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.
After the pre-desk elements of My daily routine, I begin my first serious creative work of the day: at least two hours 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)
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 35 minutes, but even with those breaks, I usually can’t continue this practice much longer than two hours. Sometimes I can do another session later in the day.
People don’t want to forget an idea or a conversation or a task or quote from a book, so they write it down in Evernote or something. What’s the purpose? Probably: “To make sure I don’t forget." Maybe: “Just writing it down helps me remember.”
In this conception, notes are a way to Close open loops, not to accumulate insight. The “real” work happens outside the notes; the notes are just a reference system which stores information which might help, or a write-once pile of “messy” thoughts (Khoe).
These are not Evergreen notes. Most “storage-oriented” notes will never be useful again (Most people take only transient notes). More importantly, this framing misses that it’s possible for note-writing to be the “real” work (Evergreen note-writing as fundamental unit of knowledge work).
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