Taking Better Notes

I recently finished How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens after hearing about it from Cal Newport who discussed this as a book he read in January 2022. I’ve gone through various forms of note taking, but I hardly ever go back to them and put them to use. I’ve found my memory holds up much better if I write notes in the moment, and will generally only go back to them if significant time has passed. This is proven by looking at my Notion account and how these are organized top to bottom, rather than bottom up to let the ideas flow. For example, I have a page for Incident Response notes, and a bunch of sub-notes in there, but do not have the potential connections between a sub-note in the Incident Response section and, say, highlights extracted from a book about leadership. Surely there are ideas that would relate those two topics, but I did not design the system to allow for those connections.

The concept of taking the notes with the intention of going back to them to feed a web of knowledge never occurred, but I am excited about the idea of externalizing my thoughts to eventually turn them into something productive. Maybe I can even get back to a regular cadence of posts here.

I am hoping to ride the wave of excitement after finishing this book to start building my slip box with intention. To do so, I’ve decided to change up my toolset to get a true blank canvas. I decided to jump into the initiative using Obsidian. If you haven’t used Obsidian before, I highly recommend you check out this “Obsidian for Beginners” playlist by Linking Your Thinking.

I was first exposed to Obsidian at work when a colleague read and shared the “OBSIDIAN, TAMING A COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS” blog post, and started building out our own internal SOPs and documentation in a vault that was kept in sync through a private GitHub repository. I’ve extended this to a personal vault following the same concepts, allowing for notes to by synchronized across multiple devices, though you can also opt to pay for the Obsidian sync option for $8/mo if you’d prefer to not configure your own backups.

Now that the structure is in place, I am slowly going back through old Notion and either bringing in the notes I had in there with thoughtful notes, tags, and links added as I go. In addition to carefully clearing out the digital backlog of notes and bringing them into this organization, I am planning to be more intentional about reviewing my hand-written notes and adding them with the relevant context where appropriate.

If you want to take a look at the high-level concepts and some of the other tools available for implementation you can check out https://takesmartnotes.com/.

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