A Little Analog Note Taking Drives Me Crazy

I’ve chronicled several times how (here, here, and here) I use my Tablet PC for note taking in my work, producing and directing theatre. My Toshiba M200 has become essential to my work and in fact using it has become second nature in rehearsal and meetings. After our recent production of Othello, I decided to take the plunge and go Vista with the release of RC1. The timing was good and I made the conscious decision that for our next project if I was having difficulty I would just resort to the old-fashioned legal pad and pen method. Heresy!

Well, I did commit a bit of Tablet PC heresy and take the analog approach for this show up until last night. Not that Vista and OneNote 2007 don’t work well enough to take notes. They do. But a lack of drivers for the M200 in Vista keep me from successfully suspending (or going into sleep mode as it is now called in Vista) and this is a key to controlling battery life in rehearsal, which can last 5 hours at a time. My Tablet PC is usually in suspend mode or I have the screen blanked until I need to take a note. It is also important to turn off the screen during blackouts so I’m not lighting up the area I’m sitting in when the stage goes dark.


So, I pulled out a legal pad and a pen. Funny anecdote there. Since the last time I used a legal pad for work at the theatre, our office manager has moved them to a different storage location and I had to ask someone where they were. I discovered the following while going analog:

  • I can’t color code notes. Boy did I miss this. I use this method for identifying whether a note is for the actors or for the various design departments. I’m not going to sit there with a pad of paper and multiple pens. Far too much to keep track of.
  • The many shortcuts and ways of adding emphasis to certain notes (note flags, bolding, highlighting, etc…) I have for note taking on the Tablet PC are not available to me.
  • I’m so dependant on the scratch-out gesture that it is scary. Of course you can scratch something out on paper, but it doesn’t erase the text, it just creates a mess.
  • In rehearsal (at the late points in the process) I’m sitting in a darkened theatre and the Tablet PC provides its own light source. Without it, I’m often scribbling in the dark making my already illegible handwriting impossible to read.
  • In reading notes to the actors after rehearsal I found it harder and more time consuming to translate my chicken scratch.
  • Prior to giving notes to actors I often reorganize the order of the notes so that those I give to the group are available first and those that I will talk to an actor about privately are well marked. Tough to do that with pen and paper. Yes, I could place stars or marks by certain notes, but that just doesn’t work as smoothly as reorganizing the notes in OneNote 2007 before the note session. At least twice I found myself reading a note out loud that I wanted to give in private.
  • I did not have my research easily available to me as we went through rehearsal. Nor did I have my previous notes if I needed to cite a reference. That’s not entirely accurate. I could flip back through the legal pad, but that is not as efficient as searching for a previous note in OneNote 2007.
  • My creativity suffered. I don’t think that is just because I wasn’t using the Tablet PC, but because the Tablet PC has just been so integrated into my process.

Even my staff noticed I wasn’t using the Tablet PC, which tells you something. Well by the third act last night, (after using pad and paper for several rehearsals) I gave up and opened up the Tablet PC. I found myself much more productive in my note taking in the third act, and in reading the notes back to the cast, I felt my comfortable and confident about those notes than the ones that were on the legal pad.

In conclusion, this little experiment proved to me just how ingrained the Tablet PC has become in my process. I can go back, but that requires retraining and in fact giving up a few tricks that I really rely on. Even after I got into some sort of flow, I did not feel as productive or efficient. This week has been a big confirmation for me that the Tablet PC does in fact improve my creative process. I can’t go back.