What Should Notes Be About?
Note every note you take should end up in your Zettelkasten or your Note-Making System. Lists of errands to run, jobs to do are best organised elsewhere.
I separate the storage of documents (PDFs, web articles and so on) from where I store my notes. This is because I want to avoid the Collectors Fallacy, something I’ve been prone to in the past.
The recording of a note that relates to something which I judge to be of Lasting Value, accords with the Zettlekasten Principles, one of which is that a note should be Concept Oriented.
This means that the notes I make don’t refer to the author of an interesting article, or the book title, the event where I heard something useful, or the project I’m working on.
Instead the note should be about:
- an idea
- a concept
- a theme
- a feeling
- a thought
Most people appear to use their Note-Making System for research, often in scientific areas.
I’m not against that, but I want to see if keeping a Zettlekasten will help me become more creative as a writer.
I wrote about a poetry theme I’m working on called the Lesser Loss here, which might throw some light on why I’m doing this.
The point about Concept Oriented note taking is that over time, you discover connections across domains as you update and link to the note over time.
If you do what most people do and start taking notes on that book you’ve been reading, all of your notes stay fire-walled inside the note about the book.
Each note might have many concepts or ideas, but they might be difficult to detect the next time the same concept comes up. That means your knoweldge doesn’t accumulate.
As Andy Matushak has noted, Knowledge Accretes over time. He also states that it is not just about accumulation. Understanding requires effortful engagement:
Organising by concept is harder, because you have to think about where your note fits into the whole.
It is the exploration that follows which turns up the gold.
Organising by concept makes note-taking a little harder, but in a useful way: when writing new notes, we have to find where they fit into the whole. So we explore some part of our prior web of notes, which may lead us somewhere unexpected.
Gradually, you discover ways to combine your notes (and therefore themes, concepts, ideas, feelings) in novel and richer ways.
Over time, we accumulate notes which we can combine in increasingly complex ways.
- Evergreen Notes Should be Concept Oriented: Andy Matushak
- Understanding requires effortful engagement : Andy Matushak
- Evergreen note titles are like APIs
- Evergreen note-writing helps insight accumulate