Due to my recent puppy affliction, I’ve been reading Don’t Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor, a fascinating read on the principles of behavioral training methods used with animals. She describes training not only cats, dogs, horses, and dolphins, but people as well.

The simplest way to “take notes” would be to underline passages that are useful. But, that hardly makes the ideas accessible in the future. I could instead read a digital version, go through a process of highlighting and have them exported, but I’ve found that to rarely be useful. I get too highlight-trigger-happy, and then fail to write about them.

To have to think them through to some point of perfection while writing would likely be impossible. How could I consider all the differences of ideas, wonder what links were, and how I would ever retrieve a thought when and where I’d want it?

We can readily stop ourselves from writing a thought for fear of its imperfection before it hits the paper. Recently, I had written about Ernest Hemingway’s perspective on the matter, in which we can consider a first draft to be something akin to fertilizer.

Another approach that might be helpful is to separate stages of writing. When you can give yourself one space to throw ideas down, and then another space to organize those thoughts, you effectively separate conception from development.

One solution is to use an Inbox.  It gives you a space to add thoughts to come to back to later.  However, there is some trouble with an Inbox.  Too often, you can throw everything but the kitchen sink in there. The ideas you’ve gathered hardly relate to each other, especially if you’ve been adding thoughts from other projects there and have yet to process it. In addition, as you process, you might forget what goes where and what concepts you were just working on.

An auxiliary solution is to very deliberately use a tag.

While in an Inbox, you could deliberately use a tag dedicated to the project to hold the ideas together, all while they are simultaneously added to an Inbox. This way, you have your related ideas together, and you don’t have to fully think them through until you are later deciding to arrange and polish your notes.

Here’s how I do it in DEVONthink:

First, I create a tag to represent the book I’m reading. Here, I’m using the author’s last name:

Second, I open the tag, and creates notes there. That’s pretty much it. Now, any time I create a new note (“Data > New > Markdown text” (Option-m for me)), it automatically gets tagged “Pryor” and stays in my set of notes with related items.

Meanwhile, the same note appears in my Inbox:

This way, I can add as little or as much as I want to the text while I’m reading.  But later, when I’m ready to process something fully to be added to my main repository of notes, I go to the Inbox where I can clarify my thoughts, add links to relevant notes I think of, consider backlinks, examine the DEVONthink’s AI of suggested related notes, and more. When I’m done, I hit Control-C and DEVONthink adds it to my main repository.

To learn about using DEVONthink for creating your own powerhouse of notes and ideas, consider Taking Smart Notes with DEVONthink.