Welcome back to part 4 in the seemingly never ending series on how to take good notes. In this episode we’ll talk about how to take evergreen notes.
Here’s a quick reference guide to take you back to the first 3 parts in case you missed those:
And that brings us to part 4, which is what to do after you are done reading. The goal here is to directly convert the ideas swirling around in your head and turn them into more actionable content you can use for later.
Make sure you check out Andy’s page, but be prepared to spend hours there. Here’s just a brief note from Andy about his thoughts on Evergreen Notes:
- Evergreen note-writing helps insight accumulate
- Evergreen note-writing helps reading efforts accumulate
- Note-writing helps writing accumulate: these notes are the fuel for the Executable strategy for writing, particularly if you Create speculative outlines while you write.
In short, the idea is that evergreen notes are reusable, short, specific, and dense. They can be dropped off throughout space and time and still hold up.
I’ve not focused on evergreen notes and much as I should, but it is on my list to get to.
A great book I highly recommend you read is How To Take Smart Notes by Sonke Ahrens. I finished it recently and will most likely publish my notes from that book here on the blog soon. This book goes over the Zettlekasten method of note-taking and content production.
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s move on to the process you need to follow once you have finished reading a book and have all those great ideas swirling in you head. How do you capture further the ideas and turn them into usable evergreen notes?
How To Create Evergreen Notes
There are 3 steps I like to take before I start writing out my thoughts or evergreen notes. What you want to focus on is three simple areas.
Creating Evergreen Notes Strategy 1: Recollect
This is a seemingly easy and obvious first step. You have finished the book, you’ve taken notes using the META method as your framework and you focused on the 6 areas of knowledge extraction.
You then asked yourself further questions and looked for lessons and connections as you went through the material so your “real time notes” are pretty good.
Now, we need to take a breath. You can even decide to let a day go by before you do this. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to help your brain reformat all that information you’ve just taken in.
What you wan to do to start on your process to create evergreen notes is to really recollect everything possible. And I mean this word in a double-use sort of way. First, re-collect all your notes. Grab it all and read through it again.
Look for areas that jump out at you or resonate with you. This will sound a little “woo-woo” but I think the areas that gives us that mental tingle are what we are called to work on first. You should start feeling a natural attraction towards certain notes, principles, and ideas.
You also want to think about your notes or recollect as much as you can mentally. This part can be very painful because pretty quickly you’ll realize how much you have already forgotten.
And that’s ok, you can start writing down your notes now and look for the knowledge gaps. Write down what you do know and leave blanks for what you don’t know.
Some of my notes come out looking like this:
The 3 Secrets Of Success Are Consistency, Application, & ___________.Yikes! What was that third thing? I don’t remember and my notes missed it. No big deal, I’ll just go back through the book (or Google it!)
This is a great way to make sure you learn the right answer. And one you learn something by having to retrieve it you are way more likely to remember it.
Creating Evergreen Notes Strategy 2: Inspect
You should now be writing out evergreen notes as you reviewed them in the recollect stage. The next step is to inspect these notes with great care as you write them. What you want to do here is to make a plan on how you see yourself using these evergreen notes in the future.
Inspect them for the following criteria: (note – not an exhaustive list)
- Content Value
- Quantity Of Words
- Evergreen Nature (ie does it stand alone)
- Future Use
- Current Use
- Past Use
The last 3 are particularly important. You can add tags to these notes that will help you find them when you need them for future use. This is a great concept I picked up from How To Take Smart Notes.
Don’t tag notes based on how you found it, but by how you’ll use it in the future. You want to makes your notes discoverable. And this discovery may very well be on accident as you dig through your notes later.
So, think of how “future you” will find these evergreen notes.
Also think of current projects you are working on. Do any of these Evergreen Notes fit in there? Can you put them to immediate use?
Same with Past Use. Have you written about old topics that could use some updating? Do any of your new notes or discoveries apply to old pieces of content or old ideas you were pursuing but abandoned?
Sometimes all it takes is one really good evergreen note to breathe life into a dead project.
Creating Evergreen Notes Strategy 3: Perfect
This is my favorite part of the evergreen note taking process. You can (and should) review your notes again and see if you can improve upon them.
Some quick wins to improve your evergreen notes include:
- Make them denser: Make them about ONE idea and ONE idea only
- Think of the note as a “block” or one line of code that serves one function
- Make them clearer: Make sure the note makes sense all by itself with no other reference
By doing this, you end up with really tight evergreen notes that you can use again and again in the future.
Now, this next part is a little controversial because there’s an ongoing debate in the knowledge management world.
If you want to perfect your brain’s ability to recall the information you have learned, you can do that by creating a follow up program to memorize this information.
One of the best-known ways to get this information from the page to your brain is known as Spaced Repetition.
Here’s a great video about Spaced Repetition From Ali Abdaal:
The basic idea is to split up your learning sessions into chunks. If you have 10 hours to learn something, you’ll be better off to spend 1 hour a day every other day for 20 days as opposed to a 10 hour “study” session.
You can take concepts from your evergreen notes and turn them into note cards, for example.
You could have one side of the card be a definition and another side be the keyword. I recently did this to study for a real estate exam, which I am glad to say I passed on the first try. (It only has a 50% pass rate on the first try).
I also only spent about 45 minutes a day studying for 10 days.
I owe a lot of that success to the spaced repetition method of learning.
For an easy (and FREE) way to use note cards for spaced repetition, I recommend ANKI. Check it out, it’s pretty amazing.
Evergreen Notes – A Conclusion
The world of evergreen notes is massive. My post here today is just meant to help you a little bit on your journey. I highly recommend you do lots of googling, lots of reading, spend some time on Youtube and just learn.
It’s a perfect excuse to practice your new note taking skills as well.
So, in a way, you get to feed two birds with one scone. 🙂
Now, in part 5 of this series we’ll look at some other post study application methods that you can employ to make the information you’ve learned become a part of you even more.
If you’ve ever dreamed of waxing poetic and pontificating for hours about a subject matter, this next blog post should help you do just that.
Part 5 is here – how to apply what you learn.