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Is your note taking system working well?
Want to build a note taking system that fits your life? Here’s a quick way to tell if your personal knowledge management system is working well for you: whenever you have an idea, or come across an interesting article, or link… do you know precisely, exactly where to put it, without having to give it a second thought? Or do you spend time and mental energy figuring out where to store it– and end up losing ideas and inspiration?
If the latter sounds more like you, not to worry: here’s a strategy inspired by Kendra Adachi’s “Lazy Genius” approach that can help you build a more efficient, sustainable workflow for your note taking system.
The brilliance of Kendra Adachi’s “Lazy Genius” philosophy
Podcast interview with Emily P. Freeman
I was recently re-listening to The Next Right Thing, Episode 139: “Decide Once.” Emily P. Freeman, host of The Next Right Thing podcast, interviews her friend Kendra Adachi, author of The Lazy Genius Way book and host of The Lazy Genius podcast. I’m a fan of both of these podcasts, so being able to listen to these two wise, warm, insightful podcast hosts together is a delight.
In brief, Kendra Adachi’s philosophy is neatly expressed in her summary of the Lazy Genius approach: “be a genius about the things that matter, and lazy about things that don’t.” I love this purpose-driven, practical, mindful approach. For those of you new to Kendra Adachi’s philosophy, you can explore her blog archives. In her book, she shares 13 key principles to her Lazy Genius approach to life, starting with “decide once.” You can download a sample of The Lazy Genius book from her site, or order her book from Bookshop.org.
Decide once: a key principle of the “Lazy Genius” approach
When I was listening to the podcast interview, the concept of “decide once” really resonated with me. Basically, it means to identify areas where we’re constantly using up brain power reinventing the wheel, deciding over and over again– then choose to simply decide once and stick with it. Here’s an excerpt from the podcast:
Just decide once in areas where you’re… really tired of making that decision or this is really stressful… [Ask yourself] is there a way that I could decide something just one time and see what happens?
Free up mental space by minimizing choice
The oft-quoted anecdote about Barack Obama only having to choose between two colours of suits is popular for a reason. We can all identify with that paradox of choice. We recognize the need to minimize non-essential decision-making in our day to day life— so we have energy and brainpower left for more important things.
When we choose to adopt a “decide once” strategy, that gives us the mental space to build a trusted system and approach, instead of going through the work of weighing and considering again and again.
How to implement the “decide once” principle in your note taking system
I’m a fan of all the Lazy Genius principles, but I think that the “decide once” principle is especially relevant to building a trusted note taking system. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by choice, particularly with the proliferation of note taking apps these days. Many people fall into the habit of adopting a half-dozen different note taking apps, each with a unique set of features. But when you have an idea (in the middle of the night, while commuting, after hopping out of the shower), do you instantly know where to capture it? Do you have a clear, trusted spot in your personal knowledge management system where you can safely store and reference this idea in the future?
Want to create a low-maintenance yet highly effective digital note taking system? Set aside the time to decide once.
Where to save text-based ideas
You need a trusted, central repository for ideas-in-progress and half-finished writing and notes. In the Calmer Notes method, these are called “essential notes” and are primarily text-based. Whether you call this a mind garden, a digital garden, a digital commonplace book, a personal wiki, a digital bullet journal— the most important thing is having that one easy to access, quick, future-proof space to capture those fleeting ideas and inspiration.
Some of the best note taking apps for this function include:
You can explore my blog archives on note taking apps for more ideas on other software and apps you can use for this function.
The important thing is to choose one app and commit to saving all your notes there— at least for a while, as an experiment. As Kendra Adachi herself notes, “decide once” doesn’t mean it’s a permanent decision. If it’s not working, you can always revisit and adjust. Especially if you make sure to take future-proof notes, so moving from one app to another down the line comes with minimal fuss. Making the choice to “decide once” means that you know exactly where to save your ideas— and you’ll find you end up getting more ideas once you have that trusted space.
Where to save links
If you work across multiple devices (and almost everyone does these days), you’ll want to make sure you’re saving in a cloud-based bookmarking app rather than relying on browser-based bookmarking. This will allow you to seamlessly search through that link you just know you came across a few months ago, and recover it quickly. Make the choice to “decide once” to save it in your single bookmarking app of choice, instead of scattering across bookmark bars at work, emailed links to yourself, and a few links saved in a Notion database. Here are some bookmarking apps to consider:
Where to save tasks
If your tasks are hidden amongst your notes and links, it’s easy to lose track of them. If you have action items that need to be accomplished— rather than simply reference material to be stored— you need to save those in a trusted task manager. Going down the rabbit hole of task managers and GTD apps is beyond the scope of this article, but you can check out some of the top task management apps to get started:
How to make your note taking system a calmer spot to be
When you apply the “decide once” principle to your note taking, you’ll find that your note taking system becomes a more appealing place to spend time. You’ll build a habit of capturing ideas and inspiration, because you know where to store it. You’ve created a low-friction note taking environment: as soon as you can identify the type of material it is, you know exactly where to put it. You can get back to focusing on the content of your notes, rather than the process of where to create and store them. This minimizes decision fatigue— just like Barack Obama’s limited suit colours— and frees your mind up for more creative thinking. It also reduces the number of apps you need to search to find ideas and information down the road.
Wishing you all the best on your personal knowledge management journey!