Life hack

How to organize notes and stop feeling scattered

BY: Manal Ghosain – August 18, 2010

How to organize notes and stop feeling scattered

Let’s start right away. I want to eliminate anything that can distract you from finishing this post.

  • Do you feel like you want to do a million and one things this instant?
  • Do you lack the ability or desire to stay with your task till you complete it, including the simplest of tasks?
  • Do you feel unmotivated to start on something that you really want to accomplish?
  • Are you easily distracted and everything in the entire world seems more interesting than what you’re doing?
  • Are there things you need to do that remain undone because there is no outside pressure/deadline to force completion?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions then you are a scattered brainer. Welcome to the club :). There is nothing wrong with being distracted every now and then, or not even getting anything done. But when it becomes a constant in your daily life, you can fall into a stressful trap of avoidance, or worse, trying to catch up and make up for lost time.

I have been implementing the tips below to deal with my scattered brain. I’m slowly regaining my focus and brain power. Hope you find these tips useful. Try to work with as many of them as you can.

1. Know what you want to do and prioritize.

This is the most obvious and probably one that is listed in every productivity book and article out there. The importance of this step cannot be overstated.

If you don’t know what you want and stuff is just floating in your head, you’ll never get the satisfaction of doing anything. So yes make a list of everything that is on your mind. Then Prioritize—with a capital P. This is where you get to tell your brain to stop fretting about the small stuff and focus on what is really important.

2. Break it down and keep it simple.

Once you have your list and you determine your top two or three tasks, choose one to start with and break it down to the simplest form of action. Every step should not take more than 15 to 30 minutes to complete. If it takes longer, break it down further.

The smaller the task, the less time it takes to get done, the more you’re likely to stick with it. This is a good way to tell your brain to just stay with it for 15 minutes.

3. Start and do it slowly—one task at a time.

Don’t try to speed thing up in an effort to save time. This triggers your brain to drift to what you want to do next instead of what you’re doing right now. Your brain can focus on one thought at a time, so make it about what is right in front of you. Do things slowly and deliberately. You will feel much better once you complete your task.

4. Take breaks.

Don’t be tempted to work nonstop for hours on end. This will lead to burn out and you won’t have enough motivation to start again.

After completing a 15-30 minute task, take a break and do something fun. You can stretch, move, read an article or whatever you feel like doing. Just don’t take too long. I would suggest 5-10 minutes.

Once you complete 4 tasks, take a longer break—an hour or so. This is your free time to do whatever you like—guilt free.

5. Learn to focus.

If you want to have laser sharp focus, you need to learn how to meditate and do it.

Meditation is becoming more mainstream now and is really easy to do. You don’t need to spend an hour. Start with a few minutes and move up to 15 – 30 minutes. Do a search and pick a breathing or mantra meditation. The most important thing is to train your brain to relax, and focus on one thing (the mantra or your breath).

6. Ditch your clock/watch. Work in intervals.

Forget about the clock and don’t obsess over time. It doesn’t matter when you start working on something. Use a timer and set it to the estimated time to complete your task (an interval of no more than 30 minutes). Start the timer and go for it. Don’t stop until your time is up. Take a break and repeat.

Focus on working and getting your tasks done, regardless of what time it is. This way you are guaranteed to work instead of finding excuses to postpone things till tomorrow, when you can work on them bright and early.

7. Don’t do anything else until your interval is done.

Don’t do anything else while your timer is running for a specific task. If it is something that requires inspiration (like writing) and you can’t seem to find any, just sit still and think about the task until your time is up.

Don’t be tempted to do something else because you can’t seem to get started on the task at hand. Sooner or later inspiration will come—you’ll be surprised by how effective five minutes of silence can be in sparking your genius.

8. Keep going.

If you fall off the wagon, just pick up and start again. There is no reason for you to give up. Review what you did and what went wrong, learn from it and move on to your next task or interval.

Remember: practice makes improvement.

9. Power down and reboot.

Give yourself free days to enjoy yourself away from tasks and to do’s. Keep it free and don’t commit to anything new. This is a time for you to relax, have fun and spend time with your loved ones.

Use your off days to unwind and empty your mental cache. Don’t try to squeeze in anything else. After a break, you’ll feel energized and motivated to get back to your tasks.

10. Make it fun.

Embrace your playful inner child and use your imagination to make the best out of every task. Even the most mundane thing can be fun and entertaining.

When you are working on a task, imagine that someone is watching you and commenting on how brilliantly you’re working. Or that you are trying to set a world record, or break your own. You can have a conversation with yourself as you work … you get the picture.

Your results depend on where you choose to put your focus and energy. So do what gives you the most effective results in the most enjoyable manner. Once you get going and you keep going, there is no turning back—things get easier and you start harnessing more of your mental power.

Have you ever driven somewhere and after you arrive, realize you don’t even remember driving there?

Or, have you ever talked to someone and when asked what you talked about, you found yourself trying to remember?

It’s easy to lose our concentration and focus when we get overwhelmed. But, there’s often a high price to pay for not paying attention. For example, a friend of mine recently broke her ankle while touring Sedona, AZ. She is on pain medications, and cannot even shower by herself. She told me she was upset with herself because she “wasn’t paying attention to where she was going”.

She also shared with me that she had “too many things going on” – a trip, work, and house guests she had to host and show around, and allowed herself to feel scattered.

I’m sure we can all relate – having too much on our plate often leads to scattered, unfocused thinking and prevents us from really paying attention to what we’re doing or where we’re going.

So, how can we stay centered and focused when there are so many things demanding our time and attention? Yep! You guessed it – mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a concept we’ve heard a lot about in the western world. It originated in Asia, along with meditation, an increasingly popular concept being used more often to combat the relentless stress we’re all exposed to.

Here are some of my definitions for mindfulness:

AN INVITATION: To live more peacefully, calmly, and contentedly.

To participate in life more consciously, with more awareness.

“Being Present”… in the moment.

What does that mean to you?

To me it means that I’m enjoying my life more, getting better results in all the things I do, having better relationships, and avoiding costly mistakes.

It also means that I am creating a better future for myself, as your thoughts and memories today create and become your future. If you’re never really present, you can’t really have the quality memories you would have if you had been present. It also means I will keep making the same mistakes and stay stuck in the same old unhealthy, non-productive patterns if I am not consciously learning from my mistakes.

Mindfulness Skills to Stay Focused, Present and Safe

Caution: only use these skills if you’re ready to improve your life. You will never look at yourself or life the same again.

1. OBSERVE YOURSELF: Step back from yourself (in your mind’s eye) and begin to observe yourself living your life (pretend you are a private detective that was hired to follow you around and report back – take notes). This gives you the distance you need to see yourself and your behaviors, thoughts, feelings.

2. JUST NOTICE THE EXPERIENCE: Experience the situation/moment without reacting to it. Don’t judge yourself or others in the moment.

3. HAVE A TEFLON MIND: Try letting experiences, feelings and thoughts just slip right out of your mind.

4. DON’T PUSH AWAY THOUGHTS: Try to stay with thoughts that you typically push away or “stuff”. Just breathe through them – they won’t kill you – promise. The longer you stay with the thought or feeling, the less difficult it feels.

Organizing Your Research With Coded Notes

  • Share
  • Flipboard
  • Email

How to organize notes and stop feeling scattered

Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

When working on a large project, students can sometimes become overwhelmed by all the information they gather in their research. This can happen when a student is working on a research paper with many segments or when several students are working on a large project together.

In group research, each student can come up with a stack of notes, and when the work is all combined, the paperwork creates a confusing mountain of notes! If you struggle with this problem you may find relief in this coding technique.


This organization method involves three main steps:

  1. Sorting research into piles, forming sub-topics
  2. Assigning a letter to each segment or “pile”
  3. Numbering and coding the pieces in each pile

This may sound like a time-consuming process, but you will soon find that organizing your research is time well spent!

Organizing Your Research

First of all, don’t ever hesitate to use your bedroom floor as an important first tool when it comes to getting organized. Many books begin their lives as bedroom floor-piles of paperwork which eventually become chapters.

If you are starting with a mountain of papers or index cards, your first goal is to divide your work into preliminary piles that represent segments or chapters (for smaller projects these would be paragraphs). Don’t worry—you can always add or take away chapters or segments as needed.

It won’t be long before you realize that some of your papers (or note cards) contain information that could fit into one, two, or three different places. That’s normal, and you’ll be pleased to know that there is a good way to deal with the problem. You will assign a number to each piece of research.

Note: Make absolutely certain that each piece of research contains full citation information. Without reference information, each piece of research is worthless.

How to Code Your Research

To illustrate the method that uses numbered research papers, we’ll use a research assignment entitled “Bugs in My Garden.” Under this topic you might decide to start out with the following subtopics which will become your piles:

A) Plants and Bugs Introduction
B) Fear of Bugs
C) Beneficial Bugs
D) Destructive Bugs
E) Bug Summary

Make a sticky note or note card for each pile, labeled A, B, C, D, and E and start sorting your papers accordingly.

Once your piles are complete, start labeling each piece of research with a letter and a number. For example, the papers in your “introduction” pile will be labeled with A-1, A-2, A-3, and so on.

As you sort through your notes, you might find it hard to determine which pile is best for each piece of research. For example, you may have a note card that concerns wasps. This information could go under “fear” but it also fits under “beneficial bugs,” as wasps eat leaf-eating caterpillars!

If you have a hard time assigning a pile, try to put the research into the topic that will come earliest in the writing process. In our example, the wasp piece would go under “fear.”

Put your piles into separate folders labeled A, B, C, D, and E. Staple the appropriate note card to the outside of its matching folder.

Start Writing

Logically, you would start writing your paper using the research in your A (intro) pile. Each time you work with a piece of research, take a moment to consider if it would fit into a later segment. If so, place that paper in the next folder and make a note of it on the index card of that folder.

For example, when you are finished writing about wasps in segment B, place your wasp research in folder C. Make a note of this on the folder C note card to help maintain organization.

As you write your paper you should insert the letter/number code each time you use or refer to a piece of research—instead of putting citations in as you write. Then once you’ve completed your paper you can go back and replace codes with citations.

Note: Some researchers prefer to go ahead and create full citations as they write. This can eliminate a step, but it can become confusing if you are working with footnotes or endnotes and you attempt to re-arrange and edit.

Still Feeling Overwhelmed?

You might experience some anxiety when you read back over your paper and realize that you need to restructure your paragraphs and move information from one segment to another. This is not a problem when it comes to the labels and categories that you’ve assigned to your research. The important thing is making sure that each piece of research and each quote is coded.

With proper coding, you can always find a piece of information when you need it—even if you’ve moved it around several times.

Up next
Slovakia buying two million Sputnik vaccines from Russia
Share article

Many college students can relate to the problem of keeping up with all the assignments. Sometimes, it is just pure chaos that people are afraid to approach. The truth is that the more you postpone making sense of your working space and notes, the higher are the chances that you would never do it. It leads to constant frustration and confusion that won’t help you to be productive.

The good news is that organizing and maintaining your college notes is simpler than you imagine. The first steps may look hard, but you can see the immediate results. Not all people are natural-born organizers, but they surely can become ones.

Here are some pro-tips that can change your life and make it easier to get through college.

Do Not Multitask

The biggest disclaimer we have for becoming more organized is: avoid multitasking.

Even when we understand why multitasking is harmful, we keep doing it. It is time to acknowledge that to become a better essay writer and student, you have to review your habits. It is hard to get rid of the patterns we are used to, but your future self would definitely say thank you.

  • Create a comfortable space for studying.
  • Stick to your calendar and schedule.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone when working.
  • If possible, turn your phone off at all.
  • Try to study without a TV or music in the background.
  • When making notes, focus on keywords and main ideas.
  • Practice: write down the main idea of the article you just read in the magazine or summarize the topic of the news.

Tidy Up

The order begins with your room and home. If you struggle with organizing your notes, you are living in the creative chaos surrounding you. First of all, clean your room, organize your books, and get rid of something you no longer need.

Our mind is quite flexible, and you can be fine with the messy environment. However, if you constantly neglect the disarray, it starts to disrupt your everyday routine. So, it’s time to make your working space the place where you feel encouraged to work.

Start With Calendar

Have you ever wondered where all your time goes and why you can’t finish anything? The answer lies in the human brain’s inability to work effectively with abstract ideas. Some people create storyboards; others write down their schedules or set voice reminders for themselves. The choice depends on how you perceive the world.

It is as easy as ever to create a comprehensive schedule with modern technologies. There are plenty of productivity apps with desktop versions that have a comfortable design and user-friendly interface. Apps are more convenient as you can set audio and visual reminders for completing all tasks in time.

On the other hand, if you are a fan of old-school notebook writing, you are most welcome to start planning your whole day. Get a notebook with a design that will make you happy. Never toss it to a shelf where you will hardly see it; leave it near your laptop.

In such a manner, it will be harder to procrastinate when you know exactly what you have to do today at a certain time. The calendar is a productive alternative to abstract to-do lists, which still may be created for your hobbies and other activities.

Sort Your Notes

Since many study materials are now digitized, you may need to dedicate a separate disk or folder in your Google Drive just for them. The same goes for your notes.

You should make everything as obvious as possible, naming each file appropriately. Use the course name, topic, and date for indicating what this document is about. Otherwise, you would spend extra time figuring out what “Paper 11” stands for. It’s a bit of work, but after it, everything will be clear.

So, remember key things for sorting out your digital notes:

  • Have a separate folder or disk specifically for your studies;
  • Create separate folders for each subject you have;
  • Use apps that can ease your time reading and making notes, such as GoodNotes and Evernote.

If you have physical copies of necessary notes or you like to work with notebooks, use color stickers and separate journals for each subject. Clean up a shelf specifically for your study materials; don’t put your notes randomly all around the house.

Never be afraid to ask for help. As you figure things out, don’t leave your tasks unattended. If you feel pressure, you may also cooperate with the best essay writing service to lift some stress off your shoulders.

Wrapping Up

It seems hard to get a grip on the fast-running train named College. We have described all things you should check before organizing your notes. If you manage to do your chores and you have nothing to worry about, it becomes easier to focus on your studies.

Last Updated: February 14, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by David Jia. David Jia is an Academic Tutor and the Founder of LA Math Tutoring, a private tutoring company based in Los Angeles, California. With over 10 years of teaching experience, David works with students of all ages and grades in various subjects, as well as college admissions counseling and test preparation for the SAT, ACT, ISEE, and more. After attaining a perfect 800 math score and a 690 English score on the SAT, David was awarded the Dickinson Scholarship from the University of Miami, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Additionally, David has worked as an instructor for online videos for textbook companies such as Larson Texts, Big Ideas Learning, and Big Ideas Math.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article has 15 testimonials from our readers, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 315,638 times.

Taking notes and keeping them organized is an important part of the schooling and the work worlds. You’ll need organized notes for studying, writing essays, keeping track of work decisions, and your assignments. Keeping them organized will not only help you with these tasks, but it will also help you remember your material easily. In this wikiHow, you will learn how to keep track of and organize your notes.

If you are new to 52 Weeks of Organizing, catch up here!

I blogged about this tip previously but it’s so important I’m doing it again!

As you know, while in Ontario visiting my family, I helped my sister and brother in law do a lot of organizing. I’ll talk more about that next week but today I wanted to talk about a bad habit that I recognized in my brother in law that I know is very common for many.

Scattered and unfocused organizing.

It will get you into a whole pile of trouble.

Unless of course you have all the time in the world then don’t worry about it.

Except most of us don’t.

We find pockets of time here and there to organize our spaces. Nothing wrong with that.

Except when we don’t focus on the area at hand and instead find ourselves here there and everywhere leaving a trail of disorganization behind us.

Scattered organizing will get you nothing but one great big mess.

I can’t even tell you how many times I had to say to my BIL, “focus, stay focused”. He was all over the place moving from one room to the next organizing a little here and a little there (he really really loves to organize so for him he just kept getting ahead of himself). Things quickly get out of hand this way.

It’s not effective.

It’s not productive.

It can be overwhelming.

And it’s very very common.

Focus –> F reedom O ut of C uring the U rge to S catter

It happens so easily. You start organizing in one room when you find something that belongs in another room. You go to put it away in that space and realize you should actually deal with the toys scattered all over the bedroom floor but that means you need to rearrange the room. You then realize you are missing a piece to one of the toy sets so you head over to the living room to find it. Your eyes land on the piles of paper on the coffee table and you immediately forget about the toy reorganization when you remember you need to sort these papers out in order to find the bill you know needs to be paid. You’ve got papers scattered all over the floor when you have to go the bathroom. Once in the bathroom though you see your hair products scattered all over and decide you simply must do something about that asap. And on and on it goes. As you can imagine the path of destruction by this time is totally out of hand. You feel like a failure and beat yourself up.

There is a cure for this.


Start a task and finish it before moving onto the next. This is why throughout this 52 weeks series I have emphasized setting smaller task goals that can be completed in reasonable and practical amounts of time. Never say to yourself “I need to organize my playroom today”. Break it down to manageable steps…I need to organize the Polly Pockets, I need to organize the Lego, I need to organize the dress up clothes, I need to buy x, y and z, etc.

Always have a container near you for items that need to be relocated elsewhere and toss things into that rather than moving it right then and there. At the end of your time, relocate all items at once. It will not only save you time but your sanity as well.

In order to motivate yourself to continue you need to see that you are making progress and you can’t do that if you never allow yourself to complete any one task.

Don’t be a scatter pants.


Be mindful of this pattern of behavior this weekend and see if any of it rings true for you. Making this one little adjustment might be just the mental shift you need to stay on track and get things done.

You can do it! Don’t forget to let me know how you make out.

Please feel free to share your organizing journey and encourage one another in the comments. You are also invited to link up to the linky below with any posts related to your 52 weeks of organizing participation or to any post of an organizing nature that you feel will inspire and encourage others in their quest to get organized. Please remember to link back to here though so we can reach out to as many people as possible in need of some inspiration.

One other thing to consider: by including your link below you, you are giving me permission to use parts of your post including pictures as a spotlight in future 52 Weeks of Organizing posts. Proper credit and links will of course be provided. If you are not okay with this please do not link up. Thanks!

How to organize notes and stop feeling scattered

Scattered thoughts can make you feel confused and out of sorts. In fact, they can totally disrupt your day and prevent you from getting anything done. When you have so many different thought s swirling around in your head, it’s hard to keep track of what you’re supposed to be doing.

Have you ever arrived somewhere only to realize you had no idea how you got there?

Have you ever laid something down and a few minutes later have no idea where it is?

Have you had a conversation with someone and later have no idea of the main points you covered?

Or have you worked on a project at your desk and repeatedly interrupted yourself by checking emails, your calendar, or going to the kitchen for a snack?

Do these questions resonate with you?

If so, you’re not alone. The average person has about 48.6 thoughts per minute. This constant barrage of thoughts prevents us from staying focused on our tasks at hand. Consequently, we arrive at the end of our day exhausted and wonder what if anything we have accomplished.

We can’t really stop the thoughts from coming into our brain, but we can control how we handle them and give our productivity a boost.

Here are 4 things you can do to focus your scattered thoughts:


Make a list of what you want to accomplish in a day. Be mindful of what is really important at this point in time and choose 3 to focus on. Schedule a time to work on them on your calendar. Break down the tasks into small components and concentrate on them for 15 to 20 min. Set a timer. During that time if an email reminder comes in or a thought unrelated to the task pops into your head, make a note of that interruption and then just let it go. Turn your focus back onto the task at hand. Don’t try to speed things up in order to save time. This just makes you think of what you need to do next. Your brain needs to focus on what is in front of you now.

Take breaks

After your timer goes off take a break. Every 15 to 20 minutes take a five-minute break to stretch your legs and clear your mind. Drink some water. Look at cat videos. Do a breathing meditation. Do whatever refreshes you. Use a timer and at the end of your break, resume your task. After about an hour of this cycle, take a longer break. Refresh yourself and clear your mind.

Heighten your awareness

When taking your breaks be aware of your body and your surroundings. As you sit, are you relaxed in your chair or are you holding your body tight? As you drink your water or other beverage, how does it taste? How does it feel in your mouth? Are you feeling warm or cold? Do you feel a breeze? What are you hearing?

Practicing mindfulness allows you to have more control over your stress and emotions. Reflect on how you are feeling and what you want to change. You will be in a much better place to return to your tasks.

Utilize routines

Some sources suggest that we make 35,000 choices a day. While that number seems very high, let’s acknowledge that we make a very large number of choices every day. The more routines we can put into place, the less decisions we must make. Do I get out of bed at 5:00 am or 7:00 am? Do I shower now or in the evening? What do I eat? Should I do the laundry today?

If you have a set time to get up and a set time to shower, you don’t even have to think about it, you just do it. If you have planned your meals, you just eat and move on. If you always do your laundry on Saturday, you don’t have to make that decision over and over. Utilizing routines will eliminate some of those thoughts that interfere with your getting your priorities done.

A cluttered racing mind full of scattered thoughts will leave you overwhelmed and unable to focus. Slow down, simplify your day, reduce your choices, let some things go and you will find that you actually accomplish more, know what you’ve accomplished, and will still have some energy at the end of the day.

Try these tips I’ve shared with you. Feel free to reach out to me for more personalized help or join our clutter support group: Clear Space for you. Click here for information about this semi-private support group.

Reap the benefits of technology while still feeling like a traditional scribe.

By David Nield February 12, 2021

This post has been updated. It was originally published on 12/9/17.

It’s easier than ever to jot down digital notes on computers and phones, but many people still prefer the traditional feeling of writing with ink on paper. (After all, this method served us well for hundreds of years of human history.) The problem is that you can’t organize and search through handwritten notes the way you can with files on a digital device.

Or can you? A number of smart devices offer to digitize your scribblings, either as you write or shortly afterward. In addition to storing images of your notebook pages in electronic form, some of these hardware and software packages actually convert your writings into searchable text. Here are four of our favorite systems for converting handwritten notes to text, along with some simpler app-only solutions.

Moleskine Smart Writing System

Notebook maker Moleskine has a three-part system for saving your scribbles: a Bluetooth-enabled pen records your hand motion as you write, special dotted paper (available in a variety of sizes) helps track the position of the pen on the page, and an app (for Android, iOS, and Windows 10) combines this input to create and digitally manage copies of your notes.

The app is smart enough to convert your scribbles into a readable, searchable Microsoft Word file. If you’d prefer to stick with the handwritten version of your notes, you can make their appearance more readable by adjusting the thickness of the ink lines. No matter how you choose to keep your writing, the app lets you organize, tag, and export it to services such as Google Drive, the Apple Notes app, or an email client.

In another perk, you don’t need to keep your phone or computer nearby as you write—the pen alone can store roughly 1,000 pages of notes in its onboard memory. When you do have a chance to transfer this information to the app, the pen’s memory will reset so you can fill it with another 1,000 pages.

All of these smarts come at a price. Together, the notebook and pen cost $260 on Amazon, although Moleskine throws in the apps for free. If you run out of paper, each extra notebook will cost you between $9 and $30 or more, and ink refills have a price of $8 or more for a pack of 10.


The Livescribe system works similarly to Moleskine’s: you write on dotted paper with a smart pen, and an app digitizes this input. However, it gives you more options than the previous system, starting with its two pen models: the Symphony, which syncs with a phone app (for Android or iOS), and the 8GB Echo, which plugs into a computer (either Windows or macOS) with a USB cable.

Both Livescribe pens can save digital notes on their built-in storage until you have time to sync. When you do export your writing, you can do so in the form of PDFs or images.

While they share these abilities, each model has its own advantages. The Symphony ($110 on Livescribe’s website), like the Moleskine pen, has handwriting recognition that can convert your scribblings into text, allowing you to search through your notes for specific words and phrases. You can also automatically sync your files with your preferred cloud storage service. The 8GB Echo ($190 on Livescribe’s website), meanwhile, benefits those who like to keep audio recordings as well as written notes. Not only can it record clips through a built-in speaker, it can play back your written notes in audio form if you tap it against the paper.

When you add the cost of your chosen pen to the cost of a notebook, Livescribe’s overall price winds up slightly lower than Moleskine’s. Its gridded notebooks’ prices start at about $10, or you can print out a free template to make your own dotted sheets. Ink refills will set you back about $7 for a pack of five.

Neo Smartpen N2

You may recognize the Neo Smartpen N2—Moleskine uses a rebranded version of the pen for its own Smart Writing Set. Both systems will provide the same kind of tracking and technology, but because N Notebooks (the Neo’s version of the required dotted paper) have a price range starting at just under $15, the Neo’s overall cost is slightly cheaper.

Many of the Moleskine Smart Writing set’s features also apply to the Neo. The $169 Smartpen N2 can hold around 1,000 pages of notes. Once you sync them with the app (for Android and iOS), you can tag and organize them, adjust the color and thickness of the ink lines, transform them into searchable text, and share them in formats including GIF, PNG, and MP4 on social media.

Even ink refills have the same cost as they do for the Moleskine system: about $9 for a 10-pack. The big differences come down to which color scheme you want for your pen and which type of notebooks you prefer to write in and carry around.

Wacom Bamboo Smartpads

Graphic design giant Wacom has a slightly different system for digitizing your writing. Instead of buying or printing out a dot-gridded notebook, you simply clip paper to a pressure-sensitive pad that can detect the strokes of a specialized pen. The newest iteration of Wacom’s Smartpads, the Bamboo Folio ($150 to $200 on Wacom’s website), comes in two sizes: A4 (letter) and A5 (half-letter). You may be able to find another version, the Bamboo Slate, online at third-party retailers like Amazon, but it doesn’t appear to be available in Wacom’s store any longer.

To use a Bamboo pad, place some paper over it and scribble away with the pen. Your writing will sync with the app (for Android and iOS). From there, you can export your notes to writing services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, and good old-fashioned email.

Like other options on this list, Wacom can also turn handwritten notes into a searchable digital notebook. While your initial purchase includes a pen, refill, and paper, the key difference between the Bamboo Smartpads and the other solutions we’ve mentioned is that you can use any paper you like. While you do need to write with the provided pen, it uses a magnetic system rather than a built-in camera, so it’s slightly lighter than the others on this list.

Apps that can help with digital notes

While smart pens and pads can seamlessly digitize handwritten notes, you don’t need to purchase a pricey gadget to transfer your notes to your phone or computer. All you need is a free app.

Your most straightforward option is to simply photograph sheets of notepaper with your smartphone camera. Transfer these images to your computer through a cloud-storage program like Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud, and you can file and organize them however you like. Unfortunately, your camera can’t convert your notes to text. But other apps can.

For example, the note-taking service Evernote (for Android and iOS) can snap a photo of a handwritten page and transform the notes into digital, searchable text. While this option won’t be as clean or error-free as some of the dedicated products we’ve discussed, it does have the advantage of costing $0.

Microsoft’s OneNote performs a similar task: snap a page of scribblings through the app (for Android or iOS), and it will convert your handwriting into text—provided it’s legible enough for the software to understand.

In addition to converting your writing to electronic form, both Evernote and OneNote can help you organize it. You can categorize your digital notes with folders and labels, and export them as text and images to other apps.

1. Remember that the worst-case scenario probably won’t come to pass.

by Patricia Harteneck, Ph.D.

How to organize notes and stop feeling scattered

Racing thoughts—fast, repetitive thought patterns about a particular topic—are a common feature of anxiety and other mental-health disorders. But they can happen any time you are in an anxious or stressed state, even if you are not experiencing other symptoms.

Racing thoughts may be replays of past events which generated anxiety or sadness for you. They may also be worries about things that could happen in the future. They are strings of thoughts that are blown out of proportion, have a pattern, consume time, and often have no rational conclusion.

They can look like this:

“I always forget what I have to do. I’m so stupid. If I don’t remember everything, I’ll get fired. I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens. I should have taken that job I was offered six months ago. If I lose my job, I won’t have any money. I need to work longer hours to keep this job. That just makes me more depressed. I’m so miserable. What am I going to do?”

When thoughts like these flood your mind, they drain your energy, stop you from living in the present moment, and can create a loop in your brain that feels difficult to escape. They can also make it harder to concentrate and accomplish daily tasks, and impair your memory and sleep.

Having racing thoughts is often disturbing and frightening because it creates a sense of being out of control. But having racing thoughts does not mean you’re out of control or crazy. It does mean that you are anxious and that your stress level is higher than usual.

Here are some ways you can work to calm your mind and stop racing thoughts:

1. Use cognitive distancing.

Our mind usually worries about things it is convinced are true but, most of the time, are actually not true. You can balance your mind’s tendency to predict the worst outcome by coming up with positive alternative scenarios. For instance, your spouse seems distant and is sending out a lot of emails. You decide he must be having an affair. An alternative scenario: He is working extra hard on a project. Analyze what’s most likely to happen. Most of the time, the worst-case scenario your brain comes up with is not the most likely one.

2. Use a mantra.

A mantra is just a simple phrase or word that you repeat to calm your mind. Research has shown that repeating a mantra reduces activity in the part of your brain that is responsible for self-judgment and reflection. This is the part of the brain that spends so much time rehashing the past and worrying about the future. You can use any word, sound, or saying you want. You could try something like, “Om,” “Life is good,” or “Everything is OK.” Repeat your phrase over and over, focusing your thoughts only on your mantra. If your mind wanders, return to your mantra. You can practice this almost anytime, even going around the supermarket or on your commute home from work.

3. Focus on the present.

Returning your focus to the present will help you accept and let go of what you cannot control. It will also help you realize that you can’t change the past, and that the future hasn’t happened yet, so it’s a waste of time to keep thinking about them. (This doesn’t mean that you are unaware of what happened in the past or what is about to happen in the future.) Try taking a deep breath and asking yourself how you are feeling right now.

4. Write things down.

Putting your concerns on paper allows you to return to them later. You don’t have to dismiss them entirely, and you can feel comfortable knowing you will revisit the concern. Also, the act of writing engages your mind and reduces the power of racing thoughts. When thoughts are in your mind, they feel chaotic. Putting them on paper organizes them. Use a notebook or a designated computer document. Once you’ve taken a few minutes to organize your thoughts on paper or onscreen, your mind should be calmer. If you want, set aside a time limit for thinking about them before taking a break and coming back to them later.

5. Breathe.

This shifts the fight-or-flight response of your sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Try counting to 3 as you breathe in and to 5 as you breathe out. Pay attention only to your breathing as you try to slow it down. Your mind will wander, but just bring it back to your breathing. (See more tips on breathing exercises here.)

It takes time to develop new habits. Whichever of these tools you use, it will take regular practice over a long period of time to see results. Unfortunately, many people expect the effects to be immediate and abandon the practice too soon. Instead, be consistent and patient. And If you find that you are not able to get racing thoughts under control, consider consulting a mental health provider. Anxious thoughts can be part of a mental health disorder that professionals can treat effectively with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.