Where should I be writing things down?
...and why even bother?
My grandfather once asked how much paint he should buy in order to paint his garage. My dad said, “Hang on.”, went into his office and came out two minutes later with a piece of paper and said, “We used just over two gallons of Benjamin Moore white from Ace Hardware when we painted it last time in 1983.”
My dad doesn’t have a fancy note-taking system. He sometimes jots things on notebook paper or a receipt and puts them into his filing cabinet. Even so, he can always find things. I think this is because he never ever thinks about his process. He doesn’t worry about creating a capital-W Workflow. He just keeps what he thinks he might need later and tosses the rest.
A new year is approaching and it’s time to review my own notetaking process… again. You see, unlike my dad, I overthink the shit out of my Workflow.
For example, what should I do with my journal? Should it remain in Org Journal or perhaps move entirely into Roam? How about Day One? Or TiddlyWiki? Paper? What is a journal anyway? Where should I record that I changed the filter in the refrigerator? That’s not really a journal thing, but then what is it?
Perhaps a better question is, why record when I change the fridge filter at all?
I read a lot of articles about note-taking, journaling, Zettelkastan, and on and on. Learning how other people do things is interesting, but when I dig a little deeper I notice that most of these articles are written by people who seem to only be writing about note-taking or the broader topic of “productivity”1. They don’t actually do anything with it.
If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that I fall into this group. I don’t
need fancy tools or systems for taking notes. I like them, but I don’t need
them for what I’m doing. I’m not doing any deep thinking or analysis or study. I
mostly just want to write things down so I can look them up later. A plain text
file on my Desktop and a little
grep could handle that just fine.
The thing I need to determine is whether the fun I have playing with note-taking systems and tools is worth the stress and complexity and confusion it causes. I’m beginning to think not. I’m beginning to think I should stop writing so many things down and just stick to the things I may actually need later. And I should do this in simple tools which do little more than let me look up the specific things I want to know.
Do I need a formatted list of contextual backlinks in Roam showing me details around every time I changed the fridge filter? Probably not. Is it cool to have that? Definitely. So, I guess my goal over the coming weeks is to determine whether I should prioritize cool tools or my sanity when it comes to taking notes.
I suppose this post may qualify as an example of that. ↩︎