Note taking: fears and principles

I guess all academics have two two basic fears about note taking. The first is: it will interrupt my flow! If you are reading an article, preparing for a course, writing, processing your email, sitting in a meeting, listening to a podcast you often have ideas you want to capture. If you start opening some bulky software, looking for the right file, thinking of a suitable name, saving the whole thing in a right folder, believe me, your flow will be interrupted!

The second fear is: I will lose it; it will be buried somewhere on the harddrive; I will forget my brilliant idea! I lost a lot of my notes. Or as the British Airways informed me once: “We have not lost your luggage, Sir. We just don’t know where it is.”. Well, so with my old notes.  I just don’t know where they are. Sometimes I discover an odd MS Word file buried in a folder hierarchy and think: “Oh, if I would only have it at hand when preparing for that course!”.

The fear of interruption and the fear of loosing make us scared to write our notes. We keep them in our heads waiting for that moment when we will sit down with a cup of coffee by a fireplace, recall all our clever ideas and organize them in some beautiful system … Good luck dreaming!

David Allen said that you should never be scared of having ideas. He also said that your mind is great for having ideas but not for keeping them. This means we need a note-taking system that would overcome the two strong fears. First, it should be so easy to take notes that you should never think about it for more than a second. Secondly, you should have trust that you will always be able to find your notes again.

There is a host of new devices and software which make the task of note-taking easier since the times of Microsoft Word. You still need to use your brain to design and adjust a system which is right for you. A workable system would overcome the two fears by making note taking smooth, fast, easy and fun without interrupting your reading or email answering. It will also allow you to find any note you want in an instant independently of where you are or what software you use.

The next entries deal with lessons for note taking and describe my current workflow including the software and the note naming, tagging and retrieval system.


About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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2 Responses to Note taking: fears and principles

  1. Pingback: Notes: what’s in the name? | Academic workflows on Mac

  2. Pingback: Note taking software part 1: what works and what does not | Academic workflows on Mac

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