I had a rocky relationship with analog tools. You know, pen and paper. My pens always ran out of ink, looked hideous, and were always odd to use. My paper easily tore, wasn’t durable, and often creased and tore within an hour of being in my bag or pocket.
And that’s why I switched to the reliability and comfort of digital tools so long ago. I can write my notes in Drafts, save articles easily to Instapaper and sites to Evernote. It was painless, always integrated, and easy to get into a routine. I don’t need to replace my keyboard every two weeks. I don’t need to reinstall Drafts every month because I run out of notes I can store.
As I’ve become more and more ingrained in this circle of geeks, writers, and aficionados, it’s hard not to have exposure to the tools others like me use. I keep hearing about some kind of notebook everyone likes, or a pen that’s become a staple in everyone’s drawers. I mostly tuned that stuff out. I knew how unsustainable pen and paper was, right? As a millennial1, I thought back to the pre-high school days when I had to write everything out. The pain in my hand, the ink splotches everywhere I had to wash out, the ripped pages.
I was happy with my workflow involving notes in Drafts, mind maps in MindNode, and ‘stuff’ in Evernote.
Recently, however, Chris Gonzales of Tools & Toys wrote a guide to the best analog writing tools, featuring pens like the Uni-ball Signo DX (which I am now a proud owner of), and paper like Field Notes.
Here’s what Gonzales wrote about Field Notes:
An obvious choice to some, but one worth mentioning all the same. Field Notes are our go-to memo books. At 3.5″ x 5.5″, the standard editions are perfect for stashing in your back pocket, and they come in your choice of grid, ruled, or plain paper.
What could be so obvious about Field Notes? Sure, they looked good, but what could be so enamoring about them that every writer and designer in the geek world would buy them at a heartbeat?
I decided to find out. And one week in, I’m in love.
Long story short, I found a shop that sells Field Notes memo books in Hong Kong. Field Notes sells multiple editions of their memo books, the default choice being the Kraft three-pack of either graph, ruled, or plain. I preferred the dot-grid style, subtle enough to be used like plain paper, but also helpful to use as ruled paper for text, not to mention plotting graphs (which I rarely use). The dot-grid style was part of a set of limited edition books.
A friendly store manager helped me find the edition I wanted: the Pitch Black memo book, with the dot-grid style paper. I brought it home, eager to test it out.
At first, I was surprised by its size: when I read it would fit in my pocket, I didn’t know it was that small — my hand nearly covered it, and I worried if I’d be able to squash my writing into it, as I had fairly large handwriting.
Turns out, I didn’t have that much to worry about.
In order to make full use of a modern, yet flexible analog system, I used a mashup of the Bullet Journal format and Patrick Rhone’s dash-plus markup system for tasks. Armed with my trusty Uni-ball Signo DX, and a fool-proof system for keeping my (analog) tasks organized, I was ready to go all-in on Field Notes.
The first thing I loved about my Field Notes memo book was its design. It was beautiful, simple, yet functional, too. I love the cover with the words “Field Notes” set in striking all-caps Futura. It’s clear these books were made by designers. The color of the Pitch Black edition is great too. The color is perfect — not too black, slightly faded, and the rounded edges make it even more satisfying from a purely aesthetic viewpoint. The only drawback is how it’s hard to write your personal information on the inside flap, unless you use a white or silver ink. Apart from that, the Pitch Black edition is a masterpiece, embracing the individuality and expression of the color black — hell, even the staples are black.
The paper is wonderful too. At its root, Field Notes paper is durable, held together by strong staples, with a handsome French Blacktop cover. After carrying around a book for a few days in my side pocket (I use it too much to resign it to my back pocked), all I’ve gotten so far are a few slight creases in the cover, which gives off a pretty cool antiquated look to it. The dot-grid paper is amazing — it’s thick enough so it won’t tear, the gray dot-grid is subtle enough to disappear when you’re making use of the full page, but always visible when writing. Another welcome ‘feature’ — the paper does not let ink from the other pages show through.
My initial doubts about size have now subsided: it’s perfect for the pocket, and I can take it out anytime I want without having to reshuffle everything in there. My only qualm is how my Uni-ball Signo DX’s clip is too small to fit all forty-eight pages (front and back) between, unlike the Pilot G-2, but that’s the Signo’s problem. Another positive side effect of the dot-grid is how easy it is to ignore it; instead of squashing my large handwriting between lines, I can write between every two lines instead.
The portability of the notebook has helped me find a new workflow for task management. I was initially unsure of how I’d manage to enter tasks into both OmniFocus and my Bullet Journal/Dash-plus system. Now, I enter tasks into my Field Notes, which is (shockingly) more accessible than entering a task in the (pretty terrible) OmniFocus iOS app, which I used only for checking off to-dos from the Today view extension anyway. For example, in class, I write down any assignments into my running Field Notes daily log, then shift in any tasks into OmniFocus later when I’m at my desk.
Only a week in, Field Notes has helped me maximize my productivity and has brought me back to the freedom of analog tools2. If you love well-designed, quality products, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t get some Field Notes. Ditch the terrible notebooks you can buy at the corner stationary shop. If you actually care about what you write, you need Field Notes. At $9.95, it’s a no-brainer.