Taking good notes

Notepad on laptop

Photo by Tracy Adams on Unsplash

Stepping into the Developer Apprenticeship role some of what I needed to learn included what the team processes were, how to use the different development environments and tools, and various commands (CLI, GIT, and more).

Having a check-in with one person and gathering all their ideas in a Google doc was great initially, but after about 6 weeks and a lot more calls, I found I started duplicating info in some places, or finding it harder to work out which section I’d recorded certain info in (I was using Asana tasks for different topics to organize everything).

A new system

On the hunt for a better note-taking system I came across this article, which talked about Notion. Yes, it’s another app / tool, but in just a couple of weeks I’ve found that it is replacing both Google docs and Asana, and also Simplenote for running to-dos as well. Which makes searching for information much easier, as everything is still in the one place.

It didn’t take too long to move my notes across to Notion, and after a bit of tweaking to how I was organizing everything I now have a system that works pretty well. I’m fairly sure I’m only using in a pretty basic way as well, but I’m already impressed with how versatile it is.

How I organize my notes

I have one template with about 7 ‘sub-pages’ that I use as sections. These are basically ways to organize notes on different topics. Here is a demo template to give an idea of how I organize my main template.

Separately I have a to-do board with a few different broad tasks to-do. For example, I have a ‘Git learning’ to-do, and that includes links to various courses and resources I want to follow up on. I have another to-do with a list of PR ideas that I can add to. I also have a ‘weekly notes’ page in the main menu which links to sub-pages for each week at the moment. That’s where I keep my daily, unorganized notes.

Taking and sharing notes

The first step in my notes system is having that running ‘note dump’ for each day where I write down everything that happens or that I’ve learnt. Then at the end of the week I go through the notes, and work out which bits of information can be moved to specific sections in the main template.

If I haven’t already, I also see if any of my notes would be useful somewhere more public – either filling in a missing piece in some documentation, adding new documentation or maybe just sharing it in other channels like Slack. One thing on updating documentation though – no-one is necessarily going to know you updated a page somewhere unless you talk about that. And maybe that’s fine – you’ll likely have an idea about whether the topic is something that is very relevant and ought to have more visibility or not.

A final note…

It’s still early days using Notion for me, but the system of organization could be replicated elsewhere I’m sure. What’s most helpful is just having a note-taking system in place, as well as scheduling time in to review those notes, and moving / sharing them as needed.


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