til/effective note-taking

A couple of years ago, I discovered Roam Research which started my note-taking journey. I've since moved my notes to locally stored files, first using Logseq and now using Obsidian. I'm even using the latter to write all my TIL posts.

When I started, I mainly just dumped information inside notes, which, as I've since found, isn't a great way of learning the material. Now I'm using the Zettelkasten method and it has helped me both understand and retain more of what I learn. Here are some ideas that have helped me create better notes.

Create atomic notes

Notes should be atomic, meaning that they should only contain one thing. This makes them easier to understand in isolation, as well as connecting them to other notes.

Write in your own words

Taking notes is an active process. You won't gain knowledge by passively highlighting while reading a book or saving snippets from articles. You need to go through these highlights and rewrite them in your own words. Try to be short and explain in plain words.

Connect notes

If you write atomic notes, you'll start seeing opportunities to connect them together. This will be hard in the beginning since you won't have that many notes, but will be easier the more notes you get. Some ways of connecting could be:

  • Where X comes from?
  • What's opposite of X?
  • Where does X lead to next?
  • What is similar to X?


Once you have some notes, you can use them to output your own content. This is exactly what I do with my own posts. I've found that I've learned even more by sharing it and learning in public.