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.

The mnemonic medium can be extended to one’s personal notes

In using a Spaced repetition memory system, you’ll fill it with notes on what you’re learning, observing, and thinking. Unfortunately, Existing spaced repetition systems discourage evergreen notes. A memory system will help you retain and continuously engage with what you write, but it won’t much help you build on those ideas over time. An Evergreen notes system will help you build on your ideas over time, but it won’t help you retain and continuously engage with those notes (outside of Evergreen note maintenance approximates spaced repetition). So you’re stuck either duplicating your efforts messily in two separate systems, or giving up one system’s benefits.

The Mnemonic medium solved a similar problem for published prose: The mnemonic medium gives structure to normally-atomized spaced repetition memory prompts. One can use the same approach to give structure to one’s personal spaced repetition prompts, within one’s personal notes. We can call this a {personal mnemonic medium}.

For example, one could imagine creating a {cloze deletion} prompt within one’s personal notes by {wrapping it in curly braces}.

And one might create a traditional two-sided prompt like this:
Q. If one only took notes in Anki, what key limitations might one experience?
A. (e.g. no serendipitous note-finding when note-writing, no way to easily evolve notes over time, limited connections between notes, difficult to “read through” one’s notes on a subject, etc)


There are a few other implementations of something like this idea:


Nielsen, M. (2018). Augmenting Long-term Memory. http://augmentingcognition.com/ltm.html

I start to identify open problems, questions that I’d personally like answered, but which don’t yet seem to have been answered. I identify tricks, observations that seem pregnant with possibility, but whose import I don’t yet know. And, sometimes, I identify what seem to me to be field-wide blind spots. I add questions about all these to Anki as well. In this way, Anki is a medium supporting my creative research. It has some shortcomings as such a medium, since it’s not designed with supporting creative work in mind – it’s not, for instance, equipped for lengthy, free-form exploration inside a scratch space.

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



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