Notes, Sparks and Shoe Boxes

May 09, 2014 by Gabe | [mmd] |

I subscribe to the "lots of little notes" methodology of managing information. I've written too much about it.1 If that kind of thing interests you then there is some really thoughtful stuff happening on the internet now.

Christian Tietze has been writing about his "Zettelkasten" process and just launched a site dedicated to the subject.2

I've also been reading up on "spark notes" through Steve Zeoli. A spark note is a single continuous document with ideas in a chronological order.

Spark notes would seem to be at odds with the shoe box approach of keeping small notes with limited information. After some consideration, I've noticed that I've created a dynamic spark note by filtering and sorting my collection of notes prefixed with xxsn.3 Any competent plain text note application allows for sorting by modification date. In nvALT, filter by "xxsn" and sort by date to get a spark note. This should also work for Evernote fanatics too.

I really don't like long notes in a single file. It becomes too hard to find what I'm looking for. Titles are valuable indicators of the content but that only works for me if the note is specific and concise.

As for the spark notes, I've found myself naturally storing initial ideas in short text notes but then elaborating in a context map. There are inconveniences to a split double entry system though, so it takes real intention to graduate a note to a map. Usually a context map means I'll actually make the idea real. When I look at my list of context maps, every one of them has actually become a project. I guess that's a pretty good system for me then.


  1. Danger! I regret the popups and auto-playing bullshit that IDG marketing pinheads have smeared all over the Macworld site. It's a sewer with diamonds at the bottom. 

  2. I hate that the Google Translate definition is "chit box". What the hell is a chit box? Well, a chit is a short note according to the internet (which is never wrong). So I guess it's a box of notes. 

  3. I previously used "xx" as a prefix for ideas. I'm trying a new prefix that seems more memorable and easier to discern for this experiment. The bonus is that I can have domain specific spark notes. "xxmd" could be post ideas for this site, if I ever have any.