What should you write about in your notes 📒
In previous posts, I’ve shared that I am an extensive note-taker. Since then people have curiously asked me about the sort of things on which I take notes.
Luckily for me, a few crucial things had already happened within my note-taking system leading up to this point thus allowing me to answer this question as follows.
Emergence of structure in the note-library
To begin with, I describe how I loosely organise my notes into clusters with links between related notes, considering that presently I have about 650 individual notes written over the period of about 2-3 years.
Borrowing the Maps of content method from the LYT Kit framework created by Nick Milo, in my own note-library I could identify clusters of notes and then connect them with related concepts and thoughts scattered across the rest of the library. This relationship was emergent from within the note library rather than a structure by design.
When you have a number of notes in the library, you will recognise the stage where the connections between individual notes becomes apparent.
There is no prescribed number of notes to be had before you can examine them for interconnectedness. You start when you notice the first connection and build from there onwards.
There is a great deal of benefit in connecting these notes with links to create a network structure within your library, the purpose of which is to allow the discovery of related pieces of information at the appropriate time when you need it for reference or inspiration. It allows you to think at a pace different to what is naturally possible inside your head. Read more about this and the concept of building a second brain by Tiago Forte.
In fact, there is a sense of organic growth that can be witnessed in this process which makes it quite resilient even in the face of changes to the underlying content as well as the objective with which you may write new notes.
The utility of this network grows as more notes are added and more context is baked in through meta-commentary and contextual links. This can potentially become the fuel for your life’s work, as evident from the story of Dr. Niklas Luhmann. In the book How to take smart notes, the Author Sönke Ahrens describes Dr. Luhmann’s career fuelled by his unique note-taking method known as Zettelkasten. His note-library became the source of new ideas and work, not just remaining as a log of his thoughts or merely the documentation of the work he completed.
The starting point
It is natural to wonder how does one get to the stage where you have enough notes in your library for an emergent structure to reveal itself.
The best way to reach this point is to just begin by writing notes to record your thoughts, questions, ambitions and motivations for future examination. This is in keeping with the famously profound view:
The unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates
With time and the consistent practice of writing notes, it becomes quite enriching to read notes from various periods in the past rediscovering who you were and how thought then. Having a curated note library brings with it a perspective which is scarce and valuable as It comes from your past effort to document your thoughts and it prepares you in the present for your actions.
And to reiterate, when you have a number of notes in your library, you will recognise the stage where the connections between individual notes becomes apparent.
Over time these note clusters have emerged in my library. They continue to grow and evolve with the addition of new notes and, more importantly, with the emergence of new connections or links among notes.
- my thoughts and experiences which I find amusing or valuable
- may include some comments and questions to think about
- permanent notes that explain a concept fully yet succinctly (borrowed from the book by Sönke Ahrens)
- usually contain technical information from a field of interest such as philosophy, law, management or technology
- units of knowledge that are updated incrementally when new relevant information is discovered
- essential meta-knowledge; usually about concepts
- notes about writers, content creators or distribution platforms
- things I want to learn, practice or create
- documenting my exploration of a new field or craft
- annual reviews, takeaways, expectations
- focus areas for the future
- personal core values
- rationale for selecting or eliminating guiding principles
- Intended for any process, task or thinking that I might find myself doing more than once
- created when a new project or process begins
- updated if there are material changes in the structure or new learnings along the way
This is merely the shape of the structure that is present right now and it has looked like this only for the past few months. Rest assured that this will change over time and that is fine.
These clusters are windows into my own thoughts from across time periods and they serve the purpose of surfacing the right thoughts and insights when they are needed. It is not perfect, but perfection is not the objective.
I’ve shared this with you only to illustrate my idea of personal knowledge management (with a lot of inspiration from many others) and hopefully leave you with a few ideas for your own PKM journey.