159: The Art of Note-Taking

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This was the first one where I missed MacSparky the lawyer a bit - I get the genesis was BASB, and thus the focus was on ideas or book writing, but a big part of what I keep track of are meeting notes - one on ones, team meetings, and project meetings and notes. WIth that said, I’m still thrilled David is so happy in his new role as a full-time MacSparky and wouldn’t wish the law back on him just to have more client meetings to talk to us about.

The discussion around client files and double punches made me realize the intent behind the Circa more - you could use it to do a page per meeting or topic and then put the like pages with like, i.e. have a section for a big project or for projects, and keep all your Sue 1:1 notes together, all your Bob ones etc.

I’m considering that - I’ve always done more bullet journal style notes, but I think it could be very helpful to both have things together for a quick review of old items before a meeting, and to be able to queue up agenda items when I’m planning my week. Right now, I’ve got agenda items on my master list (now Microsoft To-Do, formerly Omnifocus) but i have to remember to pull them up before each meeting. It might be nice to already have a note page setup with them before the 1:1 etc. I had otherwise settled into using an A5 notebook as a bullet journal with occasional hand-journaling during the day…

Great episode overall, thanks y’all.


+1 on the episode being super interesting!

What I struggle with these days is most of my information consumption isn’t from books which lend well to note taking.

Most of my consumption is podcasts or articles I read on the way to work or during breaks. It never feels like I have the time to actually take notes. (The less said about note taking from podcasts at 3x speed the better :grin: and Obsidian on iPhone doesn’t deserve opening.)

How do other people handle this?


I haven’t finished listening to the entire episode yet but have enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. I discovered MPU back in the David and Katie days and what resonated with me was that they had day jobs that weren’t focused on content creation. They talked about using tech to solve problems and I learned a lot.

I know that this was an episode of Focus and not MPU but I think that the contexts of the current discussions could benefit from some expansion. From my point of view they tend towards those who are creating and managing indie digital content shops. I understand that this is the professional lives in which our gracious and talented hosts live. I would love to hear more about those that are living the corporate life
(and happily so). YMMV


I thought Mike was bringing some of that, with the references to his previous work in the family business, and his current initiative that is somewhat more sales-oriented.

Years ago I used a tape recorder to record notes. Today I say “Hey Siri, record a voice memo”. And sometimes it works :grinning:


I’d expand that a bit: I’d love it if Focused had more interviews with folks who are being focused and productive at pursuits beyond just writing about productivity. This is one area where I think MPU has a bit of leg up on Focused; there are plenty of episodes with guests who are using their Apple devices for an enormously wide range of pursuits, from screenwriting to sheepherding. Focused doesn’t seem to have quite the same variety.


This one felt a little unfocused to me. If I had listened without knowing the title and stated purpose of the episode, I would have guessed that the topic was learning or learning processes but that they felt obligated to somehow also tie note-taking into it. (Which is not to say that note-taking isn’t a part of learning. But I’d characterize that more generally as writing, which covers note-taking and quite a bit more.)

Those are both worthy and appropriate topics. But I came away feeling like they were unable to really sink their teeth into either one.

Or it’s entirely possible that I was a little unfocused while listening.

I haven’t listened to the whole episode yet, but about where I stopped (my exercise routine ended) Mike was disagreeing with his perception that Tiago Forte’s organization system was only about things he was actively working on.

I can understand how someone could get that perception since Forte emphasizes that all knowledge should ultimately be expressed and shared with others, and our consumption of material ought to be approached with that in mind. However, that doesn’t mean he’s advocating or organizing only immediately actionable information.

Forte’s system of organization is summarized in PARA, which stands for 1. Projects, 2. Areas of Interest, 3. Resources, and 4. Archives. He suggests the four major folders of an organizational system ought to include these.

Projects are the materials that you are actively working on as a part of open projects. Areas of interest are areas that are “active” in the sense that you have ongoing interests and responsibilities, things like family finances, family medical, topics of active interest (like note-taking), etc. Resources are topics that may be of future interest but aren’t now.

Those categories are not just about the projects I’m actively working on now, but also allow for the topical organization of information that may or may not lead to active projects. In my “Areas” folder I have a folder on note taking because that’s an area of current interest. I also have folders with notes about ideas. That fits in with Forte’s organizational system as well.

Yes, there are many different ways to organize. And within the framework of his system, I use project folders, topic folders, idea folders, etc., all with linking between notes in Craft.

I may or may not ever write about that, and I don’t have a current project to do so. Likewise, I have subfolders in my “Resources” folder on topics I’ve run across that may prove useful in the future, but I’m not actively interested in.

Got to finish the podcast today. Great show, has me thinking in lots of different directions. Thank you to the hosts for the time they invested in thought and research to prepare for this episode.

Want to come on and talk about core values and river rafting? :wink:




I want to get better at taking notes. Therefore I read Tiagos article about PARA and listened to this and the previous episode. Man, I must admit I’m more confused and intimidated than before. There’s so much recommended that could be done or considered. Is this bit belonging to a project or an area or is it maybe a ressource? Am I in the process of organizing or is this already distilling? How much more refinement should I undertake on this? Is this still too long, do I need to make an extract of this extract? Is this even a note or is it a journal entry?
I guess my approach might be just the opposite. I did this with my task management as well: Get rid of almost all unnecessary structure or metadata, having just a flat list without folders or anything for starters and then think: What are the useful filters I can use to make these entries surface? (E.g: If it has a due date it will surface when that date approaches.)
I want little friction when adding something new. I don’t want to spend much time organizing the notes. I don’t want to be bothered by them unless I need them.
I get the idea of giving “actionable” notes more prominence (even though I wonder if Tiago even means tasks by that, as he is talking about stuff that can be “finished” rather than ongoing commitments). But further distinguishing between areas and archive etc? That might come from the restriction of using a folder structure inside which you drill for notes in the first place. If you look at a folder full of stuff to find something, you don’t want to clutter that. I’d prefer to filter for stuff I need right now.
I don’t have a solution yet, but I guess I will try to develop a system with tags and filters and crosslinks which is built around surfacing what I need, not hiding what I don’t need.

I thinks this is key. I think new notes belong in an “inbox”, with linking and tags to follow once you figure out what the the note is about(Zettelkasten-transient notes). Applying structure before understanding is a poor way of exploring your knowledge and adds artificial constraints.

For my more technical documents I have folders and tags because I know where things belong. Search and Devonthink “AI” are my friends.

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I used to tag tasks in my task manager for quite a while with stuff like „home“, „work“, names of persons involved, etc. thinking that I will probably „soon“ start using them for some kind of organizing. But after doing that for probably several years I realized I never even once actually used any of these. So I made a 180 degree turn and asked myself: What is the minimum meta data that I actually will use?

But on the other hand a system that helps surface the stuff that is interesting will only work if it has at least these crucial meta data. And maybe I don’t know yet, which I will need later.

I heard good things about cross linking and how people tell that they start seeing connections that they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. And that sounds really interesting. But then I think: That link will only be there if I deliberately put it there, so won’t it apply only to documents which I already know belong together? Will I not only be stating the obvious when I apply that link?
It was obvious for me if a task was a „work“ or „home“ task – that tag didn’t give me any useful information. If I start using crosslinks, I wonder if that information will be as redundant as well or if it’s an investment that pays off once my database has a certain size.

I absolutely agree with this sentiment. It was readily apparent to me in this episode as I consume information from more than books. I might have to read a new case, read a brief, watch a seminar, and listen to a podcast all in the same day. I struggle mightily with switching between those mediums and my note taking as well as information retention. I wish there had been more applicability outside what was offered.

I still enjoyed the show very much. I just found myself not being fully engaged.