The Best Note-Taking Method is the One You Have with You

After spending enough time in a field, you end up going back to basics. You rediscover the joy of taking photographs with a point-and-shoot, you go back to that first operating system, you enjoy the pleasure of simple yet well-made food. For me, note-taking now enters the same category.

We often forget that the main goal of note-taking systems is to take notes. Sure, organizing them later matters, but taking notes comes first. Without this first action, you can’t have the second. There’s no point in wiring a house that will never receive power.

I talk often about Zettelkasten on trms. I use it, and it’s almost life-changing for some. It’s a genius system, and it generates more ideas than you can do with them if used well. I’m possibly one of its most outspoken advocates on the Internet. And ever since I adopted it, my note-taking plummeted.

My workplace gifted me a Moleskine a couple of months ago. I’ve been carrying it around all the time ever since. I think it’s a very well-made object, both in design and materials. Yet until a little ago, it was empty. Why? Because my note-taking system had become a monolithic behemoth.

Notes outside of my system didn’t count. I felt as if the only notes worth taking were the ones in or for the Zettelkasten, and everything else was scrap paper. The passage of time had made it so that my standards for entering a new note in my system increasingly crept up. I’m aware that many, me included, talk about making “fleeting notes” first, which form the basis of fully-formed notes. Yet just knowing that they were going to be part of the system made me want to “prep” them, making them more organized and more polished from the get-go, so that I wouldn’t have to do so much work later on. This slowly raised my standards for what a note was, and with it, the mental friction of taking one.

I am not entirely blaming the system for it, I am also wired this way. I post on this blog/channel extremely rarely, and it’s entirely due to my (frankly, silly) unwillingness to put out anything less than what my unrealistic, ever-growing standards allow for.1 So this post is not for everyone, but I know that there are people like me out there.

There’s an adage in photography that goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. I didn’t understand it at first. Clearly, a DSLR is better than my phone’s camera. Then it clicked. Photography is about taking photos. You’ll never take good photos if you never take photos. Similarly, the more photos you take, the higher the chances of taking a good one. And if you shoot with the camera that’s always with you, you reduce the friction to do it. And you’ll take more photos.

Note-taking is about taking notes. Note-taking is about committing to a medium a piece of information that you have either thought yourself or that you have seen somewhere.

If in your method of choice there is anything creating friction between you and this basic act, then I strongly recommend you try reducing it and seeing what happens. For example, if the feeling that you have to organize notes adds friction to your note-taking, try for a while to not organize your notes. I’m serious. If necessary, you can always bring that back later. I figured that I’d rather have a flood of unorganized raw material than one very well-polished piece of writing. I’m in note-taking nirvana right now.

I still fully recommend and stand by note-taking methods. For most people, they do not add a single bit of friction, and their benefits far outweigh anything else. The following is still true though:

When it comes to taking notes, whatever you read on the Internet, only one thing is truly paramount: optimize for friction. Or, well, absence of it.

Don’t let your note-taking turn into a bureaucracy.


What’s a Zettelkasten, Anyway?

I talk about Zettelkasten a lot in my blog, but always indirectly. “Here’s the best tool for it,” or “Here’s how you can maintain one in the long term.”

But what’s a Zettelkasten, anyway? In this video, I answer exactly that question, and briefly tell you how you can have one too.

trms links #5

First of all, thank you for the warm response to the video I published a couple of days ago on Obsidian. Trying a new format is “scary” but seeing the feedback made it all worth it. The links!

AltTab for macOS. I could never get used to the way ⌘-Tab works on the Mac, since it switches between applications instead of windows. AltTab brings Windows-style Alt-Tab to the platform. I’ve been using it myself for a couple of months now and I vouch for it.

free-programming-books. I tinkered for a while with the idea of making a post with a list of free resources to learn programming, then I stumbled upon this project. Worth bookmarking.

AudioMass is a waveform editor completely on the browser, so you upload an audio file and you can edit it to your heart’s content. Think Audacity “lite” and “on the go.”

Very Legit Link. You know how link shorteners take a link and… make it shorter? This does the opposite, and turns your links into long, phishy-looking URLs. For example, the link in the header brings you to the trms.me homepage!

OpenEmu. Let’s face it: gaming on the Mac is subpar. This doesn’t have to be the case for older games though. OpenEmu is a multi-emulator for the Mac, well integrated, constantly updated, good-looking, and open source. Go get it!

First Look at Obsidian – A Promising Zettelkasten App

You know it’s a good day when new Zettelkasten software comes out. And today is a tremendous day, since Obsidian just came out of the blue with a spectacular app to manage our Zettels.

This time I thought I’d try something a little different: here’s a first impressions video from me instead of the usual wall of text.

trms links #4

Before getting to the links, I wanted to apologize. This website was down yesterday, and it’s all because I couldn’t figure out how to properly set up SSL certificates once they expire. I now know how to do that. To the links!

Tech

  • Taskwarrior. This is an interesting take on the to-do app, as it’s completely terminal-based. Not for me, as Things is already well established in my workflow, but if you spend a lot of time in the Terminal, this might be for you. It’s actively maintained, free, and open source.
  • SSL For Free. If you own a domain and need free SSL certificates, look no further. I am currently using one such certificate on this website. Life saver.
  • DarkReader. It’s a browser extension that turns dark mode on for websites. It’s incredibly smart, possibly the smartest of its kind I’ve seen. Free on Chrome and Firefox, 7$ on Safari.

Mixed Bag

  • Random Poorly Drawn Lines Comic. I am a huge fan of Reza Farazmand’s comic Poorly Drawn Lines. It’s an instant mood booster. This link shows you a random comic of his every time you click it. It’s first in my bookmarks bar, no joke.
  • Colnect. I’ve been getting into coin collecting lately, and I’ve been using Colnect a lot for the purpose of organizing such collection. It’s a huge catalog for your collections, be it coins, paper money, stamps, sugar packets, tea bags… Interesting website.
  • NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. Who doesn’t like space? Here’s a new picture of said space, every day, straight from NASA. Most make for good wallpapers.