relevant to my point but relevant nonetheless) all this is happening at a slower pace with conscious thought. (The appearance of digital content also changes in a way that written pages do not, which I think is also harder for our brains to “map”. E.g. an Obsidian note will be laid out differently depending on the device you are using, and is not a static page you can recall easily.)

Certainly in my experience, I can recall where I’ve noted things down in a notebook and often can see the page in my mind, but I can’t do the same with digital files I’ve written. And I find my recall is better for physical books than digital books - I can usually remember roughly where in a book something I’m looking for might be mentioned, but I don’t have that same spatial sense with digital books.

Of course, there’s a huge caveat here that this is my own experience and perhaps doesn’t apply to others. My vocation and hobbies mean I’m used to thinking in terms of maps and geography, and others who do not do so may think I’m talking rubbish :joy:


There’s something uniquely captivating about the tactile experience of a fountain pen meeting paper and leaving the mark of ink on it.


This post really hits home for me, as someone who also takes exhaustive notes on most things because I have the memory capacity of a spaghetti strainer (thank you, ADHD!) PKM systems always sound great to me, but like you, the value for me is the physical act of writing things out. The ability to write, pause and reflect for a moment is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Throughout graduate school and later my postdoctoral work, I wrote things down using an Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro (later switched to the space-saving convenience of the iPad mini).

I’ve recently switched over to the Kindle Scribe and I have to say I like the experience much more than the iPad in certain instances, it’s a really fantastic tactile experience.

I’m all digital in Obsidian. The key to me is the weekly review of my notes. That’s what really helps me process and remember the notes.


I think this is why I can’t forgo folders and rely on tags alone. For me, at least, folders are a visual map of how to get to something in a way that tags aren’t.


Whether analog notes make notes more “yours” than digital notes is subjective and unique to the individual. I don’t find I need to write to make my notes “mine” and personal to me.

That said, I have long used writing things down, repeatably, as a technique to help me memorize material.

But I don’t need to do that anymore and haven’t for many years. I don’t want to memorize my notes – that’s why they are notes. I want them out of my mind, and I don’t want to remember them better. That’s the main point of taking notes in the first place. Think of the original GTD quote: “Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.”

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I have no interest in memorizing them either, I agree with you.

For me, it’s the process of taking the note and using it later. If I slow down and write by hand, I’m forced to summarize what’s going on or what’s being said - in my own words. At the end of the meeting the structure and the summarization make it easier for me to recall things that I’d long since forgotten. Easier than if I had just recorded a wall or electronic text. Even when I try to slow down while typing, I always seem to drift off into recording things verbatim again — a behaviour many studies seem to suggest is commonplace.

But I hear you, and it’s going to be a different scenario for everyone and some people will find digital works better.

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OK, I think I understand what you’re trying to say.

Have you tried modifying the way you take digital notes?

It sounds like you’re assuming that when you type you have to get everything down (wall of text) and not have any structuring, as opposed to writing where you’re structuring and summarizing.

Have you tried summarizing when you take digital notes and adding structure with headings, indents, etc.? That’s the way I take meeting or lecture notes. Which may or may not work for you.

One way to remember notes better, and I think this works for handwritten and digital notes alike: After taking them, write out or summarize them, also in writing.

The act of rewriting helps both understanding and memory, in my experience.

If you want to get Luhmannesque about it, do this again – just a line or two about each of the main points, a kind of distilled summary.


So with this setup, I take it that you can’t access your obsidian notes via obsidian on mobile?