How I take notes — my current personal knowledge management process

As a sort of follow-up to Problem finding & usability testing with yourself?, I thought some of you might find it interesting to read a deep dive into how somebody actually takes notes. I had an older note where I wrote down my process last year, so I slightly edited it and put it here:

No idea if this is useful and/or interesting to anyone, but if it turns out to be a thing some people find interesting, I’d be delighted to read about your current personal knowledge management process… :slight_smile:

I’m mostly interested in the how and the why you do the things you do as part of your process, and don’t care much about which particular tools you use. If you know of blog posts or resources elsewhere where people describe their process in a similar fashion, please share links.

If you have questions about my process, I’m happy to discuss them here or via personal message. Please don’t share the link to my gist outside this forum.


I read through the gist and it seems like a very deliberative, time-sensitive, progress-oriented process. So my questions are:

  1. Where in this process lies most of the fun to you?
  2. Which activities are more likely to spark creativity?
  3. Where in this process lies most of the pain?

These are very thoughtful questions.

A specific thing that I enjoy in the process of trying to deeply understand source material (and I don’t put everything I read through that much scrutiny), is uncovering the structure of ideas in the original text, extracting the core, and then re-assembling it in a way that seems more natural to me. That often ends as a diagram or table or something more visual. Once I’m at that point, I know I have successfully connected the source material into my existing idea network and will likely be able to draw the diagram and explain it to others.

It’s hard for me to say where “most of the fun” lies, really, but that’s high up the list.

Very early in the process when reading a new paragraph that sometimes immediately sparks ideas. Often I can make connections to other experiences and in combination with the just read it yields something interesting. This is serendipitous and might happen or not.

Later in the process, once I have a good grasp of the source material, I actively try to connect it to other ideas — adding and discovering links between notes in the Zettelkasten, RoamCult, Digital garden worlds. That’s a more systematic technique to “summon” creativity. I didn’t get as far into describing that part of the process in my shared article above, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening with tools in that space right now.

This is more of a “death by a thousand paper cuts” scenario instead of the one big thing that would make it so much better.

Lots of little pains. Often tool specific. I have extremely specific expectations on how I would want the tool to work, and often it doesn’t. I’m not sure at all, how universal my requirements are though.

That’s kind of why I shared my process and why I would like to hear about other people’s process and their pains as well.

I’m going to try to post here a rough description of my current workflow:

1. Capture what resonates slightly

Future-me will expand on this idea if he wants to. Present-me cannot do it, because he’s busy being present.

My goal is to capture with minimal disruption to the moment and still prove useful for my future self.

:arrow_right_hook:︎ I’m trying: Ways in which I can better find the future me that’s the recipient of this message. What’s the language I use? Can I talk to myself as in “you thought this was really important after XWZ”?

:arrow_right_hook:︎ I’m trying: Minimising “time-to-capture”. To make it easier to capture while I’m on the go I send it to myself on Telegram. I also use a notebook that’s usually very close to me.

2. Write to make sense of my intuitions

I try to write about things that recurrently resonate. The goal is to make my mind gears turn by trying to explain concepts, by trying to relate concepts. Sometimes it’s experimental (what if) some other times is to keep gardening sort of evergreen notes on topics that I care about.

:arrow_right_hook:︎ I’m trying: I’m at the very early stage of experimenting with SRS. The strategy is: over-capture (just-in-case mentality) and then use aggressive pruning mechanisms to write about (expand on) what resonates (~ diverge-converge).

:arrow_right_hook:︎ I’m trying: Not all the time I’m immersed in the same thing. I’m looking for subdividing the writing into different ambients. But I’m not sure how to do this.

3. Writing publicly, to get feedback

I’m trying to get the habit of publishing on Twitter:

  • hypotheses
  • things I learn. I do this to engage with the material (to expand with feedback/resonance). I’m doing this with turtly questions and I also do it for some books/articles I read.
  • open questions (mainly the turtly questions), to try to collaborate more with others and try to stay take-less in some areas.

In a diagram: