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.

Write notes for yourself by default, disregarding audience

Because Evergreen notes can be used as part of a strategy for writing public work (Executable strategy for writing), it’s tempting to “save time” by writing notes in publishable form. That might mean providing all the necessary background to understand some (boring to you) idea, or self-censoring, or adding lots of qualifiers, or spending lots of effort on clarity. Many of these practices can be somewhat useful as part of your own thinking process—for instance, clearer writing usually involves clearer thinking. But I find it substantially increases the overhead and effort in writing, often to the point of producing blockage.

More concretely, this manifests as a common failure mode for me when I’m writing notes as part of explicit preparation for some public writing. I’ll often try to do both jobs at once. That is, I might be writing atomic-style notes (Evergreen notes should be atomic) but I try to write them as if they’re sections in a larger essay or work. Or even just: I try to write things with all the context and clear prose needed for an outsider to understand what I’m talking about. Then I often find that I can’t write anything at all! Better to write at a level where I can produce something, then use that to lever myself upward. (Evergreen notes permit smooth incremental progress in writing (“incremental writing”))

When it’s a topic I understand well, I can write notes for both myself and an audience simultaneously. But that sometimes produces the false impression that I can pull this off all the time! To avoid that false impression, I’ll write notes for myself “by default,” and only “opt into” writing notes for an audience explicitly.

Q. What bad habit do I often fall into when writing evergreen notes in preparation for public writing?
A. I’ll try to do my public writing as part of my first pass on the notes.

Q. Why do I often find myself stuck when I try to write evergreen notes as publishable prose for an audience?
A. When a topic is hard enough to distill on its own, the extra cognitive load of considering a reader overwhelms me.

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