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 notes; 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 (Write notes for yourself by default, disregarding audience).
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.
PS: My work is made possible by a crowd-funded research grant from my Patreon community. You can become a member to support future work, and to read patron-only updates and previews of upcoming projects.
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 notes are written and organized to evolve, contribute, and accumulate over time, across projects. This is an unusual way to think about writing notes: Most people take only transient notes. That’s because these practices aren’t about writing notes; they’re about effectively developing insight: “Better note-taking” misses the point; what matters is “better thinking”. When done well, these notes can be quite valuable: Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work.
It’s hard to write notes that are worth developing over time. These principles help:
This concept is of course enormously indebted to the notion of a Zettelkasten. See Similarities and differences between evergreen note-writing and Zettelkasten.
Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers.
Many students and academic writers think like the early ship owners when it comes to note-taking. They handle their ideas and findings in the way it makes immediate sense: If they read an interesting sentence, they underline it. If they have a comment to make, they write it into the margins. If they have an idea, they write it into their notebook, and if an article seems important enough, they make the effort and write an excerpt. Working like this will leave you with a lot of different notes in many different places. Writing, then, means to rely heavily on your brain to remember where and when these notes were written down.
Luhmann, N. (1992). Communicating with Slip Boxes. In A. Kieserling (Ed.), & M. Kuehn (Trans.), Universität als Milieu: Kleine Schriften (pp. 53–61). Retrieved from http://luhmann.surge.sh/communicating-with-slip-boxes
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.
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
In part because Note-writing practices provide weak feedback, people don’t even notice how ineffective their 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”