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Overview of my semi-zettelkasten notetaking system

I usually don't write about notetaking systems, but when I do, I usually broke the internet. (haha). Here is an overview of my system of capturing what I am learning.

Warning: You probably already know this, but your decision to use a particular notetaking app does not really substantially affect your productivity. But it's useful to increase that 10-15% productivity.

The overview of my notetaking system.

Fundamentally divided into two parts, On Living a Life worth Living and On Understanding the World

My index card system could be the most valuable asset I own. Which has around 391 notecards as of writing now. I have only counted permanent notes and excluded fleeting ones and those who belong to a particular project. I will differentiate them later in the essay.

The number of permanent notes produced each day is a great metric for measuring how much you have learned and understood. (Even Andy Matuschak would vouch for it). The reason being there is more effort needed to get done for a notecard to be considered as a permanent card.

Don't be confused by the Zettlekast method, in this system, I have mixed lessons I learned from Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte, How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens (affiliate link), Andy Matuschak's great archive of explanation, Robert Greene's way of research, and Ryan holiday's Notecard System and changed as per my need asked for. And I expect you to do the same.

If you are thinking of setting of categories in starting then this is a top-down method of organization. Which I don't found helpful. We implicitly learned this from school as we have to sort them out by subjects. Any connection between them is discouraged. The reason why I don't follow this is that in the 'real world, it's far more useful to put your notes under the context not as per content for surprising insights.

A great exercise to do is this (learned from Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly). Rather than trying to find in which topic to add this, add it under the concept. Ask yourself, how you want your future self to stumble upon this note?

For writing individual notes, I won't get into huge details as it's an overview and another reason is Andy Matuschak has done a better job explaining this than I could ever.

Here is my own summary of how to take individual notes,

  • Each note should be fulfilled and completely explain what it says in the heading.

  • Heading should be a full sentence telling something important (conclusion or claim)

  • Each note that you write, when reread after enough time, must surprise you.

  • The body must contain full/enough that supports the claim you made in the title

  • Everything must be in your own words. Copying it is you are doing the work of a photocopying machine. Exception when there is a great quote. Think of it in this way, the author has already done the thinking, hence now you have to do your own thinking from all the lessons and experiences you already had and come to your own conclusion (agreeing or disagreeing). (The Intellectual Life by OP A. G. Sertillanges (affiliate link)).

  • Each note should not be directly related to any other note. This quality helps in being able to abstractly put it (or link it) anywhere you want. (Further reading: Heading should be API).

The reward

(Not sponsored by Pedigree)

The most rewarding thing is you can tangibly see your notes tsking your desk's real estate. I had 16,000 notes on Evernote but that didn't felt anything. But here merely 300+ notes now and seeing it getting filled one by one feels fulfilling.

And when you are trying to find and make connections, you can spread them on your desk (or floor, highly recommended, and turn off the fan) and can see your abstract thinking and insights that took you months to collect in front of you. This experience is beyond comprehension for me to explain and I want you to experience it atleast once.

Few comments about current Notetaking bumbo jumbo (rant alert)

I am aware of the dangers of trying to find a "perfect" note-taking system, an app. That mostly people more consider that rather than trying to find out what is working well in their unique workflow. This system works for me because I can afford to put all my notes offline. Maybe if you are operating as work from home, you might find it difficult to click picture of notes each time when sharing (or explaining or collaborating) with your coworkers. Hence this isn't for you.

This is why it's better to have a bad system than "non-because-you-are-busy-'researching'-a-perfect-system.

(rant end)

Thanks Bhalu to allowing me to use your food box


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