How do you handle the constant stream of information?

We’re faced with ideas, news articles, research papers, class work, office filings, and who knows what else flying at us all the time. Even our own thoughts ceaselessly come to mind, and it can be difficult to know what to do with them.

Couldn’t we just file that stuff… somewhere? Clearly a lot of these ideas and papers feel meaningful, but there just isn’t some ready task or project that always goes with our stuff.

Some time ago, I’d come across this idea of the “Zettelkasten”. Shrouded in some mystery and even some arguments about its use, at its simplest, it’s a system of taking notes. I couldn’t figure out much about it at the time, though I knew it had something to do with linking ideas together.

It wasn’t until I stumbled onto a book called How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens that I was able to start piecing the ideas together. Ahrens gave me just the right push at just the right time. I had a similar experience with David Allens’ Getting Things Done years back when I was trying to learn how to get on top of my work.

Ahrens does a great job of not only describing how to take solid notes, but how to do so in a way so that ideas can come to mind when you want them. I don’t have to lose anything. I don’t have to remember where I put things either. They’ll come to me when needed. And, I have a neat way to arrange my thoughts so that I can have the solid outline of a paper, and even some of its content, when I want one.

What’s fascinating is that it’s a note taking system that can bring ideas to mind even when you don’t realize you want them. That sounds fantastical, but having used it for some time now, I find it to be true.

In fact, notes are fun now! Because I have a way to reliably get back to them when I want them, I can have whatever thoughts without needing some definitive project to pin them to. I even find myself enjoying reading things I disagree with because I have a place for those ideas, too. And when it comes time to organize several ideas around whatever is my current fancy, I can do that, too.

For example, if I’ve got an idea about music and psychoanalysis, I have a way to add that to my set. From then on out, I can find it again while wandering through related ideas. Or I can find it with laser precision. And, if I ever care to, I can take that note, any related ideas, the references they connect to and quickly put them into an outline for a paper. What’s more, those notes and references automatically create and arrange the presentation with already well considered thoughts. Instead of having to create from a blank slate, I already have something to build and cultivate from.

To start building one, I looked through several apps. We’ll explore these ideas in a future post. Suffice it to say here, I chose DEVONthink, not only because of its ability to create a slip-box, but because of its ability to do so much more. Integrating pdf work, optical character recognition, the ability take on just about any file type, housing on my local machine, syncing, an AI to think about what relates to what, and more all brought me to DEVONthink.


Interested in learning how to organize your ideas, spark creative inspiration, and find your stuff easily? Check out Taking Smart Notes with DEVONthink: