The Art of Note Naming: Keys to Effective Knowledge Management

Unlock the full potential of your Knowledge Management system by mastering the art of crafting clear, concise, and organized note names – the secret to transforming your chaotic digital world into a seamlessly searchable, highly efficient repository of wisdom

The Art of Note Naming: Keys to Effective Knowledge Management
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In this article, I want to explore the fundamentals of note naming. I will also share strategies you can use to enhance your Knowledge Management practices.

Introduction

A Personal Knowledge Management system can be very useful, but its value can only compound if you organize your knowledge intelligently. One of the most important but often-overlooked aspect of effective Knowledge Management is choosing good names for your notes. Choosing good names is more art than science, but there are certain tips and tricks you can apply to achieve better results.

As we'll see shortly, choosing good names for your notes has many benefits. Whether you're maintaining a personal archive of insights or working with a team, naming your notes thoughtfully can significantly impact your ability to recognize, understand, reuse, and prevent duplication of valuable information.

Benefits of choosing good names for your notes

To me, the main benefits of choosing good names for your notes are:

  1. Eases Retrieval: Quickly find the information you need when searching for specific notes.
  2. Saves Time: Spend less time searching and more time using your knowledge effectively.
  3. Minimizes Frustration: Prevent the frustration of not finding what you're looking for.
  4. Prevents Duplication: Clearly named notes reduce the risk of creating duplicate content.
  5. Promotes Reusability: Easily identify and reuse valuable content.
  6. Helps break down complex Concepts: Break down complex ideas into interconnected, digestible notes.
  7. Facilitates Learning: Well-named notes assist in retaining and applying new knowledge.
  8. Reduces Cognitive Load: Clear note names reduce mental effort required to understand content.
  9. Enables Contextual Understanding: Quickly understand how notes are related just from their names. Good names provide context.
  10. Enhances Cross-Referencing: Seamlessly refer to and cross-link relevant notes.
  11. Enables Thematic Grouping: Organize notes thematically, creating logical groupings.
  12. Improves Navigation: Easier access to related notes.

In essence, "correct" and thoughtful note naming is a foundational element of effective knowledge management, offering a multitude of benefits that extend to organization, reuse, link, search, and productivity.

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The Fundamentals of Effective Note Naming

Clarity is Key

Your note names should be crystal clear and concise, leaving no room for ambiguity. Avoid vague or overly cryptic names that require mental gymnastics to decipher. Instead, opt for descriptive names that convey the note's content at a glance. For example, "2024-01-24 - Marketing Meeting Minutes - Q1 Strategy" is far more informative than "MM_0323.".

Descriptive note names serve as a valuable aid to understanding the content of a note. They allow you to quickly discern a note's purpose or context without opening it. Cryptic or abbreviated names, on the other hand, may save a few seconds during the naming process but can lead to confusion later. Strive for a balance between brevity and informativeness in your note names. Choose clarity over conciseness whenever possible.

Use descriptive words

Include relevant keywords that capture the note's content. Your note names should reflect the notes content. That way, you'll easily know if the note contains what you're looking for.

Naming Conventions are essential

Consistency is the cornerstone of effective note naming. Consider establishing naming conventions that suit your needs and stick to them religiously. These conventions can include guidelines for capitalization, punctuation, and special characters. Document your conventions so that you can maintain consistency over time.

Below, I'll share the naming conventions I rely on to keep my system organized and consistent.

Recommended naming conventions for note names

General naming conventions

  • Try to use whole sentences as note names (e.g., The history of Jean-Paul Sartre). Don't worry too much about length. When notes are stored as file on your file system, there may be limitations, but only worry about those when you hit them
  • Prioritize key information: start with the most important details
  • Always start note names with an uppercase letter
  • Separate words with spaces
  • Avoid uppercase letters in the rest of the name (e.g., Don't Do This All The Time)
  • Avoid using special characters: stick to letters, numbers and basic punctuation (e.g., ',', '-', ''', etc). Avoid emojis and other symbols if possible. Stick to text
  • Use abbreviations sparingly: only abbreviate when it's widely recognized
  • Spell out acronyms: clarify acronyms within the note name
  • Use uppercase letters for acronyms (e.g., The PARA method (Projects Areas Resources Archives))
  • Avoid prefixing note names with their current location: the location can change, and your note names might become invalid
  • Avoid prefixing note names with their category: use tags instead
  • Avoid generic names. use names that reflect the content (e.g., avoid Untitled, Note 1, Temp, etc)
  • Don't repeat information in the note name
  • Include terms you're likely to search for
  • Don't include irrelevant details or unnecessary words in the name
  • Use lowercase for prepositions: keep prepositions like "in," "on," and "with" in lowercase
  • Avoid pronouns: replace pronouns like "it" or "this" with descriptive words
  • Be mindful of privacy: avoid including sensitive information in note names

Naming conventions for chronological organization

  • Include dates and time when you need your notes to be organized chronologically (e.g., periodic notes, meeting notes)
  • Always use the same date and time formats
  • Use the ISO format (YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss...): for instance 2024-01-29

For example, I use the following conventions for periodic notes:

  • Daily notes: YYYY-MM-DD, and I organize those under "Journal/Daily Notes/YYYY/WW (e.g., Journal/Daily Notes/2024/01/2024-01-01)
  • Weekly notes: YYYY-Wxy and I organize those under "Journal/Weekly Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Journal/Weekly Notes/2024/2024-W01)
  • Monthly notes: YYYY-MM and I organize those under "Journal/Monthly Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Journal/Monthly Notes/2024/2024-01)
  • Quarterly Notes: YYYY-Qxy and I organize those under "Journal/Quarterly Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Journal/Quarterly Notes/2024/2024-Q1)
  • Yearly Notes: YYYY and I organize those under "Journal/Yearly Notes" (e.g., Journal/Yearly Notes/2024)

I use a similar convention for meeting notes: YYYY-MM-DD - Topic, which I file under "Areas/Meeting Notes/YYYY" (e.g., Areas/Meeting Notes/2024-02-01 - Status meeting with the board).

Naming conventions for quotes

  • Name the note with the quote (e.g., "The past is the past. What's done is done" for the quote "The past is the past. What's done is done")

Naming convention for people

When I write things down about certain people or characters, I create a name using the following convention: GivenName FamilyName (e.g., Don Camillo) and I store those under "People" or "Contacts", depending on whether I know them personally or not.

Thanks to those notes I can:

  • Capture information about people I know or don't
  • Link to specific people in other notes (e.g., meeting notes)

Hierarchical structures and note name prefixes

Naming hierarchical structures can greatly help organize your notes. As I've mentioned, I do this for periodic notes and meeting notes. Those fall under specific locations in my PKM so that it stays neatly organized.

Sometimes, it's useful to include contextual information in note names. For instance, I do this with project-related notes. I store those under "Projects/Project Name" and prefix those notes with "Project Name - ". That way, it's easy for me to recognize notes related to a certain project, and I can use the same "specific name" in different places. For instance, I often create a few notes such as "Overview", "Links", etc for my projects, and with the prefix, it works across projects. For instance:

  • Projects/Knowledge Worker Kit/Knowledge Worker Kit - Links
  • Projects/Knowledge Worker Kit/Knowledge Worker Kit - Overview
  • Projects/Newsletter/Newsletter - Links
  • Projects/Newsletter/Newsletter - Overview

The structure keeps everything organized, while the name prefix helps with disembiguation. This is one of the rare cases where I recommend using prefixes for note names.

Tagging and Metadata

I heavily recommend supplementing your note naming strategy with tags, metadata, links and backlinks. Those add a lot of context to your notes, and help connect ideas in different ways. It's a topic that I have discussed in a previous article:

How to connect ideas together
As you learn and grow, you’ll accumulate more and more knowledge. While each piece is important, the relationships between ideas is, at least, as important as the ideas themselves.

Tags add another layer of categorization, which helps regardless of the location of the notes. Also, when used consistently, tagging makes searching and retrieving the right notes at the right time a breeze.

For instance, I tag all my periodic notes and meeting notes using the following tags:

  • meeting_notes
  • meeting_notes_YYYY
  • daily_notes
  • daily_notes_YYYY
  • ...

Thanks to those tags, I can easily find or query specific types of notes, and even do so for a specific time period.

Examples of Good Note Names

Let's look at a few practical examples that (hopefully 😂) demonstrate the principles we've discussed:

Simple notes

The advantage of descriptive names is that they're easy to recognize, understand, and reuse. I can easily insert a link to another note within a sentence:

Periodic Notes

As you can see, thanks to the common structure and date format, those notes are neatly organized. More importantly, they're also easy to find when needed, either using the file explorer or using the search functionality!

Project Notes

In this example, each project note has a prefix. If order matters, then adding a sequence would help (e.g., DeveloPassion - 01 - Overview). If you use a sequence, always pad it with enough zeroes to keep a neat-looking structure over time.

Meeting Minutes

Again, the prefix and common date format helps a lot.

Quotes

As you can see, I don't hesitate to use long names for my notes

Notes about people

Going further

If you're curious to learn more, then check out my other projects:

The Obsidian Starter Kit is a pre-configured Obsidian vault accompanied by a detailed user guide. It includes many plugins, templates, an organization system, automation rules, and more!

Obsidian Starter Kit
Jump straight to stress-free note-making with Obsidian

The Obsidian Starter Course teaches Personal Knowledge Management and Obsidian.

Obsidian Starter Course
Who is this for?You are just getting started with note-taking or you’ve recently switched to ObsidianYou want to discover Obsidian and its key featuresYou wonder how to take smart notesYou want to know how to properly organize your notes and avoid creating an overwhelming messYou want a solid system that scalesYou wonder what Zettelkasten, the PARA method, and the Johnny decimal system areYou have bought the Obsidian Starter Kit and want a full video course to help you get startedGetting started with Obsidian is not the hardest thing in the world, but it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how to structure and organize your knowledge base. You have a busy life, and you don’t want to spend weeks or even months figuring out the “right” approach.What is this?The Obsidian Starter Course is a video course containing 2h20 of content. It’s a hands-on guide into the world of Obsidian, Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), and the Obsidian Starter Kit.Many of the explanations use the Obsidian Starter Kit’s vault/structure/plugins, but the explanations about Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), Markdown, YAML and recommendations can be applied to many other tools. Moreover, if you’re using Obsidian but don’t yet have a copy of the Obsidian Starter Kit, then this course is still incredibly useful. It will show you how you can organize your knowledge base, how to take smart notes, and much more!What’s in the video course?The Obsidian Starter Course covers the following topics:Obsidian: installation, user interface, key features, plugins, automation, tips and tricks, etcThe Markdown syntaxYAML metadataPersonal Knowledge Management techniques and principles: the Johnny Decimal system, the PARA method (e.g., the Zettelkasten method, the LIFT principle, Atomic notes, Maps of Content, knowledge capture & extraction, etc)JournalingPeriodic reviewsTemplatesAutomationTask managementBest practices and recommendationsHands-on explanationsand more!Refunds policyIf you’re not 100% satisfied, then just let me know, and I’ll issue a full refund. I’ll only ask you a single question: How can I improve the product?If you think about asking for a refund, then consider reaching out to me with your issues, questions, and remarks. I’m always available and happy to help. My goal is to help you succeed.

Finally, the Knowledge Worker Kit includes a whole part dedicated to Personal Knowledge Management, but also explores everything that revolves around Personal Organization, Project Management and (Zen) Productivity. Importantly, it's also a private community of like-minded people, always keen to learn new things:

Knowledge Worker Kit and community (BETA)
Who is this for?You are a Knowledge Worker or Lifelong LearnerYou feel disorganized, unproductive, or overwhelmedYou don’t know how to go to the next levelYou want to learn from someone who’s always on top of thingsI have a proven track record of delivering at work and with my side projects. I have worked as a software developer, team leader, project manager, IT architect, information management specialist, CTO, founder, coach, and solopreneur. I have also written and published 3 books, 300+ articles, courses, YouTube videos, digital products, manage communities, and more! And I did it all with a busy life and kids. My personal system works and helps me achieve my goals consistently.You want a solid system that scalesBeing a Knowledge Worker today is much more challenging than it ever was. Getting started ain’t easy, and there are many traps to fall into. Spare yourself some time and benefit from my experience and battle-tested system. I’ll share everything I know with you: my approach, my systems, my routines, templates, guidance, and more! My mission is to help you avoid the pitfalls of Knowledge Work and empower you through technology.After you finish exploring the guide, you’ll have:Clarity in your life and an obvious path forwardSolid habits, routines, and systemsClear ideas about how to “manage” your careerAn effective approach to learning new thingsSolid knowledge management and personal organization systemsKnowledge about how to organize, plan, control, and manage projects (large and small!)A toolkit to prioritize workA system to manage your tasks at scaleEffective means to focus your attention and manage your timeWork methods that will propel your career forwardWhat is this?I’ve been passionate about information, knowledge management, learning, personal organization, PKM, and productivity for more than 20 years. As an author, blogger, knowledge worker, entrepreneur, coach, and father of 3 kids, I needed effective solutions to be and stay organized, focused, and productive. The Knowledge Worker Kit includes everything I know about these topics, and more!What’s included?WARNING: The Knowledge Worker Kit is in BETA. The content will be added and expanded over time. If you buy access now, you’ll benefit from a lower price. The product is already available so that I can find early adopters and get as much feedback as possible in order to make it great for everyone.If you buy access to the Knowledge Worker Kit, you’ll get:The user guideAll the templates and guidanceLifetime access to the private community for support and knowledge sharingLifetime access to all community events (meetups, workshops, knowledge-sharing sessions, invited talks, etc)Ask Me Anything (AMA) Q&As with meIn addition, you’ll also get free access to all future updates. Over time, I’ll continue expanding the kit with new ideas, techniques, systems, templates, and more!What’s in the user guide?The user guide is a growing and evergreen knowledge base. It includes detailed explanations covering a wide range of topics that all Knowledge workers should explore:01. Clarity: values, behaviors, goals, non-goals, priorities, and intentions02. Habits, routines, systems, processes and methods03. Career Management and Anticipation04. Learning05. Projects Knowledge Management and Journaling06. Projects Organization07. Planning and Prioritization08. Task Management09. Focus, Attention, Time Management and Action10. Personal Development11. Control: periodic reviews, progress tracking, course-adjustment12. Personal Organization13. WorkThe user guide is a Notion space including tons of articles, how-to guides, guidance, and links to useful templates and resources.You will get to explore the content at your own pace, and to focus on what is useful to you right now, as each section is actionable on its own.Evergreen ContentThe Knowledge Worker Toolkit is going to expand over time. Day after day, week after week. Buy it once, and you will have access to all future updates.Overview of the main topics01. ClarityThis part explores key elements that help bring clarity to one’s life:NeedsValuesPrinciplesGoalsPrioritiesEach of those is important to know what matters, what has value, and what to focus on.02. Habits, routines, systems, processes and methodsThis part explores the base elements of productivity systems:Habits and routinesSystems, processes, and methodsThose are key to building an “effortless” life, requiring as little willpower/motivation as possible to make things happen.03. Career Management and AnticipationThis part focuses on career management: its importance, your responsibility, the mindset you need to acquire, and all the related ideas.04. LearningThis part shares ideas about how to…Learn how you best learnLearn more effectivelyExplore new topicsResearchFilter informationLeverage AI and LLMs…05. Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and JournalingThis part explores how to collect, organize, and link all your knowledge and information. It explores the main concepts of PKM, note-taking, note-making, tools of the trade, and structures/tips to help you keep everything useful, manageable, and maintainable as your knowledge base grows.It also introduces journaling and how to approach it to support your whole life.06. Projects OrganizationThis part focuses on how to organize projects and their information in a way that enables you and your teams to make focused progress.It shares ideas about how to organize project information, how to document projects, how to organize backlogs, etc.07. Planning and PrioritizationThis part focuses on how to plan projects and tasks, how to deal with deadlines, and how to prioritize work using various methods.08. Task ManagementThis part focuses on task management for personal and professional projects. It explores ways to keep tasks under control, how to organize personal work, and how to make the link between your different backlogs and your day-to-day life.09. Focus, Attention, Time Management and ActionThis part focuses on how to make things happen every single day, regardless of whatever is going on in your life. It’s all about techniques, tips & tricks, and tools to help you better manage your time, focus, and attention in order to ACT.10. Personal DevelopmentThis part explores important aspects of Personal Development that can make a big difference in a Knowledge Worker’s life. A sane mind in a sane body.11. ControlThis part is dedicated to control. How to control your progress, your trajectory, your projects, etc. And also, how to adjust course when things don’t go as expected.12. Personal OrganizationThis part helps better organize yourself and your information. It shares “zen” techniques you can use to remain organized, independently of how much information you have to juggle with.13. WorkThis part is all about WORK. How to do the work, how to improve your attitude, your results, and your recognition. It also dives into how to better collaborate with others to achieve your goals and those of your company/group.

Conclusion

Effective note naming is a skill that enhances knowledge management, allowing you to harness the full potential of your digital archive. By prioritizing clarity, embracing organizational frameworks, maintaining naming conventions, and using tools wisely, you can create a robust system that empowers you to recognize, understand, reuse, and safeguard your knowledge. Remember that note naming is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; tailor your approach to your specific needs and enjoy the benefits of efficient knowledge management.

Don't underestimate the power of a well-chosen note name. It's the key to unlocking the wealth of information you've gathered, making your knowledge readily accessible and actionable.

Ready to get to the next level?

If so, then check out the Knowledge Worker Kit, the Obsidian Starter Kit, the Obsidian Starter Course, the PKM Library, a PKM coaching session with me, my collection of books about software development and the IT Concepts Wall 🔥.

If you want to discuss, then don't hesitate to join the Personal Knowledge Management community or the Software Crafters community.

About Sébastien

Hello everyone! I'm Sébastien Dubois (you can follow me on Twitter 🐦).

I'm an author, founder, and CTO. I write books and articles about software development & IT, personal knowledge management, personal organization, and productivity. I also craft lovely digital products 🚀

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