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 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.

👋 Andy (email, Twitter, main personal site)

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.

Last updated 2023-10-23.

Evergreen notes

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.

Implementing an evergreen note practice

See:


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.

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

Last updated 2023-07-13.

A writing inbox for transient and incomplete notes

Even if you aspires to write Evergreen notes, most notes begin as transient notes. You should be able to capture thoughts without friction (Close open loops), then reliably develop them into evergreen notes over time (Knowledge work should accrete). This implies two important mechanisms:

  1. a quick way to capture transient notes which clearly isolates them from evergreen notes; and
  2. a place to put notes you want to develop further and a practice which reliably drains it (Inboxes only work if you trust how they’re drained)

I use a “writing inbox” for this purpose. Undeveloped ideas, excerpts from my Daily working log, notes from reading, one-line prompts, etc all begin in that queue. During My morning writing practice, I’ll look through notes in this inbox and spend time developing any that strike me. On most days, I spend the majority of my writing time in this way.

Many notes in my writing inbox end up as evergreen notes, but that’s not appropriate (or possible) for all of them. If a note doesn’t seem sufficiently interesting after a few looks, it’s best to archive or delete it. (A challenge here: Triage strategies for maintaining inboxes (e.g. Inbox Zero) are often too brittle)

While I’m at my computer, I capture notes directly into my writing inbox. I also feed it with: Pocket memo pad to capture into writing inbox while out.


References

Building Blocks of a Zettelkasten • Zettelkasten Method

Last updated 2023-07-13.