No time? Listen to it instead
Earlier this year, I came across Ryan Holiday’s famous Notecard System that he inherited from Robert Greene. The Notecard System is talked in detail on his fantastic blog post. The system is about organising thoughts and notes into small cards that you can divide on a project-basis, label further and use later.
When I first read about it, I immediately decided to use a new Google Keep account to do this. It’s a personal bias of mine when it comes to using apps over everything else I know. Once an initial base was built, it got easier to update it with every book I read after doing it.
Why Do It?
Before we dive further, it’s important to answer two questions. How does it help, and will this help me? I can help you make sense for the first one. The second one is something you answer for yourself.
In any case, how does the Notecard System help me? To me,
- It is a one-stop repository for things I really take away anything I read.
- It’s also an instant-access place if I am looking for ideas.
- It helps me make better decisions (you’ll see why later).
Since everything I read is first reviewed into Notes on the Kindle, then those Notes are selected and not all make it to the card system, it’s the most distilled place for all wisdom that resonated with me.
It’s a personal treasure trove of ideas.
So, if you want something like that, follow along.
How To Build It?
In his blog post, Ryan says he uses a perverted version of what was taught to him so in some ways, what’s to come is a perverted version of his perverted version, which is how ideas evolve, apparently. Here’s the Notecard System using Google Keep.
One thing I’ve changed from the system talked in Ryan’s post is that mine contains more direct quotes from books I read. Sometimes, there’s a distilled understanding that I add to them, but usually, it’s just quoted.
The reason is that I read on the Kindle, and it gets easier to transfer highlights to Keep. Although it is still an arduous undertaking despite the existence of copy-pasting.
There’s no direct way to dive into this, so I’m just going to go through how I built it, and then, you can either copy the entire approach or take parts of it.
The Meta Note
I started with a blank note and pinned it, so it remains at the top. This is the only pinned note in this Keep dashboard.
This is the Meta note or the one place where the colour guides are along with other instructions such as convention for naming cards, should I forget it later.
The Colour-Coded Categories
Then, I started taking each book on the Kindle app on Windows and started migrating my notes. This was a prolonged exercise.
- Life is Grey - Fallacies & Behaviour are Orange - Strategy is Green - Facts are Red - Philosophy is Brown - Quoted is Pink - Humour is Purple - Opinion is Yellow - Language is Blue - Writing is Dark Blue
I started with arbitrary labels that stuck. I keep adding more or modifying the existing ones. The essential categories became colours of their own. It’s not a complicated system.
For example, all Orange notes are about Fallacies & Behaviour. Most insights in these come from books on statistics such as Dan Ariely’s books but also, sometimes from fiction and other books.
Along the same lines, Philosophy is Brown, Life is Grey (intentional joke for self), Strategy is Green and so on, so forth.
The Naming Convention
The way I’ve decided to title each card is this: Book/Essay – Author.
If there is no book or if I don’t know the source, it’s the Author’s name only.
That’s how each card becomes easily searchable later.
Other labels are not major categories but attribute to those categories by adding meaning. For example, Language is Blue, but then, there are labels like Latin, French, German et al. which have no colour of their own but add for easy navigation.
This is how the Notecard System looks for me, and I find this amazingly pretty, to be honest. However, it’s not all about the bells and whistles. There’s a reason for using Google Keep here. The colours would come in handy.
How I Use It
Google Keep offers countless ways to simply search through everything and access it quickly. So, using the Notecard System, once it’s made, is straightforward but insanely powerful.
Search by Colour
Google Keep has one of my favourite features of all time, and that is search by card colour. So, if I was looking for Strategy, all I’ll need to do is tap a colour after starting a Search.
Search within Colour
See that little “Search within Green” text in the search bar? That’s why this is such an amazing approach, in my opinion.
After selecting a colour, I can go deeper with something like this:
That brings the precise advice on speaking up instantly.
You’d wonder how I remember there’s something about speaking in there. I don’t, but since this is Strategy, almost anything I can think of or anything I remotely remember adding or having difficulty in recalling will be here for sure.
That’s something you ensure when you’re building it.
Another smart thing is that Google Keep picks up names of books and other entities like music all on its own. They start to show up in the Search menu.
Yet another way to use this is without searching within a colour but searching by Writer.
So, if you know Shane Parrish’s book had a great idea about using leverage from Physics in life, you can just pull up Shane Parrish, and all his advice comes up instantly.
The last thing I have done is set up specific widgets for each label on pages of my home screens. This is what that looks like in practice. Bored in a cab or in the washroom? Well, browse through some philosophy.
You never know when the right knowledge can spark the best of ideas within you.
That’s pretty much how I built and use the Notecard System using Google Keep. I know this was more of a tutorial but here’s a Nudge anyway.
We consume a lot of information, and often, it gets lost. We recall some vague detail such as it being about strategy or that perfect philosophy on money, but we barely get any hint. It’s better to build a system where everything you consume is recorded. Recording, however, is half the battle. You need to be able to access it quickly and reliably. It helps to have all the wisdom you need in your pocket.
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