How do you track & use ideas from your previous sketch books, journals & diaries?
January 16, 2012 12:43 PM   Subscribe

For those that keep a journal/diary/sketch book: When you start a new book, how do you continue to track and use the good ideas and projects in your old books that you'd like to pursue?

I regularly keep a book that holds my thoughts, daily summaries, ideas, meeting notes, sketches, etc. I'd like to come up with a system or work flow that helps me get the most out of my books and prevents me for losing good ideas. Keeping all of these out on my desk is slightly impractical.

Anyone out there ever digitize and catalog a large number of books like this? (I have 25 or so) IF so, how did you deal with the digitized info?

Lastly, if anyone would like to share pointers on their personal method for journaling and marking up your books to keep track of items, I'd appreciate your insight, links and collective wisdom. Thanks!
posted by ooklah to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

For years, I kept notebook after notebook, and had no good way to access the past entries particularly as they were elaborated on in subsequent entries. An idea proposed on page 7, then fleshed out on pages 17, 24, 39, 40, 41 etc. would be fairly tedious to track.

At that point I got a Web service, installed MediaWiki and created pages for all of the various ideas. Yes, it was a bit of work. But it works so well compared to how I was doing it before that I've never looked back. I have one page called Journal for daily thoughts, but most of the material generated there finds its way to other pages eventually.

My "journals" these days are smaller hip-pocket notebooks that hold notes until I can enter them into the wiki.

As for sketches, they live off-line in folders > file cabinets and/or scanned in to the computer. They could also be referenced in the wiki but I haven't got around to doing that yet.

If it seems too daunting getting all 25 journals put in, start with the ideas/concepts you want to develop in the near term and go from there. Email is in my profile, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
posted by zueod at 2:11 PM on January 16, 2012

I number my old notebooks and place back-references to them in the new ones. The core ideas I carry over by simple copying. Details I have to look up manually from the back references.
posted by knz at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2012

Stick Post-It notes on the pages you want to return to. If necessary, put a check mark in the margin.
posted by KRS at 7:49 PM on January 16, 2012

I use a system similar to the one Foucault claimed he used. Link:
posted by bukvich at 9:00 PM on January 16, 2012

I read through the old journal, and separate the good stuff out into individual working files on my laptop. It's somewhat time consuming with the old handwritten journals. Actually, it's time consuming no matter what. But I do have a good bunch of files I continue to add to and transform into something useful, so it works for me.
posted by RedEmma at 2:13 PM on January 17, 2012

I've been strictly using Field Notes notebooks for over a year. Had done moleskines off-and-on before that, but the FN are small enough that they are always with me. I went through 5 last year.

I don't use them for long-term storage of information, though. Anything I need to keep becomes (in theory) electronic, often in a text file accessible through Dropbox.

So, to 'preserve' the notebooks, I number all the pages, take out the staples, send them through my Scansnap, and put the resulting PDFs on Dropbox. Fold the notebooks back up and put a rubber band around them. They all live together in a big ziplock in my desk. I rarely look at these, maybe to check on meeting notes from months past or to dig up a phone number I never saved in my contacts.

Understand this is just PDFs of image captures of the pages, not even in order (that's why I number the pages) given the way they go thru the scanner. There's no OCR, they aren't searchable.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:00 PM on January 18, 2012

I leave a couple of pages blank at the beginning of journals, so I can index them later if I want.

I browse my old journals when I get a new one, just looking to see if there is anything valuable for the new journal. I have several types of lists at the back of my journal, including a to do list. If I have a plan I'm still working on, it might get copied to the list, witha reference to the journal colour & page number, if I want to go checkit. Usually though, if I'm not working on it right now, it doesn't need to be copied in. Ideas are cheaper than I wish they were. :P
posted by Elysum at 5:02 AM on January 21, 2012

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
I ended up doing the following:

1) adding index pages to the fronts of my journals
2) using a handful of symbols/icons to mark significant items, ideas, things that require follow up, resources to seek etc.
3) I purchased a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner and scan relevant items into Evernote which are OCRed and tagged.

Thanks for all of the suggestions that contributed to this solution. IT seems to be working well.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:55 AM on January 21, 2014

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