I’ve been making notes basically always, even in primary school I filled many notepads (‘kladblok’) of grey recycled paper I bought myself. It still means I can cycle back to e.g. conversations I had in 2014 with the notes often being more or less verbatim. Two years ago in April, a few weeks into the first pandemic lockdown, I revamped my personal note taking system and added something I hadn’t done structurally before: a day log. In it I list the things that I worked on during the day, or thought about, or came across etc. Below is a basic example from July 2020 when I just started using Obsidian for my day log notes.

Example day log, with links jumping off to more detailed notes

The day logs have quickly become much more than a simple list of things I’ve done in a day. It also forms a jumping off point for any notes that belong to an entry in a day log. It is a habit fully part of my routines.

As a result I am now structurally not only taking notes during conversations as I’ve been doing for decades, but also much better documenting things as I’m doing them. Basically I find myself much better logging my actions, and thus the status of my activities. When I return to something I don’t need time to reconstruct what it was I was doing or thinking, or to figure out what I can do next.

It means that when I was e.g. figuring out how to build my own Micropub client I could do so incrementally, and even spending ten minutes could be fruitful. Before those ten minutes would be lost to switching costs. It also means I find it easier to let something rest for a while, because I know it will be easy to pick up again.

Two years on I feel keeping day logs, by structurally leading to notes jumping off of them, causes a very specific effect for me: My notes now stop me from having to go backwards whenever I pick up something again at a level unlike ever before. Ideas stay intact and usable, concepts don’t need to be reworded each time, experiments can be incremental, projects can stand still for a while but can restart immediately when I return to them. That’s valuable return on the time spent making those notes.

Ratchet, image by Paul van de Velde, license CC BY

3 reactions on “On Notes As Ratchet, Not Moving Backwards

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