I've been taking notes wrong my whole life

haha, yes most click baity title in this forum ever!


I assume it has something to do with that other thread you started, where you discussed how you’re never satisfied with apps and decided to stop switching? :lying_face: :rofl: You were vacillating between Ulysses and IA Writer and Drafts in this forum in 2018, saying Ulysses had too many features you didn’t use but had a subscription you disliked paying, and said back then that Ulysses and IA seemed equivalent for your purposes.

For one massive project that I started this year I’ve got a few dozen sheets in Ulysses,

Image on 2020-09-01 07.38.46 AM

no copies (aside from CCC and BackBlaze - I remember you used to manually migrate everything out to the Finder), and with font/color choices and custom off-white background it’s a significantly nicer experience than I would have had with IA Writer (which I own for Mac and iOS) and the one least-bad font available of the embedded three that IA lets you choose in the app



I think that linking absolutely everything has the potential to show correspondences I’d otherwise have missed, especially as the database of writing increases. But I cannot say that it would necessarily help me except in rare events. It is interesting be to see how quickly the concept of backlinks has swept through the productivity and notetaking space, and I’ll follow the advancements in current and new apps, but I’m not ready to be a guinea pig for new, evolving apps with the feature.

I think that I’d generally get more out of manually searching with DevonThink, say, and using its boolean and fuzzy searching to show me scored results of files with related material I could peruse, while letting me use a more comfortable app environment for my notes and long-form writing.

When I take notes it’s in outline form, and at this point I automatically internally compose and sort things in my mind in outline and bullet-list form and I’m mostly in control of the text and resources. (Well, less so for the pdfs and epubs and webarchives - but Zettls and Roams and Obsidians can’t do anything with those files anyway.) My ideal, unrealized writing environment would be a Dynalist/Workflowy/OmniOutliner-style outliner for note-taking which, with a click, would blossom a Scrivener/Ulysses-style left column series of folders/sheets with a main writing area into which I could fill or expand the outline text. In the mean time scratch out bulleted quick notes in Drafts, I outline like a madman in OmniOutliner, and I use outlines side-by-side with Ulysses text windows.


I remain happy and productive with Ulysses as discussed here

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Yeah, that not switching apps thing. That’s not working out. :slight_smile:


I kind of feel like a lot of this is “tool over technique” thinking.

For example, I just watched August Bradley’s “Life Operating System” video. And to be fair, he does some really cool stuff with Notion.

But if you think about it for a minute, the guy spent the mental effort to not only categorize everything in his life, but to develop an entire general-purpose information architecture system. He’s also hyper-disciplined to log and track everything in his system.

I have the sneaking suspicion that his success has far, far less to do with Notion than it does with those habits / cognitive processes.

Same sort of thing for Zettelkasten-based systems. I’m sure they’re useful if you’re willing to do all the effort of categorizing / maintaining the notes - but articles like this:

When asked how he published so much, Luhmann used to answer “I’m not thinking everything on my own. Much of it happens in my Zettelkasten. My productivity is largely explained by the Zettelkasten method” (original in German).

Because of statements like these, Luhmann’s Zettelkasten acquired a mythical status and has been deemed so valuable that it’s currently the subject of its own research project. But Luhmann never made a secret out of his method and it’s actually fairly simple to understand. And that’s good news! It means we can adopt his method and get the same benefits that made him such an eminent intellectual:

I don’t see that there’s any logical reason to believe that just using the method will inherently get you the same benefits. And it certainly feels bizarre to hear somebody attribute “thinking” to boxes with pieces of paper.

I’m reminded of Cal Newport’s observations, when looking for study habits that create student success, that most people are rather bad at answering questions like “so, how did you get to be such a great student?” You get lots and lots of explanations that aren’t replicable, and lots and lots of explanations that have nothing to do with them actually being successful.

There are definitely better ways to categorize notes, but I have the sneaking suspicion that the mental processes exhibited by somebody like August Bradley (deep thoughts about your personal information architecture, categorization, etc.) are more key than the adoption of a system that seems to have sprung out of obscurity just in time to create a couple of software startups. :wink:


Perhaps related to the infinite monkey theorem: will a million people obsessively zettlelinking day and night correlate all of thought into a theory of everything?


I’d be happy with a theory on compulsive app switching. :joy:


Definitely – one of the lemmas.


This reminds me of one of my fond memories of teaching at school. Sometimes you get brilliant students and very often they have really well organised beautiful revision notes (not always).

Other students obviously want to replicate their success and what I’ve seen on more than one occasion is that they will try to replicate the success by photocopying that student’s notes, but not by doing the accompanying hard work.


Fully agree. And that’s with a lot of things in life. Tools are not (that) important. Even with a simple instrument a talented musician can make great music.

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Yep, although the tool does open new perspectives to the seasoned professional / musician. There comes a point when talent carries you only so far with what you have at your disposal. But I agree; most people tend to believe they need to start with the symphonic orchestra where they should just start praticing scales, so to speak. :slight_smile:

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Deliberate typo “money”? :slight_smile:

But, practicing need to be formal. Everything taught (or self learned) is in some sort of way formalised, even if it is something completely new.

When you learn to play an instrument, a sport or whatever, you are taught some sort of coded procedure (which can be the only one, or one of the many). You can improvise only when you know the rules.

sorry for bringing up something the thread has passed by a while ago :smiley:

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You can improvise only when you know the rules.

Not sure if that’s always true. There are many artists, jazz musicians come to mind, that have never touched theory in their life.

Although I’m a big fan of knowing the rules. It’s a logical shortcut for knowing when and how to break them. Otherwise you end up in years of revision hell as Kerouac did for On the Road :slightly_smiling_face:


… and most of what I’m doing is more in the spirit of “taking a machete to the jungle and seeing what I discover there”.

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Wishful thinking :slight_smile:

Fixed it.

But in some sort of way they learned the rules without touching the theory.

Of course we could debate forever, there’s no hard rule on this :stuck_out_tongue:


I had this experience a ways back. I have some international clients, and I was dealing with a wonderfully nice lady from Austria whose English got…confusing sometimes. :slight_smile:

So as a bit of a language geek, I figured I’d give her a couple of quick pointers about English word usage to streamline some of our communication.

Took me 45 minutes to think through how to articulate what should have been a relatively simple explanation, and I still wasn’t super-satisfied with the result. And I KNOW the English language. I speak it natively. I’ve been paid to write copy for people. But despite that, I was having a heck of a time putting my finger on the exact rule(s) that applied to the situation.

That reminds me of something I used to keep telling a friend of mine who was trying to learn a new skill, and kept trying to “jump ahead”. “The rules are the rules, until you’re experienced enough to know when they’re not.” :slight_smile:


What font is that?

The 20-character minimum on posts here is silly…