Why Did I Choose This Book?
Some time back in early 2021, I started on the journey of decluttering much of my electronic subscriptions that supported my personal knowledge management (PKM). I kept Feedly Pro (which provides me a steady stream of articles to peruse) and Evernote Premium for my note taking.
I had been using the latter for many years but when I watched an interview with Tiago Forte on Second Brain who shared his own PKM, I decided to completely revamp my note taking. Besides, I liked his process for he sorted out notes by having an inbox where he sorted things out to Projects and Resources. This is the interview that got me thinking.
The reason for revamping is that my note taking changes depending on what’s at hand – whether my computer, mobile phone or paper pad.
I’m someone who needs to quickly get the ideas out of her head and onto “something, anything” before they escape. Also, I’m not in front of my computer all the time, nor do I carry my phone everywhere so at times it happens to be scraps of paper, post it notes or paper pads. There is always paper or tons of coloured markers, pens and pencils in nearly every room of the house.
The reason for choosing this book was that it kept popping up as ‘the book to read’ when it comes to taking smart notes. However, it took over a year to finally read it.
This year, as my first Kindle book, I decided to read this book because I had to get back to basics of my note taking process because every time I started it, I kept coming back to the question:
“Which tool should I use?” which then made me realise I was asking the wrong question as I was wasting time thinking about learning yet another new tool.
It didn’t help that I was also becoming influenced by others who were using other platforms.
“Why aren’t you using <Insert Obsidian, OneNote, Notion, Roam, EndNote, LogSeq etc…..>
I had to go back to the basics and find (and stick with) the system that works for me.
Truth be told that there was also a niggling problem that as I work for a Microsoft Partner that I should be using a Microsoft product for ALL my note taking that is, OneNote – so there was the guilt thing happening there but more of that later…
No. I had to get back the FOUNDATIONS of note taking. This is where I realised that it’s not about the platform – it’s my process and the lack of consistency, as well as lack of use of notes I collect.
It’s a problem I’ve had for some time and often wrote about!
So I need to find something that supports me to take my notes in WHATEVER format – paper and online and then resurface it to be able to use it in future. However, I also didn’t want to learn yet another NEW system or platform like Obsidian which is something I have been thinking about. I didn’t want to be burdened with yet another platform to learn.
(Sometimes I feel we are swayed by the new shiny tools and not scrutinising first our methods, behaviours, and preferences. We jump into subscribing into that new tool then asking others why they’re not using it too!).
My other concern I had to take into account is that I work for a Microsoft Partner. That means, I use Microsoft products for my work and as such I am an avid user of Microsoft OneNote (I LOVE the Desktop version which I consider to be a superior product) however, I don’t want to be using work systems for my own personal knowledge management.
There were many times fellow Microsoft peers would ask me, “why are you using a system outside of Microsoft?“
My Note Taking, My Thinking, My System, My Platform
The thing is, I need a system that is totally my own – where I log in with my own credentials and not my work’s.
Similarly, a system where my thinking and notes are MINE. I know I can export them if I need to but something has got to be said about having a system that YOU own and that cannot be claimed by others.
As such for my 9-5 job, I use Microsoft OneNote where I place all my notes on anything to do with aspects of my professional work. For example, I wrote both of our books on Microsoft Teams entirely in OneNote. The reason for that was that it was a work project and hence any notes in future could be accessed by others.
However, all my ideas, sense making, creative ideas for new projects, services and products will always be OUTSIDE my work systems simply because these ideas have longevity and the potential to create something for me in the future. Besides, I don’t want my notes to be claimed by others or have done the research work and the interconnecting linking work for other people.
This is my thinking:
- Short term: Anything related to my 9-5 professional work or team work within my organisation and which I can afford to lose if my work situation changes eg redundancy, change of jobs, etc and which I don’t care if it’s shared to colleagues>>>>> Use Microsoft OneNote
- Long Term: Anything related to my personal development, idea generation, sense making, potential for new products, projects, services, events not aligned to my professional work but where I will ‘hurt’ if lost and must be private. These notes are effectively my own ‘smart thinking’ where I write, reflect, connect ideas, scribble >>>> Evernote Pro (my own system) and if I want to share these notes publicly, WordPress. (This blog)
The Book in a Nutshell
The book demonstrates a process that can be used for paper or online (but truth be told, I think it errs more on the former) where the idea is that you create ‘zettels’. Think of them as palm cards where you take ONE note, ONE idea per card and which you write IN YOUR OWN WORDS. On each card you write the reference and you also number them. You can ‘tag’ each card with a contextual keyword and then you keep all cards with relevant themes together. The challenge is that you continually review your cards and sort them according to the themes you’re interested in.
The author shared that it’s not about highlighting copious amounts of words in books, copying and pasting them into your system. Instead, it’s taking a more rigorous approach to reading and asking questions about what you’re reading and in your own words summarising these – and then thinking of other linkages and connections from what you read.
Here’s a great review of the book if you want to learn more.
My A Ha Moments
My biggest takeaway was that it wasn’t the tool that was the problem. After all, I have Evernote and I have OneNote. It’s about the consistency in note taking and mainly, the TYPES of notes I was making.
I’m a mad highlighter. I highlight a lot of pagers and then scribble notes in the book I’m reading then review those at some later stage to write a blog post. I also write these notes into a paper pad which also have my other scribbles, French, to-dos, shopping lists, and it’s a mess.
(On the Kindle, I use the Notes function then export these notes into a .csv file to be imported into Evernote or OneNote).
I realised the power of my note taking only when I was writing our two work books where I used OneNote to structure and feed my thinking to one place and which made my writing so much easier because I didn’t face a blank page every day. I had all my ideas in the OneNote complete with references and links and my own questions. It made the writing process so much easier with little to no writers block.
My second take away is that my notes are ‘dumb’.
Meaning unless I have a specific project to work on, they’re just a series of random notes (mainly websites or online papers and reports) because I can’t see them connect or pertain to anything at hand just yet. So as such, I have a collection of Notes in Evernote but no real need or use for them.
Some of them are outdated (websites that have 404 errors) or tweets that need to have my login details included for me to see them – so they’re empty tweets in Evernote. I did a HUGE cleanup of all these notes and re-classified them as ‘Resources’ so now, they’re effectively references that I can search on – my own personal resource library however, my aim is not to fill Evernote with just wads of links as Notes. That’s not what it should be used for.