This is a brief description of how I make my ‘notions’, which are permanent notes I keep as part of my private digital garden (titled ‘Garden of the Forking Paths‘). I choose a title and type “.nu” which inserts the current timestamp (as shown above in the title), ensuring unique titles. I use TextExpander for such keyboard shortcuts. This means I don’t have to use e.g. the ‘Zettelkasten’ plugin for my note taking tool Obsidian, or deal with the fact that such plugins never precisely match your personal preferences. It also means I can change my process anytime I like.

If the notion is based on a blogpost or presentation or other material I wrote, then I will change the timestamp (and the tags at the bottom) to reflect the date of that post / presentation / document.

Then I write the content of the notion.

I include at least one link to an existing notion e.g. something like [[Notes input tactics 20200728173504]], but usually more.

If I think it needs more work then I can do now, I add the tag #aanscherpen (Dutch for ‘sharpen’)

Where applicable I include references of one or more of three types:
Ref: something I just directly name here, a person, book, or ‘my presentation 2018 at conference X’
Ref blog: the url to one of my own bloposts
Ref Zotero: something that can be found in my reference library in Zotero.

I end with tags which look like #2020-, #2020-09, #2020-0913, which represent the year, year and month, and date of the creation of the note. This is done by using a shortcut (“/now”) as well. These tags allow me to search by year, month and exact date, as well as allow me to create timelines if needed. E.g. the screenshot below shows my Notions dated July 2003, found by searching the tag #2003-07.

This morning I wrote my 300th notion, the term I use for my permanent notes (it was on how the societal impacts of novel infrastructures change the scope and paths of your empathy). These notions I started writing from July 8th, so it took about two months. I hadn’t written almost any in the past week or two, and that felt uncomfortable. Thinking about it I realised I wasn’t going through my old presentations as much anymore, and just picking a presentation from the list helped me get back into it. Regularly those presentations contain 1 idea per slide, so they are a rich source. A second much used source are my existing blog posts. Each day I look at which postings I created on this date in the previous 17 years of this blog.

These first 300 notions are mostly my notions, the things that are core to my thinking about my own work, and the things I internalised over the past 25 years or so, of doing that work. Likely there will be a point where I’ve worked through most of my existing material, and new notions will come more from reading novel material, reading other people’s material. This will take more effort I expect, because I’d need to digest my reading and think about it before lifting out the bits I want to keep. That’s different from what is now basically transcribing my slides or my old blogposts. Likely it will need a slightly different process, with more notes in the process of turning into notions in parallel.