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Get started with digital notes

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were something you could start doing at work that would immediately make you more effective at your job?

Good news, because I believe there is: Digital note taking.

A Foundational Work Practice

For most of us, note taking amounts to an activity we do when we attend meetings—we record information we definitely need to know or share, commitments we make, instructions we’re given, and perhaps a few additional thoughts depending on your personal preferences for information capture.

Note taking can be so much more.

If you take your way of capturing notes in a meeting, improve it, and expand the activity to everything else you do at work, digital note taking will help you be more effective at what you do.

That’s because our jobs amount to turning 1) information into 2) knowledge and 3) applying it. That’s it. That’s all of our jobs. And digital note taking can help us with all three.

Taking digital notes is a foundational work practice that will help you think, help you focus, create a record, document your learning, and direct your work. 

That’s what note taking has done for me, at least, because digital note taking makes collecting, remembering, and using the enormity of information we consume every day at work … possible.

Getting Started

So if you haven’t already, pay for a digital note-taking app such as Evernote or any of the many other available options and install the application. I use Evernote and recommend it—it’s accessible across operating systems and, for reasons that will become clear, is usable with other components of a digital note taking system.

(Evernote is also accessible via your browser. I prefer the functionality of the desktop and mobile device apps.)

Create a notebook and name it “.Inbox”. Set it as your default notebook.

Evernote uses notebooks as its organizing metaphor (think of a notebook like you think of a folder on your computer); the period at the beginning of inbox is important because it will keep the notebook at the top of your notebook list as you add more and more. 

Start adding notes to your .Inbox … about everything: thoughts, observations, meetings, employee interactions, highlights from what you read, and any other information that seems relevant. 

Taking notes about … everything is likely to be different from your usual approach. This change in behavior, and the comprehensive collection of notes that will follow, is part of what lends digital note taking its utility. 

Once you have a few notes, create new notebooks to organize those notes by topic, for instance:

  • Team Staff Meetings
  • New Clinic Opening
  • 2021 Strategy Thoughts
  • 1:1 Tools

(I believe) It’s imperative you organize your Evernote set-up using the PARA method. If you don’t know about PARA, spend ten minutes becoming acquainted over here

Earlier I mentioned how Evernote uses notebooks instead of folders. This makes setting-up PARA a bit more difficult than it should be because instead of using folders to implement PARA we must create four “stacks” of notebooks. To create a stack requires two notebooks. Here’s how to do it. Once you have two notebooks that fit into one of the PARA categories (an easy work-around: create a nonsense notebook to create a stack, then delete the nonsense notebook and the stack remains). Your set-up should look like this:

.Inbox

1 Projects

2 Areas

3 Resources

4 Archive

Now whenever you create a new note, and that new note doesn’t have a home, create a new folder and add that folder to an existing stack. 

Team Staff Meetings and 2021 Strategy Thoughts, as an example, would both be added to the Areas stack. The 1:1 Tools, because the folder contains examples of how to improve 1:1 conversations, would be added to Resources. New Clinic Opening is a project. When any of these folders (and the notes within them) lose their relevance, they are moved to the Archives stack.

An Essential Part of the Job

Taking digital notes is a bit of work, not in a burdensome way, but in a way that it adds an extra task to what you’re already doing. This is a non-trivial reality for an overburdened administrator and, speaking from experience, once I started taking notes it was always tempting to not take notes … for a variety of reasons. However, not taking notes when you should be taking notes defeats the purpose of note taking. The whole reason to take notes is because when you want to use the notes you’ve taken, those notes exist.

In my estimation, a better way to look at digital note taking, which is the view I’ve adopted, is that digital note taking adds significant value to the work we’re already doing. Digital note taking is an essential part of the job because digital notes help us collect, remember, and use … knowledge.

Knowledge is essential to the work we do as knowledge workers in a knowledge economy. The things you know, the knowledge you have, is the stuff you learn from experience and education. 

Yet most of us don’t do a very good job collecting our knowledge, not in a systematized fashion anyway; which makes it difficult to remember knowledge; and that all but makes it impossible to use our knowledge.

Make more knowledge more usable by taking digital notes.


I learned about digital notes from Tiago Forte and his Building a Second Brain course. It was very helpful to me and I believe it could be just as helpful for you.

This post is one of a series: Create little systems to collect digital notes (post two), Use digital notes to do creative work (post three), and Use digital notes and strategic forgetting to be more effective at work (post four).

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