Online writers: frustrated by note-taking? Try more notice-taking.
Sweaty palms. Second-guessing decisions. Despair over a wrong path taken.
Considering career options? Life partners?
Nope. Note-taking for online writers. People stress over this stuff.
I too struggle with note-taking. But I learned, by teaching a session on note-taking in Write of Passage, that my process is different: notice-taking more than note-taking.
Sweat equity: Note-taking and the fitness industry
Like fitness, there are many paths to note-taking success.
Note-taking methodologies and platforms abound. Roam, Obsidian, Evernote. There’s something called Zettelkasten, which sounds like a nefarious spell cast by a German witch.
And like fitness, you have true believers for the various methods. Note-taking has the #Roamcult. Fitness has CrossFit die-hards. Keto believers. Vegans. And on and on.
In reality, sustainable fitness habits require adaptation and customization. You have to experiment and find what works for you. Your best fitness system is probably made up of bits and pieces of many systems.
Note-taking is the same.
Take what works for others. Blend it in with your own ideas. Create a notice-taking system of your own. Try, test, and evolve.
The key tenets of Notice-Taking
Notice-taking captures an idea or feeling in the moment to feel it right now, rather than to recall it later.
Recall is a pleasant side effect of notice-taking. It’s not the main point. My notice-taking system involves:
Journaling, both every morning and at quick and random intervals throughout the day
A more manual process, by design, which creates friction and reduces the total number of notes
Serving my life goals--the system itself is not a goal
Intuition over institutionalism--trying new things and ideas outside the normal process
Connection of notes over conservation of notes--can I connect this to a bigger idea already, or will this sit in isolation? (If it’s in isolation, you’ll probably never come back to it again.)
Experiencing it today matters more than recalling it tomorrow
Notice-taking starts with why
First, get clear on why you want a note-taking system. I have two main whys:
Exercise my faith and gratitude muscles
Create compelling and useful content around fitness and creativity
I’m not highlighting things to save them in a system. I use notes to drive action-oriented goals.
Three components to my notice-taking system
I write 500 free-form words every morning: a recap of the prior day, prayers, something about a TV show I watched, or anything else.
No rules. Just clearing my head.
More randomly, I jot down one-liners in an ongoing “Gratitude and Growth log,” noticing things to be grateful for, and moments where I’m growing as a person.
The G+G log is a new experiment this year. I’m excited to review it in December.
I’ve also started a fitnotes page on my website. Short observations and ideas about my health and fitness, inspired by Michael Dean’s logloglog.
When I find an article to read, I rarely read it in the moment. Instead, I use this iOS Shortcut to grab both the URL and the content of the article and whisk it away to a folder called “Inbox” in my Apple Notes.
Mostly I pull articles on fitness, writing, and creativity, which are the subjects I write most about. On Thursdays, I batch read articles, pulling things to share in my Friday newsletter, Matt’s Mix Tape.
My inbox serves as a messy database. There are times I want to refer back to something I shared in a newsletter. It’s probably in this folder, and it’s searchable.
This is a delicious sandwich:
It’s from Mother’s Restaurant in New Orleans. It’s called the “Debris Sandwich” because it's made up of the leftover roast beef that splashed into a massive reservoir aus jus gravy.
(And thanks to its caloric density, you won’t require sustenance for two days afterwards.)
There is value in the Debris. The same goes for notice-taking.
The debris are notes that don’t fit elsewhere:
Client meeting notes
Notes from teaching sessions and Write of Passage meetings
And yes, I put it all in Apple Notes.
Notice today over saving for tomorrow
My notice-taking system isn’t about preservation. It’s about noticing things today.
I don’t want to freezerburn ideas that become isolated and unrecognizable. I want to capture thoughts, feelings, and unique ideas that serve my goals, fortify my faith, and strengthen my gratitude.
As Matthew Guay says:
“The action of writing is what counts, what imprints important ideas in our brain. The note itself is a permission slip to let things go.”
Notice-taking is an imprint system, a physical action to drive deeper contemplation and feeling. It creates a richer life, not an overstuffed note-freezer.