Note-taking Minimalism and Central Spaces

Analog and Digital Integration for Ideas in Writing, Research, and Life, an Update.

Emily Hokett
9 min readJun 28, 2024

I take notes as they come to me. If I think of an interesting idea, it might end up on a sticky note or voice memo while I’m out on a run. It’s not necessary that I capture ideas in the same place every time, just that I process them.

Below, I summarize my current, hybrid note-taking system (analog + digital) and explain some of my experience with oscillating between physical and digital notebook combinations. This current system is a minor update to the note-taking process I previously outlined; this is my mid-year note-taking review (i.e., techo kaigi).

Preferences for a Central Space

I normally have my laptop and binder on my desk. My favorite writing from this note: “I sort of feel like my life will be easier if I mostly stick to ONE NOTEBOOK.” (Image from author)

I am currently using a central space for my analog notes and one for my digital notes. My central note-taking spaces are where I work through important ideas. For analog notes, I use a small binder (Plotter) and for digital ones, I use a note-taking app (Craft Docs). The specific types of note-taking tools will vary from person to person. Importantly, the tools should meet your individual preferences and fit within your core note-taking system.

These tools satisfy my note-taking preferences because they are (1) flexible, (2) simple, and (3) enjoyable. They both allow me to easily move ideas around. With a binder, I can reorganize ideas and build on them without having to predetermine the space I might need for a specific idea. Digital note-taking platforms, such as Craft, also allow for grouping blocks of text, linking information, and formatting text with visual emphasis (e.g., highlighting, bold font, subtext, and subpages). Both my binder and note-taking app are simple to use. I experience little to no functional issues with these tools. Importantly, I enjoy using my analog and digital central spaces. The flexibility and simplicity of them encourage me to play with ideas, which facilitates creativity.

I am keeping these preferences in mind whenever I evaluate a tool. I think it will help me stick to the essential, core components of my system instead of gravitating toward what’s new and cool. In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown reminds us “Whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, ‘What is essential?’ Eliminate everything else.”

The Analog Central Space Keeps Me Grounded

The brain differentially encodes information when physically writing notes as compared to typing them. One recent electroencephalography (i.e., EEG) study showed the participants who wrote information by hand demonstrated more widespread brain activation (motor, visual, sensory regions) as compared to those who typed on a keyboard. However, it should be noted that the participants wrote on a digital tablet instead of physical paper.

Although digital handwriting may have similar benefits, I prefer writing on physical paper. Analog notes serve several purposes for me. I use two notebook systems for my day-to-day functioning, one for reflection and the other for planning and note-taking.

I arrived at this system in mid-June. At one point, I was regularly writing in at least five analog systems — Traveler’s Notebooks, Roterfadens, the Postalco Snap Pad, Midori Hibino, and the Plotter. While I enjoy new notebooks and still use various notebooks (for fun) at home, I don’t enjoy carrying multiple notebooks with me, nor the feeling that I left behind something important. I felt frustrated with the weight of many notebooks and anxious about the possibility of not having important notes with me when I needed them.

Notebook stack. This is an example of the notebooks I had been regularly using (and often wanting to carry with me). From top to bottom: A6 Roterfaden, Midori Hibino, Bible-sized Plotter, A6 Postalco spiral-bound notepad, Standard Traveler’s Notebook, A5 Roterfaden, A5 Postalco Snap Pad. Right: Passport Traveler’s Notebook (my wallet). (Image from author)

In The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel Levitin, poses a series of useful questions for decluttering our lives.

“One’s junk drawer, like one’s life, undergoes a natural sort of entropy. Every so often, we should perhaps take time out and ask ourselves the following questions: Do I really need to hold on to this thing or this relationship anymore? Does it fill me with energy and happiness? Does it serve me? Are my communications filled with clutter? Am I direct? Do I ask for what I want and need, or do I hope my partner/ friend/ coworker will psychically figure it out? Must I accumulate several of the same things even though they’re identical?”

To reduce my daily engagement with multiple notebooks, I pared down to just two daily, physical note-taking systems — one bound notebook for daily reflection (Traveler’s Notebook) and a small binder for more structured notes (Plotter).

Notebook Everyday Carry (EDC). My standard traveler’s notebook and Bible-sized Plotter binder. (Image from author)

The bound notebook is important to me for practical and sentimental reasons. Because I use the notebook cover with bound inserts, they naturally form little booklets of my life, a way for me to document and reflect on my life as I live it. The leather cover of the notebook is sentimental because it (1) ages over time, and (2) it was a gift from my partner. Some insights from my bound notebook are summarized in my binder.

Bound notebooks in the Standard Traveler’s notebook. The first is a reading journal or commonplace notebook and the second is a journal for daily reflection, a cut down Midori MD notebook. (Image from author)

The binder is my central analog space. Because of the rings, I am better able to move information around as needed. I’m not forced to hang on to ideas until I get to the end of the notebook. My binder is not for deep reflection. It is for planning my habits, daily and weekly tasks, taking notes, and drafting and playing with ideas.

Plotter Bible-sized binder. I use this binder to keep clear sections of content (e.g., personal planning and notes are separate from that for work; Image from author).

With this simplified process, analog systems help me focus on and process ideas — they ground me. I regularly carry two analog items with me, one bound notebook and one binder.

The Digital Central Space Helps Me Stay Organized

Digital note-taking remains an integral part of my system. Digital notebooks come with many advantages, especially the ability to easily search and connect information.

While I have my preferred note-taking platforms, any note-taking app that allows for connections between notes should be sufficient. I’ll overview my process, as well as some frustrations I’ve had with it, below.

My most used note-taking and project management apps are Craft Docs, Things 3, and Mind Node. The majority of my digital notes live in Craft Docs. Craft has been one of my favorite note-taking platforms for several years. I use it to take notes on research articles and studies, share blog drafts with friends, and write drafts for freelance articles.

Craft is a beautiful app, but my favorite feature in Craft is linking. Craft allows for backlinks (connections between text within the app) and deeplinks (connections between text within Craft to external apps). Backlinks are nice for including links to project notes within a meeting note without having to duplicate information. Deeplinks are helpful when linking notes to tasks outside of Craft. I manage projects in Things 3 and overview projects and ideas in Mind Node. Deeplinks help me quickly navigate to notes in Craft Docs related to a specific task, project, or meeting. These links are helpful for picking up on a task that I set aside for a while (or even just after a weekend). The notes help me refresh my memory of the project status and easily get back into it, and this gives me peace of mind (i.e., I don’t think much about upcoming tasks until I need to work on them).

My digital note-taking apps, Craft Docs with Mind Node and Things 3. From left to right: (1) an overview list of projects in Craft Docs with backlinks to notes for each project and an overview of the projects in Mind Node; (2) a completed freelance writing project in Things 3 with deeplinks to notes in Craft Docs; (3) a completed project of an academic grant proposal in Things 3 with a deeplink to a page of notes in Craft Docs. (Image from author)

While I enjoy using Craft Docs because of the ease of linking information and beautiful design, it has its pain points. The current “home” page of Craft Docs shows notes across all spaces. Opening a new tab also results in a cross-space overview, and global search renders documents across spaces. Personally, I think this is a messy system that interferes with compartmentalization of notes. I have spaces to manage notes for academic projects, blog writing, freelance writing, and journaling. I prefer not to mix all of these areas within a single space.

To maintain some compartmentalization, I made several changes to how I engage with Craft Docs. I rarely interstitial journal within the app. I’m using my analog tools much more often. Lately, I’ve been avoiding the Craft icon to open the app. Instead, I created shortcuts to take me directly to the space or document I need. Also, I don’t use global search. I only use the search bar within the space. These changes allow me to still use Craft while avoiding their cross-space home screen.

Analog-Digital Integration Process

I integrate analog and digital notes on a semi-weekly basis. At the end of most weeks, I summarize important analog notes in Craft Docs. These often include meeting and project notes. I also move action items and open tasks to Things 3.

I typically type digital summaries in my weekly review page in Craft Docs. When necessary, I add photos of my analog notes and integrate them into my digital notes in Craft Docs or Mind Node.

This integration process is an important step for me because while I enjoy analog note-taking, digital notes are much less likely to be lost than analog ones. In Things 3, I set reminders for start dates and deadlines for my tasks. In Craft, I can easily search for keywords to locate specific notes.

Strategies for Maintaining Note-taking Minimalism

Note-taking systems can be dynamic. If left unchecked, we may accumulate too many tools or lose information. Below, I list a few strategies I’ve been using to evaluate my note-taking process and maintain focus in my daily life.

  1. Have a core note-taking system. A set of rules or guidelines may help eliminate decision fatigue regarding what tools to use and when to use them.
  2. Find little joys within your note-taking system. If note-taking feels unpleasant, it will be difficult to maintain. Regularly evaluating our note-taking processes may help us identify the fun in them.
  3. Refine the note-taking system (as needed). If the system no longer brings you joy (or never brought you joy), redefine the system or rebuild it in a way that brings joy with it. And, if that is not possible, it may be time to entirely change the core of the system.

I hope that this approach to note-taking minimalism, keeping an analog and digital central space, will help me remain reflective, decisive, grounded, and organized. I am just beginning to realize the amount of information (and junk) I’ve accumulated over the years. Whether physical or digital notes, regular review is, albeit sometimes difficult, important. In the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondō warns, “There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die.” Which approach are you taking?


  • See more information on writing by hand in this media coverage on handwriting and brain activation.
  • Alliana gives a helpful description of the utility of binders (Plotter Mini 5) in this YouTube video.
  • This is a simple shortcut I made for opening a note (my project list) in Craft Docs and a mind map overview of projects in Mind Node. For this to work on your machine with Craft Docs and Mind Node, the documents and spaces will need to be changed.
  • Other Resources: I use templates to keep track of academic projects, meeting notes, and weekly planning and review. In each of the shared documents linked above, I added notes in parentheses to explain how I use backlinks to connect information in various places.
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Emily Hokett

healthy sleep advocate | writer, runner, doodler | learning time management skills to live a balanced, meaningful life