Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks, likes to keep his notes messy1:

“‘Messiness’, in this context at least, is just the state of not being so hubristic as to imagine that you know, in advance, precisely what’s required in order to do or to create something worthwhile. Which, of course, nobody does.” - The life-changing magic of not tidying up

I really appreciate the benefits of serendipity, but I also need some structure, which is why I’m happy with making atomic notes, densely linked. You might call it a Zettelkasten. Burkeman says he tried a Zettelkasten approach to his notes, but found it too organised.

That’s not at all how I’ve experienced it.

The image that for me best sums up this process of making short notes to create longer pieces of writing is that of my little worm farm. All sorts of scraps get dumped in at the top. And mostly unseen, the worms turn everything into nourishing compost.

It’s almost magical.

So instead of being obsessive, I just have a few simple rules that I mostly stick to.

  • Plain text (Markdown) notes.
  • Each note is a single idea with a unique ID.
  • Each note deserves a clear title.
  • Notes link meaningfully to other notes.

And while this little system might not result in much tidiness, it’s still really neat.

an open worm farm showing vegetable scraps but no worms

  1. HT: Frank ↩︎