Thursday 20th August 2020
I wasn’t feeling at my best today and so I spent bits of the day working on organising my notes.
Effective notetaking is something I’m very interested in. What’s the best way to distil any piece of learning into something I can refer to for future recall? I see videos of people with these beautifully formatted notes and think A) They look wonderful B) How have they the time to do that?
As much as I want my notes to look beautiful, I’d rather find a happy medium where they are understandable but quickly generated. And so I’m slowly learning not to worry about my ugly notes and not get sucked into a rabbit hole of gloss.
Historically, I’ve not been a great one for notes. I was very much of the belief that storing ideas in my brain was a good filter. The good ones would be remembered, the crap ones would be forgotten. However, I started by keeping a document of ideas for novels and short stories.
We live in a digital age and so I adopted digital notetakers. I very much like the idea of being able to work from anywhere so cloud-based tools that allow me to write and take notes are vital to me.
I started with Evernote and I really struggled with it. The problem with digital notetakers is that they are very much a tool. They won’t tell you how to structure your notes and so at first that can be very disconcerting as you aren’t sure how you should be using it. It’s similar to Scrivener in that respect.
With my work I’ve done on managing tasks, I came up with a number of key areas of my life to act as categories. This has all the usual ones of health and house, but has some more specifics such as fiction and non-fiction. Writing projects become sub-categories.
It made sense to mirror this with my notetaking and so whilst I’ve looked at PARA (Projects / Areas / Resources / Archives) structures to organise my notes, I’ve instead followed the structure of my task management. It works out similar to PARA but not identical.
Once I had that structure it became a little more obvious of notes I should keep. In my move to a digital-anywhere setup to my work, I had moved a lot of documents to shared spaces so I could access them remotely. However, a lot of these documents would work better as notes and so I moved them into my note-taking system. With more apps coming onto the market it’s now possible to have databases and linked documents, so over time I’ve found more and more things that were once separate documents going into my system.
The major exception here are notes related to a manuscript. Chapter Plans, notes on changes, and the like all go into Scrivener’s metadata. I use a versioning system with novels so that if I do need to refer back to an older version I can just load up the file.
The most recent edition to my notes was adding goals and planning. I basically take a couple of yearly goals, break them down into Objectives, then into tasks. On top of this I have review templates for every quarter, month and week. The idea is very much to tackle the tasks on a weekly basis so they feed into Objectives over the months and in turn into completed goals over the course of a year.
I’m still learning this, and don’t feel I’ve fully mastered this yet. My task management is done in a separate app and whilst I’ve tried to migrate it across, it doesn’t work. If I could get some way to tie them together I’m sure everything would click. That said, just being able to start the week with an idea of what I need to accomplish, gives me enough focus to then go into my Task Management apps and set things up for the week ahead.
The idea is that my notetaking transforms from something passive (it is written down so I don’t forget) into a knowledgebase that I use to drive progress.
With my structures in place, I’ve now started filling out some of those areas, particularly around learning. As I look to improve my craft, I’ve started adding notes where before I might have just bookmarked a Youtube link.
I’ve also started worrying less about lovely looking notes, and worried instead about producing practical that future me can glance at and digest in a couple of minutes.
I still feel I’m doing notetaking all wrong, but it’s actually quite amazing to take a step back from the work I’ve done over the last couple of years and see the progress that’s been made.
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