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Build a creative note taking habit (without letting perfectionism rear its ugly head)

The frustrated late-night search

You want to build a sustainable note taking habit, but you’re not sure how to start. You might have come across this blog after going down an internet rabbit hole on “the best way to organize files” or “how to take better notes on a book” or “how to build a zettelkasten” or “what are smart notes” or other late-night search engine queries fuelled by revenge bedtime procrastination.

You’re tired of feeling overwhelmed and at loose ends and scattered and disorganized. You have way too many things to do, and not enough time to do it.

The quest for perfection

So you search for the “perfect” solution. You want to get things right this time. You don’t want to waste any more time. You want to do careful research so that finally— finally— this time your system will feel right. You’ll be able to be one of those people who has a note taking system. A trusted method. You’ll be that person, who can always find that reference or book or idea or email, and never forgets a detail.

Organization ≠ perfection

Here’s the thing: that quest for perfection? The search for the “perfect” system?

That’s the number one thing stopping you from actually building a note taking habit.

When we spend hours trying to find just the right note taking app, and organizing our notes with a complex set of tags and folders and numbering to make sure they’re beautifully organized, to the envy of others?

We won’t write notes in that system.

Sure, we might enthusiastically collect notes for a short time, when our systems are new and shiny. But then we come up with a half-formed idea. And we’re not sure where to file it. And our system doesn’t allow for half-formed ideas without a clear place to go.

So it sits there in our new system, staring at us. Out of place. Disorganized. An aberration.

So we stop recording those ideas.

Our brain knows we don’t have a safe, trusted, easy place to stash these half-formed ideas, so our creativity splutters. Ideas don’t come so easily. Everything feels a little harder, creaky, out of alignment.

A safe space for messy thinking

When we don’t have a simple, easygoing place for messy thoughts, for works in progress, for imperfection and half-formed ideas, we shut down those creative impulses. When we focus on building a perfect, highly complex note taking system, routine, or habit, we leave out room for spontaneity. For imperfection. For the germ of an idea that could grow up into something really exciting— but it’s not quite there yet.

When we over-focus on the logistics of our personal knowledge management system, we constrain our creativity.

When you carve out the time to create a simple, frictionless, note taking system that fits your life– and the way you think– you’ll find more joy and ease in building that note taking habit. You can create a virtual artist’s space, a studio to get messy and dirty and cover yourself in metaphorical paint and figure out what you’re trying to say without feeling constrained by getting your tags or folders just so. Having enough scaffolding and structure in place matters, certainly. But don’t mistake the scaffolding for the real work you’re trying to accomplish.

PS Want to build a sustainable note taking system that leaves you room to breathe and think? Check out Calmer Notes.

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