I have been down the rabbit hole, exploring my process of note taking, systems and organizing over the last few weeks. It has been an intensive and extensive journey, and one that I have detailed here. It started with a frustration with the continued dysfunction of my files and references, and expanded into a more general indictment of how I take notes. Sönke Ahrens’ “How to Take Smart Notes” provided some valuable prompts about what is possible with notes, and in particular underscored for me an essential function that I had long been ignoring. I find myself at a solution that I believe will work for me, which is what each of us needs to find. What I’ve learned may not serve you directly, but it may offer some insights for your own journey.
What if you never forgot anything? Consider what it would mean to remember every idea you have ever come across, and where it originally came from. Even better, imagine building on that knowledge to identify ideas you want to explore, papers you want to write, research you want to do or projects you want to pursue. Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But an obscure (to most of us) sociologist named Niklas Luhmann devised a system to support doing exactly this. The essence of the system is absolute simplicity. This isn’t to say that actually building one doesn’t involve some significant complexity and work.