another very actionable inspirational nugget and article delivered to your inbox. Have fun!
Inspirational Nugget of the Week
Take Structured Notes
Recently, I've become a fan of taking structured notes, and I think you should, too (if you aren't already).
Structured Notes are a very powerful tool to increase your brain capacity (which I am desperately in need of), to become organized, and to reduce your stress level at the same time.
Let me tell you about my setup and what kind of notes I take and why it helps me in my every-day life.
I'm using Obsidian as a note-taking tool. It's a Markdown editor with benefits. It keeps track of links between Markdown notes in the same workspace and lets me tag certain notes to structure them.
I have all my notes in the same workspace. This allows me to do full-text searches across all my notes without switching workspaces. It also allows me to link from one note to another note in a different context. Combining notes from different contexts is where insights are generated!
Here are some of the different types of notes I'm taking:
A note for each person I'm interacting with. For each person, I keep a markdown file with notes about them. This can include the person's birthday, ideas for a birthday present (if they're family or close friends), things I want to talk about the next time we meet, ideas for feedback, which timezone they're in, any information that I want to have readily available the next time I talk to that person. Before a meeting, I pull up my notes to load this information back into my brain, and after a meeting, I update the notes. This gives me great context and enables thoughtful conversations.
A note for each workday. I'm not doing this consistently, but I probably should. For each day, I create a new markdown file to keep a journal of that day. At the start of the day, I note down the tasks I planned to do. During the day I add tasks that I did that were not planned. This way I get an overview of where I spend my time, which allows me to manage my time more consciously.
A note for each recurring meeting. For each regular meeting I participate in, I keep a markdown file with notes about that meeting. Every time I think of something that should be on the agenda of that meeting, I drop it into this file. During a meeting, I take notes about what we talked about. Often, I can later share these notes as meeting minutes with the other participants.
A note for each technology / tool / codebase I'm working with. For each tool, technology, or codebase I'm working with, I keep a markdown file with notes about it. These notes can be about how I solved a certain problem, or they contain tips and tricks that I used to be more productive. Later, these notes often turn into additions to a README file in a codebase, or into suggestions to the team owning the technology / tool to add some information to the official documentation.
A note for each idea that I learn from consuming information. When I read a book or an article or when I watch a talk, I take notes. I usually take these notes on paper and transcribe them into my digital notes workspace afterward. These notes are the source for my book reviews, this newsletter, or tweets. These kinds of notes are the fuel for my writing.
A note for each newsletter I'm writing. I'm actually currently writing this newsletter as a markdown note in my note-taking tool. I will later copy it into my newsletter tool. I keep all my newsletters in markdown notes, so I can search through what I've written and re-use them later to maybe publish them on my blog, or in a book.
These are the types of notes that help me considerably. These notes open up opportunities for me that I wouldn't have without them, because my brain would have forgotten important context information.
According to Daniel Kahneman in "Thinking, Fast and Slow", we have a limited "willpower budget" available to us every day (in my note of this newsletter, the term "willpower budget" links to my note about that subject, by the way). I'm convinced that the links between my notes and the full-text search allow me to conserve my willpower budget because I don't need to spend as much effort to load information into my brain when I need it after a context switch, for example. So, more willpower left over to do other focused work during the day!
The notes also increase my "surface area for luck". Through the connections in my notes and the fact that I look through parts of the notes every now and then, I see things that I wouldn't see otherwise, creating opportunities I wouldn't have without my notes.
If you're interested in more about the topic of taking notes, have a look at the book "How to Take Smart Notes" (it's targeted at academic writers and is a bit repetitive, but it gives some good input on taking notes).