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A Second Brain: A Dip Into Note-Taking

After I begin to speak about notes with engineers, I typically get a mixture of confusion, pleasure, and worry. For some it reminds them of a previous taking biology notes at school. Writing stuff down however not getting something from it. For others it calls to thoughts an interviewer ominously typing. By no means figuring out what they’re recording or why. Possibly you’ve bought a pleasant sure journal and a pleasant pen you got. Pondering that is the time you’re going to get your note-taking-life collectively ultimately. And if you happen to’re something like me, it’s gathering mud as an alternative.

However I’m right here to inform you that you will discover a path that works for you about note-taking: It will probably grow to be a second mind for you. Even the venerable Albert Einstein when confronted with the truth that he didn’t recall the pace of sunshine stated “[I do not] carry such info in my thoughts since it’s available in books.” Why keep in mind what you’ll be able to write down?

(NOTE: There’s a lot right here! If this appears too scary to learn via fully, please soar all the way down to Placing it All Collectively: The Guidelines of Word-Taking. I’ll strive there to recap your entire publish in as few phrases as attainable. Begin there, and browse the remainder of the article when it doesn’t appear so ominous!)



Lose the Preconceptions

When beginning a follow of note-taking we first have to lose any kind of thought of what our resolution will seem like. There are lots of alternative ways to sort out this downside: bodily, digital, bullet journaling, zettlekasten, day by day planners, digital apps, all types of issues. Influencers will attempt to declare one methodology is superior to the others however we is usually a bit reductive and state the First Rule in Word-Taking.

1 – The very best note-taking methodology is the one that you just really stick to.

Like train consistency will yield higher outcomes than bursts of effort. Whereas it’s good to discover several types of note-taking – and the lure of shopping for a e book, pen, app or system that may resolve all of your note-taking issues is actual – don’t get too connected to a selected methodology. It’s best to discover the assorted choices with out getting too invested in them. You may need to run via the remainder of the steps on this article just a few instances to search out your proper methodology, adjusting and fascinated with your strategy every time. I attempted 5 totally different note-taking strategies earlier than I landed on my present methodology, and it’s best to possible anticipate to have the same journey.

(I shall be recommending components of the Zettlekasten Method of be aware taking, in addition to including my very own decisions for every of the steps beneath, however it’s best to really feel inspired to construct your personal resolution fairly than taking mine)



Resolve in your Medium

The primary important determination to make is deciding in your medium for taking notes. Your good selection right here is Digital or Analog, bodily or an app. This can be a query with out a proper reply and you’ll set up a correct follow with both. It’s going to be down to non-public desire so don’t really feel unhealthy chasing one thing that you just get pleasure from. That enjoyment will show you how to preserve your new behavior. In case you really feel good each time you pull out a journal and a pleasant pen use that enjoyment to tug it out extra persistently. If the digital construction and ease of use higher aligns along with your work life then use that to decrease the barrier to entry.

Someone taking notes on a computer

This brings us to the Second Rule of Word-Taking.

2 – Decide a way of note-taking that aligns along with your work habits and will increase the probabilities that you just’ll do it persistently; one that you just get pleasure from utilizing.

Consider the way in which during which you do work as nicely. Are you typically in zoom conferences, which could make bodily notes a clumsy expertise as you hunch over a pocket book? Are you on computer systems consistently, which might make an digital methodology simpler to entry? The extra aligned along with your manner of labor your note-taking methodology is, the extra possible we’ll fulfill rule #1 and use it persistently.



My Medium

For myself, I picked digital after attempting and attempting to get bodily to work. I wished to be the form of one that fills up journals with all types of knowledge however the period of time I spend in an digital medium meant that an app simply is sensible. I’ve my notes consistently up on display as I’m engaged on one thing at work, or in a gathering, so I can write down what I would like too. I ended up with Obsidian as my note-taking app of choice, because it permits me to work in Markdown, had backup/sync capabilities, and a few wealthy tagging/again linking (I’ll get into these later).



Set up Your Necessities / Objectives

Alright, we’ve picked a way, now we have to begin fascinated with why we’re taking notes within the first place. That may appear backward, however I’m of the opinion that the medium is extra essential. You’re already contemplating the targets of your note-taking follow when choosing a way, nevertheless it’s good to attempt to state some aims on the prime. Are you specializing in retaining info? Growing accountability for your self? Constructing connections between your day by day duties? Word-taking as a follow is a method to an finish, so understanding the tip is important to really constructing a follow that’s sensible.

An elegant goal planner notebook

So the Third Rule of Word-Taking is:

3 – Your follow ought to push you in direction of your skilled targets, so understanding them is vital to getting outcomes out of your notes.

As an train, write down the issues that you just assume that note-taking can resolve in your skilled life, as the subsequent two steps are going to rely instantly on this info. It’s okay to begin small, and evolve your targets over time. Even a single purpose or goal will meaningfully form your note-taking follow in a manner that may present steering for the construction of your notes. If accountability is essential to you, then holding a rolling record of TODOs may be your most essential factor. In case you’re involved with recording info, recaps or crosslinks may be an important factor.



My Necessities

For me there have been two essential issues: I would like to enhance my very own accountability to duties I decide to, and I wanted to have the ability to observe all kinds of knowledge throughout totally different groups I handle. I typically have my fingers in lots of pies at any given time (don’t put your fingers in pies, gross) and so I’ve to have rolling day by day TODOs along with particular sections and tags in order that I can perceive what’s occurring with my groups, and have historic context for them. When coping with 30+ folks at anyone time, that sense of “what I’ve dedicated too” and the historic context of every workforce is important to attaining my targets.



Discover a Cadence or Schedule to Information You

Now that we now have our methodology and targets, it’s time to really decide to one thing. Like going to the fitness center, one of the best ways we will make it a daily follow is to ensure that we’re participating with it on a daily cadence. So the Fourth Rule of Word-Taking is simply an extension of the primary rule of note-taking:

4 – Set up a cadence to your follow, and do your greatest to stay to it on daily basis.

This rule additionally accommodates our first corollary to a rule, which is like several follow, there are going to be instances the place you fail to keep up the cadence. You’re going to “fall off the horse” each every so often. It’s inevitable, so strive to not concern your self an excessive amount of with it. Don’t attempt to forestall falling off form, give attention to getting again into the behavior once more while you do fail.

A metronome and piece of music

Whereas there are extra sophisticated types of note-taking, like topic primarily based notes and Zettlekasten “On Demand Notes,” I are likely to give attention to day by day/weekly notes for inexperienced persons. Something much less common than that and your notes are possible going to be too massive to adequately parse or reference, and something extra common than that makes means the main focus is extra on the note-taking than the usefulness of the notes. I feel each strategies are high quality, it’s extra concerning the quantity of notes you are taking. Take loads of notes? In all probability day by day is your greatest approach to go. Solely jot down the essential stuff? You possibly can most likely give attention to weekly notes to seize and include all the things.



My Cadence

For me, day by day notes are important, as I take down roughly 1000 – 1500 phrases a day in notes. A single be aware like that I can scan and cross reference simply, but when I had weekly notes at 5000 – 7500 phrases per be aware? That simply brings again ugly reminiscences of writing essays in College courses. No thanks!

That’s the foundation of my note-taking follow, however I even have topic particular notes for particular folks, initiatives, and issues that I need to observe. The whole lot is cross linked from my day by day notes nonetheless, so it’s why I counsel it as your place to begin to your personal notes.



Resolve on a Format / Template to your Notes

We’ve bought our methodology, our targets, and our cadence now which implies we’re within the final step earlier than we really get to beginning to take notes, and we’ve additionally hit our first optionally available step as nicely! Relying on how skilled you might be with this course of, you would possibly perceive rather well what you need out of your notes. You would possibly have the ability to sketch out a doc template or format you might make the most of. And relying in your methodology/medium you would possibly have the ability to use a template construction to auto-format your notes for you as nicely. That is the Fifth Rule of Word-Taking:

5 – Construct a format that helps you accomplish your targets by laying them out clearly.

A mechanical template

A superb construction or format is one which if you happen to use it, you’ll be able to’t assist however accomplish your targets. When you have particular belongings you need to document (perhaps one thing like minutes to your groups’ day by day standup), then add these sections particularly to your templates and constructions. Use the ability of templating to make components of your note-taking habit-based fairly than one thing you must keep in mind to do every time. In his glorious e book The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande lays out how regularity and construction can act as a set of guide-wires for us, holding us on observe even after we neglect about them. Your codecs and templates ought to do the identical, clearly laying out the sections and components of your notes which are essential to you.



My Format

I’ve just a few issues that I need to cowl every day, and I’ve baked them into my day by day notes template in order that after I begin every days be aware, it’s already there current for me. Right here’s what’s in my notes:

  • Evaluation of Earlier Day (what did I do yesterday?)
  • Day by day Constant Actions (what issues do I need to do every day no matter what my day seems like?)
  • Day by day TODO (what do I’ve to do right now?)
  • Motion Objects for Tomorrow (what issues do I do know I can’t get completed right now, and should wait till tomorrow)
  • Day by day standup sections for every of my groups (what are we doing proper now? How can I assist?)

After which a remaining notes part detailing my ad-hoc notes throughout conferences or throughout the day. I take a **ridiculous* quantity of notes*, that’s simply what works with me working on the stage I’m at presently. For me, this second mind is extremely useful after I’m referencing work that we’ve completed over the previous quarter, or looking for the important context of a choice that was made months in the past. It additionally helps me construct a day by day follow of specializing in the issues I can really do right now, and sorting them into “At present” and “Tomorrow” which supplies a helpful framing for the day to return.



Construct Connections Between your Notes

GOOD NEWS EVERYONE! We are able to now begin really taking notes! We’ve bought our medium, targets, format and cadence outlined which implies it’s time to begin really taking notes. I don’t have any actual recommendation on taking notes, save the corollary rule about forgiving your self while you inevitably fall off the horse. When you’re taking notes it’s actually essential to keep in mind that the purpose is to not merely write down all the things that occurs in your day fairly to trace essential info and make a simple to reference log of your work which you could return to when wanted. For this, making connections goes to be key.

An Image GIF of my notes being created in Obsidian

(As my notes (blue) are added to Obsidian, you’ll be able to see how they affiliate withtags (brown) in my vault to construct linked graphs of knowledge!)

The Sixth Rule of Word-Taking is:

6 – Add as a lot contextual info as you’ll be able to via hyperlinks, tags, or classes.

That is normally best in a digital atmosphere the place, you’ll be able to hopefully make the most of your platform or app’s tagging, linking or classification options to begin to make connections between the notes you’re taking. You don’t need a e book that you must scan or learn with a purpose to pull out helpful info, the purpose is as an alternative one thing like a reference doc, the place associated issues are talked about, tagged, or linked too. The very best time to attract these conclusions is while you’re taking down the notes. Attempt to be aware another notes, tags or connections that may very well be helpful sooner or later. That manner, as an alternative of attempting to understand the whole lot of what you’re attempting to tug out of your notes (the context of a selected challenge for instance) as an alternative of attempting to determine all of the locations the place that info would possibly reside, you’ll be able to comply with the hyperlinks or tags to shortly summon up all the knowledge.



My Tags

For me, an important issues I’ve to concentrate to each day are the Individuals, Groups/Teams and Initiatives that I’m concerned with. For others, Applied sciences are essential however with that being so wound up in all the things I do, I discover that stage of knowledge is just not helpful to me. However, every time I point out an individual or workforce or challenge that I’m engaged on, I instantly use Obsidian’s tagging characteristic to make that the hyperlinks between these entities apparent. I can shortly and simply discover after I talked with an individual on which day, or what initiatives I labored on throughout a month, or what teams I work with most frequently. You possibly can see an instance of these connections within the above picture, as my work notes hearth right into a dense internet of tags that provides important context. Expertise is so cool!



Evaluation & Revise Your Methodology

So we’ve selected a format, we’ve began drawing connections and taking notes. If you would like, this may be the tip of your journey with note-taking, however an much more thrilling follow lies simply across the bend as soon as we flip a follow right into a craft. When you’ve had a while to begin working in your note-taking follow you’ll begin to uncover it’s tough edges. Possibly you don’t want as a lot element in your templates, perhaps you want extra. Maybe while you laid out your targets, you didn’t understand that one thing you thought was extremely worth in your day by day life as knowledgeable was now not related along with your new job title. There are many explanation why a follow ought to evolve over time, and in doing so you’ll be able to elevate your follow right into a craft with the final and remaining (Seventh) Rule of Word-taking:

7 – Evolve and Develop your note-taking follow over time by consistently revising your cadence, templates, and targets as your job evolves.

Scrabble tiles spelling

I don’t assume this must be as structured a follow as note-taking as an entire, however it’s best to usually make small and enormous tweaks to how you are taking notes. You possibly can typically use skilled demarcations like a promotion or job title change to additionally evolve how you are taking notes, since these will typically end in totally different duties to these you had earlier than. These types of huge course corrections would possibly contain one thing main like a cadence change if you end up in want of day by day and never weekly notes, however additionally they may be small tweaks. Don’t be afraid to vary one thing that you just really feel doesn’t work, as keep in mind in Rule One, the perfect note-taking system is the one that you just really stick to! If it’s not offering worth or sparking pleasure and delight, the percentages of you sticking with it are fairly slim. So tweak it, modify it, and course right it till you discover it really works for you.



My Word Taking Journey

About 5 years in the past I felt like I wasn’t conscious of issues to the extent that I wanted to be. Monitoring direct stories, initiatives, shoppers and applied sciences was changing into an excessive amount of, and I used to be already utilizing TODO monitoring apps (RIP Wunderlist) to attempt to handle that. I had seen coworkers and their very own note-taking methods, and tried in useless to reflect theirs in an try to seize their group and effectivity. It’s solely when I discovered my chosen medium of Obsidian about 3+ years in the past that it began to click on for me, and I discovered one thing that labored. From there I began a day by day notes follow, captured extra than simply my skilled life in it (it really works nice for Tabletop RPGs too!), added in constant day by day actions, accountability frameworks, and added complete tagging to tie all of it collectively.

And on no account am I completed both. My note-taking has began to evolve nicely past day by day notes, and I now have 30 totally different templates for sorts of notes I absorb and across the day by day notes journal, and a number of different issues I observe in my private {and professional} life. The final time I modified my day by day notes template was (as I write this) actually yesterday, so whereas I’m additional down this path than you may be, I’m positively not on the finish.



Placing it All Collectively: The Guidelines of Word-Taking

Okay, so that you’ve caught with me as far as I rambled, let me try to corral all of this suggestions into one thing cohesive (I’m notoriously wordy) by stating once more the imperiously declared RULES OF NOTE-TAKING:

The Seven Guidelines of Word-Taking

  1. The very best note-taking methodology is the one that you just really stick to.
  2. Decide a way of note-taking that aligns along with your work habits and will increase the probabilities that you’re going to do it persistently; one that you just get pleasure from utilizing.
  3. Your follow ought to push you in direction of your skilled targets, so understanding them is vital to getting outcomes out of your notes.
  4. Set up a cadence to your follow, and do your greatest to stay to it on daily basis. (Concentrate on getting again into the behavior once more while you do fail)
  5. Construct a format that helps you accomplish your targets by laying them out clearly.
  6. Add as a lot contextual info as you’ll be able to via hyperlinks, tags, or classes.
  7. Evolve and Develop your note-taking follow over time by consistently revising your cadence, templates, and targets as your job evolves.

It’s essential to notice that the above represents my greatest try at capturing what it’s to have a mature follow with regards to recording info in your skilled life. Your first makes an attempt may not comply with all the above guidelines however hopefully they’ll present a information that will help you deepen your follow. Finally, the one essential guidelines is in the end the primary:

The very best note-taking methodology is the one that you just really stick to.

A hand giving a thumbs up in a bush. You got this!

Nothing in a note-taking follow is extra essential than consistency and simply doing it. If you would like a discount basement note-taking technique, merely discover a textual content editor that may auto-save for you, create a Notes.txt file in your desktop, and simply begin … writing stuff down. Critically, it’s simply that simple to begin. Write down what’s essential, what you don’t need to neglect, or what you need to keep in mind. Use it as a scratch pad and write down all the things you assume it is advisable. From that single solitary Notes.txt file will emerge your follow, what you care about, your template, cadence, hyperlinks and cross referential info.

So if it wants to begin easy and never all-encompassing begin there. As a result of a complete note-taking system will act as a secondary mind for you, serving to you retain observe of wonderful quantities of knowledge, element and context. It can supercharge your mind. However it will probably’t except you simply begin someplace. The very best time to begin one thing is 2 years in the past, the second greatest time is right now.



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