About these notes

Hi! I’m Andy Matuschak. You’ve stumbled upon my working notes. They’re kind of strange, so some context might help.

These notes are mostly written for myself: they’re roughly my thinking environment (Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work; My morning writing practice). But I’m sharing them publicly as an experiment (Work with the garage door up). If a note seems confusing or under-explained, it’s probably because I didn’t write it for you! Sorry—that’s sort of an essential tension of this experiment.

For now, there’s no index or navigational aids: you’ll need to follow a link to some starting point. You might be interested in §What’s top of mind.

👋 Andy (email, Twitter, main personal site)

PS: My work is made possible by a crowd-funded research grant. If you find these ideas interesting and want to see them developed further, please consider becoming a micro-grantmaker yourself on Patreon.

PS: Many people ask, so I’ll just note here: no, I haven’t made this system available for others to use. It’s still an early research environment, and Premature scaling can stunt system iteration.

Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work

If you had to set one metric to use as a leading indicator for yourself as a knowledge worker, the best I know might be the number of Evergreen notes written per day. Note-writing can be a virtuosic skill, but Most people use notes as a bucket for storage or scratch thoughts and Note-writing practices are generally ineffective.

A caveat: “Better note-taking” misses the point; what matters is “better thinking”


References

Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers.

If writing is the medium of research and studying nothing else than research, then there is no reason not to work as if nothing else counts than writing.

Focusing on writing as if nothing else counts does not necessarily mean you should do everything else less well, but it certainly makes you do everything else differently. Having a clear, tangible purpose when you attend a lecture, discussion or seminar will make you more engaged and sharpen your focus.

Even if you decide never to write a single line of a manuscript, you will improve your reading, thinking and other intellectual skills just by doing everything as if nothing counts other than writing.

Note-writing practices are generally ineffective

Knowledge work should accrete, but Most people take only transient notes.

In part because Note-writing practices provide weak feedback, people don’t even notice how ineffective they’re note-writing practices are. They develop some baseline level of note-writing skill and mostly stay there (People generally develop skills to a plateau and then stop). Expert performance is not well-defined, so it’s not obvious that people aren’t performing well (Salience of improvement drives skill development). All this is true of other core knowledge work skills, too: Core practices in knowledge work are often ad-hoc.

Much of what’s written about trying to improve these practices is misguided: “Better note-taking” misses the point; what matters is “better thinking”

By contrast: Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work

Most people take only transient notes

In contrast to Evergreen notes, Most people use notes as a bucket for storage or scratch thoughts. These are very convenient to write, but after a year of writing such notes, they’ll just have a pile of dissociated notes. The notes won’t have added up to anything: they’re more like fuel, written and discarded to help the author process their ongoing experiences.

Fleeting notes are valuable scratchpads to temporarily support working memory, but Knowledge work should accrete, so we should view them as “messy-thought” inputs for the “neat-thought” notes they’ll inform (Khoe).

This is one reason why Note-writing practices are generally ineffective.


References

Khoe, M.-L. (2016, December 21). Messy thought, neat thought. Retrieved September 17, 2019, from Khan Academy Early Product Development website: https://klr.tumblr.com/post/154784481858/messy-thought-neat-thought