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note-taking process

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My process for taking a typical note typically follows three stages:

  1. Quoting and referencing: when I encounter a new idea that I’d like to learn more about, I’ll create a note with a quote from another source that I think explains the idea clearly, and often references to the sources where I first learned about it. The barrier to entry at this stage is intentionally low.
  2. Summarizing: If I am particularly inspired in stage 1, or I just continue thinking about the idea and want to come back to it, I will follow up by trying to express in my own words what the idea is, why it matters, and what other ideas it shines light on. Many notes won’t even make it to the stage, and that’s fine.
  3. Inter-linking: now that a concept is captured in, I can immediately see in the sidebar any other notes that may have referenced this concept by name. If so, I will use that as a launching-off point to explore how those notes are related. If not yet, then the next time I encounter this idea in another note it will show up in that note sidebar as a related concept, and I can explore the relation then.
  • Sasha Chapin cautions against letting note-taking become a crutch replacing creative output: “Getting lost in your knowledge management system is a fantastic way to avoid creating things.”
  • Sasha also makes the valid point that “Your natural salience filter is a great determinant of what’s most alive to you.” A tendency I try to avoid is leaving browser tabs open as reminders to take notes on something in the future. If I’m inspired to write about something now, I should, and if I’m not, I can trust that if it’s important it’ll come up again unprompted. Inspiration is not durable over time: I’ve learned that I can’t expect my future self to feel inspired by something that inspired my past self.