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3 secrets to taking future-proof notes


I was asked a great question on Twitter the other day: “what factors should a note have to be future proof?

Losing content within your personal knowledge management system can be one of the biggest challenges. Especially if you’re capturing notes weeks, months, or even years apart on the same topic– how do you connect them together? How do you keep your system in good shape for the future?

Taking future-proof notes is a key part of the Calmer Notes method for personal knowledge management. I go into more depth about this in the Calmer Notes course, but here’s quick overview of what it means to write a future-proof note in your personal knowledge management system.

Imagine your future self’s search strings

The simplest way to approach this issue is to step back and imagine– it’s ______ (two, four, eight) years from now. Why will your future self be looking for this information? What type of project might they be working on that this may help them support?

Now, think– what types of keywords might they be typing into a search bar? What folder would they look in? Think how you would search for this information right now if you were browsing someone else’s database. What words would you search? How would you expect it to be categorized?

Use as many keywords as you can

You aren’t psychic– you can’t know exactly when or why your future self might be seeking this information. There are any number of projects or topics that might lead you to be seeking out this information again down the road. So, try to add as many breadcrumbs as you can for this trail.

Add keywords (within the title, body, or tags of the note) that reflect the multiple reasons you might search for it. If it’s a book note, for example, add the full citation (including author, title, publisher, publication date), genre, how you found out about the book, and as many topics and themes as you can imagine. Be generous in saving details of citations and links. Be overinclusive rather than underinclusive.

Save your notes in a future-proof format

To build a future-proof personal knowledge management system, you need to make sure that your notes will remain accessible to you years down the road. This means being able to download copies of your notes so you never lose them even if a cloud-based note taking software, for example, suddenly shut down without warning.

I’m a big fan of using Markdown as the default note taking file format in your personal knowledge management system, as it’s lightweight and portable. But Markdown is just one way to achieve this goal. The most important concept is to save your notes in whatever flexible format allows you to have backups and to access your notes from any system. Whenever you consider a new note taking software, make sure that the app has thoroughly reliable import and export options.

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