I hope you have all been well. This "wellness" thing is pretty serious. We should look into how it works and how we can rig life so that we have as much of it as the laws of nature allow.
I haven't written in a while and thought you might like an update.
I've been getting really into note-taking.
Did you know that you can get really into note-taking?
Smart notes are notes that make your life and work easier. Your thinking and decision making is outsourced to your note-taking system. As you read, watch and think, you always have a notebook handy taking bite-sized notes. Later you organise them. When you have to sit to write something, the research and thinking phase is already done.
The principles expounded by this book were initially used by the German Academic Niklas Luhmann. It was called "Zettelkasten". "Zettlel" is German for note, and "Kasten" is box. Much like the name, simplicity is key.
Niklas did something simple but extraordinary; he wrote his notes on small cards that he kept in two separate boxes. One was for sources; he would sum up a paper or a book in a few sentences on a single card which he would mark with a reference number. The other was for his original notes, in which turn would reference any source notes that they were inspired by.
The notes were short, written in full sentences and heavily linked to one another. Within the box, they were organised so that they could be accessed easily when he needed them. He considered his main work not to be the writing, but the thinking — writing was simply a way to communicate his thoughts. As he read, studied and thought, he would jot down any interesting ideas that came to mind and later on would transfer them to his note box system.
Have you ever had a thought and felt like you had to hold it in your mind long enough to act on it? Have you ever been on a roll with a project in such a way that you were afraid to stop as it would be hard to get back into it?
A lot of the stress from our minds holding and juggling all the things we are thinking about can be alleviated with an intelligent system.
As noteworthy thoughts came to mind, they were jotted down - wherever he was; he had his notebook. When he got home, he had the ritual of sorting through his scratch — a term for rough notes — filing the useful away in his system and trashing the rest. When it came time to start a project, the research was already done, and in fact, a lot of thinking tended to be done. It often then simply a matter of putting it all together.
When I was sending out letters every week, I would get wrapped up in my writing, but there was a fear in the corner of my mind that if I stopped, I would lose momentum, and I would lose the piece forever. If I didn't finish on Sunday, I'd wake up on Monday and spend another day. Sometimes I'd be writing non-stop like this for five days straight before publishing and sending out a letter. I would even delay eating or going downstairs to drink water out of fear of losing my train of thought. When this started becoming regular, I realised that the way I worked wouldn't be sustainable in the long run.
With smart notes, it is possible to be writing as you are thinking; there's no cost for switching between topics as your mind flutters to and fro. There's no need to pin the mind down to a single stream of thought until you have a piece ready to publish. Simply write down your interesting thoughts as they come, and worry about developing them into pieces later. There's a compounding effect as the more smart notes you write, the more sources you can draw from and the more links between your ideas you can recognise. Through finding the connections that the creative process can begin and having all your ideas organised in front of you is a powerful way to facilitate this.
I want to delve deeper into organising information and developing a note-taking system that can keep track of my ideas and free my mind for creative thought.
For now, however, I want to share with you two useful concepts:
Coined by Andy Matsuchak, atomic notes follow a simple principle. One note contains one idea. The word Atom, which has greek origins, implies that which cannot be divided further. Every idea you have has its own note and can be linked with others and reused in a myriad of ways.
The Cyprus tree stays green all year round. Evergreen notes stay fresh and remain helpful no matter how long they linger. To write an evergreen note, simply write it in full sentences targeted at a general audience unaware of its context. Not only will it be easier to build a published work, but years down the line, when you stumble upon the note, you will be that audience, and the note will remain valuable.
The best text editor of all time
I have replicated Niklas Luhmann's Zettelkasten system and much of the advice from Sönke Ahrens' smart notes digitally. I am using the knowledge management system and markdown editor Obsidian. It might have been a year ago when I was on the hunt for a new writing tool; I was looking for a clean, minimal, single-function text editor — it was during this time that one of my best friends told me about Obsidian. While I wasn't writing smart notes with it back then — I haven't looked back, it is without a doubt the best text editor I have used (and it is not even a text editor). All of you should seriously check it out.
(Yes, I'm aware I've written about it before!)
Here's a screenshot of this very note in Obsdian:
Before I go, I want to share with you some of the treasure I've found sailing these seas; my precious notes. All of these try their best to adhere to the principles above in that they are evergreen and atomic. Short, pithy notes that get to the point and can be the basis of future work.
Please enjoy them!
- A Good Explanation
- Conversation Culture
- Effective Altruism
- Evolution by Natural Selection
- Explanation vs Description
- How we know what we know
- Shamata vs Vipashyana
- The Feedback Loop of Learning
- The Problem of Induction
- The Scientific Method
Each of these notes explains a single idea I believe is worthwhile.
I would love to hear your feedback on these, as these concepts will become the building blocks of future pieces I write.
Also, if you have any questions about the note-taking system, please don't hesitate to ask.
As always, thank you for being interested in my work — all my thinking, note-taking and writing is worthwhile because it has the potential to benefit you.