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My father loved to write crap down. He’d dream up some idea or another, and he’d jot it down in one of a half-dozen little notebooks he used to carry around with him. I remember one time as a kid when I asked him about something, and to answer me he produced one of his older notebooks. Hell, I can’t remember what it was I asked. But I clearly remember him ruffling through page after page of drawings and scribbles, trying to find the answer. He paused on one page, which contained a crude (but surprisingly precise) drawing of a suitcase with two different kinds of wheels on it. “I really should’ve done something about that,” he said, tacitly suggesting he’d scooped the originator’s patent.

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I tried to emulate him over the years, carrying around various cheap ringed notebooks like the ones he always stuck in his back pocket. The first real success I had at keeping a notebook long enough to reference it for information over a couple weeks old was with Moleskines. Since 2008 or so, though, I’ve gone mostly digital, snapping phone pics and doodling in various versions of electronic note-keeping apps.

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I’d love to tell you that one or the other of these methods is the complete awesome, but really they each offer some advantages — and significant disadvantages. One size definitely doesn’t fit all. So in classic Toolmonger form, I’m going to run down some of the options I’ve tried so far. If you find one that really works for you (or if you have better ideas than mine!) please share in comments. I’ll be watching.

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Read on past the jump for a comprehensive look at the options.

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Kid all you like about the anal among us labeling everything (including the label maker), but labeling your work makes life much simpler — especially when you return to a task months (or years) later and have to remember what the hell you were thinking the first time around. But those nifty electronic label makers have a serious flaw: they run out of batteries. And they’re expensive. And they tend to get dirty or damaged in the shop.

(Ok, that’s a couple of flaws. My bad.)

Label maker giant DYMO, already known to many Toolmongers (see TM’s earlier post on the DYMO Letratag), offers a solution I think sounds great: A truly simple write-on-it-yourself label dispenser.

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If you want to keep cords and cables from merging into a humongous serpentine mess, and if you like donuts or lazy river rafting, the Cordpro CP-100 may be right for you. Okay, it’s just a round yellow reel, but this is the beauty of it: no motorized parts, no complications — just a simple solution.

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Ever been in a shop where you’re completely lost unless you’ve memorized the unique location of every item? (If this is your shop, you don’t have to answer.) I admit to being a “cluttery” person, but the wisdom of more organized friends and, most importantly, a decent label maker, have saved the day more than once.

Electronic label makers like the Dymo LetraTag Plus LT-100T, shown above, are a good bet for organizing all those drawers, shelves, and buckets (think Mythbusters’ ever-present labeled boxes o’ stuff in the background). For around $30, the LT-100T is a solid, mid-range label printer that offers two-line printing, five fonts sizes, seven text styles, date stamps, a a graphical display to let you see it before you print it (some rolls of label tape can run as much as the printers themselves).

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