74: 2.6 million words in 18 months
A note-taking system that changed my life
18 months ago today I decided to try out a piece of software called Obsidian. It's a note-taking platform built on top of local plain text files. I quickly felt that it was going to be a game-changer.
Since then, I've written 2.6 million words using it. That's 144 thousand words a month, or 4,800 words a day.
The main things I’ve written are (1) strategic reflections and decisions, (2) notes from educational material and (3) logistical things.
Four things I've noticed are:
My mind keeps revisiting the same problems
I can write myself out of a funk
I forget most of what I read and think about
I make my best decisions 'iteratively'
1. My mind keep revisiting the same problems
Now that I write all my strategic reflections in one place, I can see themes emerging.
For example, I often think about how much effort I should put on sharing my ideas and experiences vs focussing on building (and sharing things later).
I hope that, over time, my thinking on these areas improves. And that it can help orientate me towards my 'bigger' purpose.
2. I can write myself out of a funk
Sometimes, I'll feel a bit overwhelmed or negative about something. This often manifests as a resistance towards working on some big task I know I should.
I have been surprised by how helpful it can be to write out how I'm feeling and what I should do next.
Having a go-to note editor always open lowers the friction for this. Plus Obsidian has hotkey to instantly insert a template. I have a couple of go-to templates - one that I wrote and one from Derek Sivers.
I heard from a psychologist that negotiating with your mind can be an effective technique. For example, "I don't feel like doing X, but if I do it now then I'll reward myself with Y". I've find it helpful to make this kind of thing explicit.
I remember first writing about this in my medical student book, but it still rings true to this day.
3. I make my best decisions iteratively
I find 'big decisions', like career choices, pretty tough. There's many variables at play, and you never have complete information.
Letting things mull in my head feels too intangible and prone to fallacious thinking.
When I write down my reasoning around something, it feels more concrete. It also allows me to build my reasoning over time. I have more than 20 reflections related to building a business, so if I come to decision-making point I will have a great starting point.
I’ve definitely seen the quality of my thinking on these big decision subjects improve over time.
4. I forget most of what I read and think about
I think I already knew intuitively knew this, but seeing it in front of my own eyes is a bit scary.
I might read an article I resonate with, assume I've remembered the key points, then re-visit my notes a week later and be surprised by how much I've forgotten. I've read similar accounts from people much smarter than me.
Having a low-friction reference is immensely helpful here. I'm seeing first-hand the benefit of a well-implemented 'second brain'.
One area it's really helpful is learning code. In the past few months, I've needed to learn more than 10 new programming languages and tools. There's no way I'd remember the common commands and syntax, but having a quick reference means I don't need to.
What are my next steps?
When I first started using Obsidian, I was convinced it would change my life. 18 months in, I'm only more convinced of that fact.
I want to start making my notes accessible publicly. Some of them are private, though, so I still need a low-friction workflow for discriminating this, whilst not making the notes incomplete and uninterpretable.
I see this kind of note-making as a life-long pursuit. I want to leave these notes for my great grandchildren. I'm thinking a lot about making my system scalable - to still work when there are 100 million words and 100,000 notes. I'd love to hear from anyone who's thought about this.
When giant GitHub monorepos became a thing, tools popped up to help deal with it. The same will be needed for 'knowledge' monorepos. There's definitely a company to be built here. I'll build it if no-one else does.