Write notes that last forever. These notes are different from transient notes, i.e. notes you make take about a project or for a short scheduling period. Andy Matuschak has some great public notes about note-taking
Treat them like a code base. Notes need occasional refactoring and maintenance.
Notes evolve. Just because a note is evergreen does not mean it needs to ever be complete. One method of doing this is progressive summarization: As you read and re-read notes, edit and improve them as you go along. Examples include bolding or re-organizing text, adding links to other notes and external resources, and decomposing a note into more, smaller notes.
On links, Notes should be linked densely and in context. Favor adding links instead of not. Favor including links in the context of notes instead of loosely tying notes together with 'tags'.
You can link to notes that don't exist yet. This can both give you ideas for notes to work on later, and also help you find serendipitous connections, which is one of the main values of taking these kinds of notes. See the broken links list for broken links.
Organize notes by topic over source. However, I tend to keep notes of particular books and articles, as it makes capturing information easier as I'm reading them.
On budding, notes should be atomic. Think of a note like a software function: It should do exactly one thing and one thing well. As notes grow in complexity. If you aren't sure where to start, start by writing a note on a general topic and see where it takes you. A good test is to imagine yourself sharing a note with someone else. What chunk would it make sense to link to?
Write notes as if you were writing for someone else. In a couple of years, you will be. learning in public encourages this practice.
This form of writing can be an easier on-ramp to longer-form writing. Notes are shorter and have less form. They can help you express, refine, and share an idea without worrying about structuring it into a blog post or essay.
When writing notes from sources, take time to translate them into your own words. Only keep direct quotes if you think you might use them in another work and only then with context. Expressing your thoughts in writing helps you think them through. writing as thinking
Evergreen notes are a great way to fall into making deck chair moves if you aren't careful. The most important part of the practice is you help sharpen your thinking and offload storage from your physical brain to a digital data store. Don't get too caught up in tools and processes. The most important thing is to do the work.
Offloading some of the work into a data store we can trust helps you combat the Zeigarnik effect: the stress caused by holding unclosed loops in our short-term memory.
Increasing the value of an evergreen note
- Ask interesting questions - Add notes to questions, as prompts for your future self to investigate
- progressive summarization
- Deep linking. Add links throughout the note: to other notes, other works, and external resources.
- Add media - images, YouTube videos, Twitter threads, code samples, etc. all add to the richness of the note.
- Proofreading - make sure you've removed all grammatical errors and typos.
- Formatting Many notes imported from Roam are all bullet points. You can make them easier to read by converting them into paragraphs and adding section headings to increase readability.
- more research - Ask more questions, explore, and come back with answers.
Expanding on a note
These techniques can be used for expanding a note or developing a note into an essay or other writing project.
Converting an idea to a generator
At Ribbonfarm, they called this idea a 'daemon' or a 'generator. Examples included:
- A "thing" begging to be named
- A counterexample or contradiction
- A simple banal question or 2x2
- weirdness or narrative leak
Can you take your idea and convert it into one of these? Could also be a source of new notes.
Sections you can add
- Resources / Further reading
- Tips, tricks, tactics, templates
- Anti-patterns, problems, shortcomings, pitfalls
Fleshing out an idea
Have an idea or a sentence and are unsure where to go next? Try to think of any of these to flesh out the idea.
- Personal stories
- Clarifying points
- Points of credibility (data, examples, anecdotes)
- Objection handling
- Explaining 'why' a point matters
- Explaining the emotional benefit of a point
Look for interesting ideas
Take the topic and run it through all 24 species of interesting ideas. Does anything come up?