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 evolves in large part from Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten, which he regards as the independent intellectual partner in writing his 70 books. See Similarities and differences between evergreen note-writing and Zettelkasten
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
My practice of writing Evergreen notes is heavily inspired by Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten practice and its contemporary advocates. I use a different term both because there are some distinctions and because I want to give myself space to explore ideas in this space apart from the culture surrounding Zettelkasten, which has its own prior values and proclivities.
One final difference, this one a touch pointy: the primary purpose of my system is to develop ideas in my core creative projects. Most people in the contemporary Zettelkasten culture seem to use their systems primarily to write notes about others’ ideas. If they’re developing their own ideas with them, those ideas are an interesting hobby, not their core creative work. All this falls afoul of the issues around People who write extensively about note-writing rarely have a serious context of use. I don’t know how, exactly, but my context of use substantially shapes the note-writing practice.