I'm trying to improve my workflow, and one of the things I'd like to move away from is hardcopy logbooks. I find that, when I make a logbook, I never really use it, aside from as a coaster for my mug. I think the problem is that everything I do, I do on a computer. It's irritating to work on a computer, then stop and write something down that could as easily be copied from a file. What I'd like to do is start keeping digital logbooks.

I've used Evernote for this in the past, but I didn't really like keeping everything on a server like that. What I'd like to do is be able to have a project folder containing a nice hierarchy of directories containing things like design documents, schematics, source code, and the like, as well as one directory containing a project logbook. In this way, the logbook is integrated with the project the same way a git repository, for example, is integrated with the project. Does anyone have any recommendations for how I could do this?

Edit: I should clarify a bit. The project directory would exist, with or without the logbook. What I would like to use is something like a wiki or content-rich notebook that can be stored in it's entirety within the project directory.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I 100% follow, is there a reason the logbook just couldn't for instance be a word processor file that you dump your notes into? Then you could just use regular version control to keep track of everything. \$\endgroup\$
    – PeterJ
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 9:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ A regular word processor file would work, yeah. What I'm after, though, is something a bit more easy to scale, both in size and number of users. I edited the question a bit to reflect this. What I'd like is something that's easily searchable, for example, that I can impose some form of order on so it doesn't turn into one long document I can scroll through for ten minutes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 10:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ This issue usually hinges on protecting intellectual property. In countries where the first-to-invent owns an invention you need proof of when you had an idea...hand-written, dated, and witnessed log books are the best proof. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe Hass
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Microsoft OneNote is a good option \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoeHass, There are no longer any countries using a "first-to-invent" rule for patent priority. The US switched to "first-inventor-to-file" earlier this year. We only held onto "first-to-invent" for so long because of the wording of the Constitutional clause that authorizes the government to issue patents. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_to_invent) \$\endgroup\$
    – The Photon
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 15:24

3 Answers 3


I think this is a moving target, perhaps it always will be, because of the number of collaboration tools that seem to multiply daily.

Anything "cloud-like" can be an issue with IP and concerns about control and storing company information remotely. And some times there are contracts where you have to be able to prove access or inability to access (military, government etc.)

It has to work for the people involved, just like you are finding paper to be a break in the work flow, any new tool , even on the keyboard can be as intrusive to someone else. I've found that the tool that gets used, no matter how kludgy was the best one. Just make sure that the "database" is human readable and portable, so some sort of markup or markdown aspect, so that when you change and adapt things can be ported over.

What has worked well in the past is a combination of Wiki, bugtracker and SVN band-aided together. The bugtracker tied into the Wiki nicely and soon because a Incident, Idea and To-Do list. The Wiki took in extra documentation, *.pdf's, Notes, meeting minutes, pictures from white boards and SVN (I suppose now you'd use Git) was used not just for source code but even internal documents and revision control with log stamps (which are necessary for legal reasons).

Something that is browser based and able to re-sync upon attachment is advisable so you can work off line.

Most importantly it can't be a bureaucratic response i.e. "thou must write this way" rather it's better to say "You know that Jill likes to dump meeting minutes into the revision control, you like the wiki - make sure there are obvious links for her to find what you write and vice versa" what would evolve is that a top level calendar appeared with meetings and links to notes. And here a meeting might be two people brainstorming at a white board with pictures to an official launch meeting. If it was easy to use, people would gravitate to it. With different teams having different compositions it's hard to predict how to best compose the tools, so be flexible.

I've looked at Asana and various on line tools for remote collaboration and they seem to be too inflexible and the cloud aspect is an issue for security. Evernote is handy, so snipping clean shots and down loading to a local *.pdf to be dumped into a wiki seems to work best for the occasional web reference, I couldn't use Evernote for any other than just web snaps.

Huge design databases get siloed separately, but with repository information being dumped into wiki's via scripts for ease of search.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow. I step away from the computer for a few hours, and I come back to an essay. A lot of these ideas are what I'm looking for. I want that impromptu dirty method of adding material to the project log. It seems like this is a method that worked really well for you in the past. I'm really interested in implementing it, and seeing how it works for me. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Incidently, do you have any particular software recommendations? What kind of bug-tracker and wiki met your needs, for example? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well no actually, because ...things be a changing quickly. It's more about attitude rather than dogma, and I'm sure I remember every setup had at least once swapped out one wiki for another , or had two running at the same time. Bugzilla, ikiwiki .. apache bloodhood looks good. Tikiwiki, Moinmoin are some used, and SVN NOT CVS but sometimes Perforce. Now a days look for RESTful or SOAP I/F's and scriptability. A lot depends upon WHAT you are doing, SW, HW, Boards, Si etc. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 16:36

Maybe you could use something like Trac in conjunction with GIT.

If you don't care about keeping your files in the cloud I would recommend BitBucket, or if you are working on open-source projects there is always GitHub.

All of these options have issues tracker and wiki pages, and they can be very helpful in documenting your project.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm currently using Bitbucket for a few private repos, and I like the features they, as well as GitHub, provide for software development. I haven't used (or even heard of) Trac, before, and I'm interested in reading a bit more about it. I guess I haven't really given enough thought to whether I would prefer something integrating version control, wiki, and issue tracking, or if I would prefer keeping the log as a separable part of the project. Something to experiment with. Another thing to consider is how to handle things that don't play well with Git, like binary blob circuit diagrams. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I use Redmine instead of Trac for the simple reason that it supports multiple projects where Trac is single-project based. Redmine also works very well with many different revision control systems, where Trac is mostly tied to Subversion (I'm a fan of git). \$\endgroup\$
    – akohlsmith
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phox I don't mind what git does with with the binary files (just make a new commit when the file changes). Because the alternative is to do not have version control at all, so I prefer to keep with a debilitated GIT system. \$\endgroup\$
    – arthur.b
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @akohlsmith I haven''t heard of Redmine, it looks like a great tool, thanks for introducing it. That's why I suggested something like Trac :) \$\endgroup\$
    – arthur.b
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm a huge redmine fan. I run my consulting/contracting business on it, in fact. Tons of top-notch plugins as well. Vertical integration FTW! \$\endgroup\$
    – akohlsmith
    Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 17:49

I use My Notes Keeper to maintain information on my PC. You have tabsheets, but instead of a tabsheet being a single document, you can create a tree (like the folders in Windows Explorer) of rich documents for each tabsheets. Rich documents means formatted text, tables, hyperlinks and pictures. The tree allows you to structure more complex projects.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My Notes Keeper looks to be paid software, but searching for similar free software turned up a lot of options. Thanks for the tip. Maybe someone has some experience with WikidPad or KeepNote or similar? (Also, sorry, gotta wait for 15 rep before I can vote up.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 25, 2013 at 15:42

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