According to Andy, people basically suck at taking notes. When I reflect on my own note taking practices, I realize how scrambled and unintentional they have been. Seeing Andy’s public notes has made me realize that optimizing your note taking technique is not a waste of time. It’s a useful form of Pulling the conceptual thread.
So let’s try to copy his style. He says:
Evergreen notes are written and organized to evolve, contribute, and accumulate over time, across projects.
Here is how I interpret these concepts surfaced here:
- Evolve — The notes should be revised; don’t be afraid to delete; don’t be afraid to combine or split notes.
- Contribute — They should amount to something (talks, articles, projects, conversation).
- Accumulate — Like a crystal, they should grow over time, solidifying your thoughts into a network that you can build from. (Personal anecdote: I often feel like I’m starting from square one when I come back to a topic that I like (ex: complexity). I have to reread the same chapters of books and rewrite the same notes for the talk. Ideally I do this once in my own words and then refer to that note henceforth.)
- Across projects — Don’t silo notes per project. Probably because things can generalize?
Principles of Evergreen notes:
- Atomic — if you can split a note up into smaller linkable chunks, you should
- Notes should be indexed by concept — as opposed to being indexed by book title, author name, youtube video link, project title. Two main reasons: easier to find stuff in the future, and forces you to synthesize as you accumulate more information on a concept.
- Densely linked — linking notes together helps you maintain them; you can see surprising connections; navigating notes becomes easier.
- Associative vs. hierarchical — let the structure emerge organically. Don’t try to create the structure beforehand. Then:
Maybe once enough new ideas are collected, a new category would emerge… except you can’t see its shape because everything’s already been sorted. And because everything’s already been sorted, further sorting requires undoing existing structure.
Notes are taken for yourself — it’s too hard to write notes for yourself and for an audience at the same time. Write notes for yourself first, then only “opt-in” to public notes when you need to. I have two questions about Andy’s approach here:
The notes website itself seems tailored for a public audience. Are we seeing an example of his private or public notes? Answer: we are seeing both at the same time. There is tension between public and private and that’s okay. “Work with the garage door up”.
If notes are taken for yourself, I don’t understand how the incremental thing works. Basically: how do you link to a private note from a public note? Answer: Evergreen notes are not your total, complete works. You can also write articles, work on projects, etc. outside the evergreen note model. Upon reflection I’m realizing that concatenating notes together to form an article doesn’t make sense: the notes are a network of ideas, an article is a serialized, linear line of thought. The notes can support the article, but they don’t transition smoothly into the article.