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.
As part of my My daily routine, mornings are often spent writing and revising Evergreen notes. This is typically the most challenging work I do all day, so I like to do it when I have the most clarity and focus. It’s not for “note-taking” in a traditional sense—writing down other people’s ideas, or recording things that happened—it’s for developing ideas. (i.e. Most people use notes as a bucket for storage or scratch thoughts vs. Evergreen note-writing helps insight accumulate)
Unless I have something in mind that I’m particularly excited to write about, I usually begin by opening my writing inbox (A writing inbox for transient and incomplete notes) and flipping through those prompts and incomplete notes. If any strike me, I’ll draft Evergreen notes about them. This may happen over multiple days: I may flesh out a note considerably, then run out of steam and leave it in my inbox to finish another day.
If my inbox is relatively low, I’ll get out my memo pad (Pocket memo pad to capture into writing inbox while out) and fill my inbox with those notes. I don’t force it: if none of the prompts seem interesting, I’ll archive the ones which seem most boring and move on.
After working through my writing inbox, I’ll focus my attention on my primary creative projects and ask myself prompts like:
For these prompts, I’ll use my Daily working log as a scratch space, splatting a dozen or so one-liners into a haphazard bulleted list. After emptying my head, I’ll write about any that seem interesting. Usually that leads to rabbit holes which consume the rest of the session. I’ll add promising stragglers to my writing inbox for future days.
If those prompts don’t feel fruitful, I’ll use the time to Write about what you read to internalize texts deeply. I’ve usually got a backlog of books and articles I’ve read but for which I haven’t yet written Evergreen notes. If the prompts don’t feel fruitful for several days in a row, that’s a sign that I need to shake things up: my inputs aren’t high-variance enough, or I’m not giving myself the right kind of creative space, or I may need to re-evaluate my projects. My writing inbox should always feel like a cornucopia.
I take 5-minute breaks to get up and move around every 25 minutes, but even with those breaks, I usually can’t continue this practice longer than 2-3 hours. Sometimes I can do another session later in the day.
Each day, I start a note titled with that day’s date; e.g. 2020-03-12. It captures ephemera throughout the day: reflections, scratch work, etc. It’s an intentional dumping ground, a release valve so that there’s always “a place to put that thing.”
In the Taxonomy of note types, this is the lowest-fidelity layer, ephemeral by design. But as scratch thoughts look like they might have legs, they get extracted into a note in my writing inbox (A writing inbox for transient and incomplete notes). Sometimes I’ll use the daily working log as a drafting space, and I can extract sections roughly-as-is into Evergreen notes.
For me, the important bits are:
Because the daily working log is also a live note, it also functions as a useful stub for Contextual backlinks: Backlinks can be used to implicitly define nodes in knowledge management systems.
Tasks left undone, observations left unrecorded, replies yet to be written—these swirl about our minds, as if we’re rehearsing them over and over again to make sure they’re not forgotten. To get rid of this nagging and create a “mind like water” (to use the term in Allen, 2015), build systems to reliably close these open loops.
For instance: for operational to-dos, this means (Allen, 2015):
Taken together, these properties ensure that when you record a task, you can stop thinking about it. Ubiquitous capture isn’t enough, as most to-do systems demonstrate. If you don’t regularly review your task list and decide to delete or re-strategize lingering tasks, you won’t be able to trust that you’ll follow up on tasks you record.
See also A reading inbox to capture possibly-useful references.
Allen, D. (2015). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.