My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Do You Share the Compulsion to Take Notes?

Assay: One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: People are more alike than we think, and we’re less alike than we think.

For instance, for years, I thought that my habit of constant note-taking was quite peculiar. But since I’ve written about my love of note-taking I’ve discovered that many people share this passion.

In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion describes this drive:

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

She’s right to use the word “compulsion.” I don’t have to push myself to take notes, I have to stop myself from taking too many notes.

I use a very loose method of organization. For my major topics, such as “happiness” or “Churchill,” I keep a single, giant, dedicated document. I add all relevant notes there, along with subject tags so that I can find the note later. I also have a document called “Notes” where I keep notes that don’t belong in any particular place.

For quotes, I have one document for general quotes; the other for happiness-related quotes, which I use for the Moment of Happiness, my daily emails of happiness quotes.  (If you want to get a daily happiness quote by email, sign up here.) I love having a chance to make use of the quotes I love; I wish I knew how to make use of my giant trove of non-happiness-related quotes.

For notes related to books I’m writing, I’ve wondered whether I should organize my notes better, but I do find that the action or scrolling through them and seeing odd juxtapositions of ideas helps to stimulate my own ideas and creativity. I worry that if I kept the notes in a highly structured way, I might lose some of these benefits.

How about you? Do you share this compulsion to take notes? How do you organize them?