Notetaking as a Functional Habit

Published: 2023-02-22 12:00 |

Category: Productivity | Tags: notes, notetaking, digital, notebook

Whatever you use, remember that these notes are necessarily only an intermediate form. They don’t become understanding or thoughts until you integrate them. You need to be able to review them, and storing them safely is always useful, but, paradoxically, notes aren’t the be all or end all of the notetaking process.

Source: The Different Kinds of Notes, found on

Over the years, I've gone back and forth on how to efficiently and effectively take notes. I've tried plaintext, bullet journals (but one of those ugly, functional ones), Apple Notes, Obsidian, Bear, Joplin...if it's a notes thing, I've probably tried it. Currently, I'm using a digital notebook, Google Docs (while assigning tasks), and a todo.txt style to do list on my computer. I've always seen notes as a means to an end, putting my brain on paper so my actual brain has more space to do other stuff.

I read Baldur's post very slowly and carefully because it's a much deeper dive into notetaking than I've done on my own. Granted, he's building a new app to handle some of the missing nuance in digital notetaking options and I've not really had to wrestle with the idea at that level on my own. That said, the post got me thinking about why I take notes and whether or not that was sufficient for effective and impactful work.

My notetaking is generally utility. There are sometimes I use my notebook to make sense of thoughts or to sketch out a side project idea. But, nine times out of ten, I'm offloading. I'm getting thoughts on paper that will remind me to do something else later. I don't usually take the time to make meaning on paper, and I think that's an aspect of notetaking I miss.

My work is dynamic - there are some technical problems my team solves, but much of our work is focused on making new meaning out of tools and systems our teachers have access to. We're helping paint the picture of how systems work together to support teaching and learning and while a lot happens in collaboration with the coaching team, there are times where I'm sitting and chewing on ideas on my own. But, because my notebook is a place for "things" rather than ideas, I don't reach for it as a method of building meaning. The idea of notes being the intermediate form stands out because it's someting I know but couldn't have verbalized. I know my notebook holds information, but it's not the final form nor is it even helpful when I'm working on building new meaning.

I'm not sure this means I'm going to change my systems, but I think there's a gap in my work that could be filled by a rethink of how I use the paper next to me.

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