Effective note-taking tips

Top tips for effective note-taking

Effective note-taking tips

In this article, I'll share some tips for those who want to be more effective when taking notes. Alright, let's go 🚀

Why note-taking is worth it?

Note-taking is an essential skill for life and personal development. It's a point that I've tried to make in a previous article. Simply put, it makes a huge difference for focus, learning, retention, reflection and thinking.

Why take and make notes
Discover how note-taking and note-making can transform stress into serenity, enhancing mental health, focus, and tranquility through effective journaling practices

Getting started with note-taking

Getting started is often the main issue for many people, who tend to overthink the activity of taking notes.

First, avoid procrastinating by looking endlessly for the perfect note-taking application. It doesn't exist. There are oh so many choices, and the perfect one for me might not be the perfect one for you. For the last two years I've chosen to use Obsidian, and have created a starter kit for those who want to avoid wasting time.

Obsidian Starter Kit and community
Who is this for?You are just getting started with note-taking or you’ve recently switched to ObsidianYou 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 areGetting 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?I’ve been passionate about information, knowledge management, and PKM for more than 20 years. As an author, blogger, knowledge worker, and entrepreneur, I needed solutions to store and organize an enormous amount of information.Over the years, I’ve explored, used, and advocated many tools but have been using Obsidian extensively since 2020. With the Obsidian Starter Kit, I offer you the result of my own research and experimentation. It’s like a cheat code to jump straight to stress-free note-making.I’ve spent months refining and perfecting my Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system, and have spent countless hours tweaking my system. I’ve published a few articles to share some ideas about this. My system combines the Zettelkasten approach, the PARA method, the Johnny decimal system, and other ideas to create a solid basis for my work as an author, blogger, and content creator.The Obsidian Starter Kit is a ready-made Obsidian vault that includes my recommended organization system and plugins, as well as example notes to help you get started. It also comes along with a user-friendly guide.What’s included?If you buy access to the Obsidian Starter Kit, you’ll get:The Obsidian vaultA comprehensive and solid structure with support for Journaling and ZettelkastenLeveraging the PARA method and the Johnny Decimal systemMany recommended plugins to boost productivity and automate actionsA clear system for Journaling, Meeting Notes, Periodic reviews, etcMany templates to improve consistency and productivityA powerful dashboardMaintenance notes (e.g., find duplicate and orphaned notes)Automation rulesMany examplesThe user guideLifetime access to the Personal Knowledge Management community for support and knowledge sharingIn addition, you’ll also get free access to all future updates. Over time, I’ll expand it step by step to include tutorials about the various aspects; from exploration/curation to summarization and reuse.What’s in the user guide?The user guide is a growing and evergreen knowledge base about how to take smart notes. It includes:Installation instructions.Details about the contents of the Obsidian Starter Kit (i.e., Obsidian vault structure, key design principles, included plugins, etc.)A clear overview of Obsidian and its core concepts (everything you should know and care about)Clear explanations about...The Zettelkasten methodAtomic notesProgressive summarizationThe PARA methodThe LIFT principleThe Johnny Decimal systemJournalingMaps of Content (MoCs)Periodic reviewsWhy and how to tag notesTemplatingThe Markdown syntaxWhy you need a single source of truth for everythingThe collector’s fallacyThe Inbox Zero principleHow to capture informationHow to capture quotesHow to capture information about persons of interestHow to extract knowledge from daily notesHow to save mental contextsObsidian tips and tricksWhat’s in the video course?The Obsidian Starter Course is a video course (~2h20) of content covering: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!Evergreen contentThe user guide of the Obsidian Starter Kit is expanding day after day, week after week. It will soon include:More theoryDetailed processes (e.g. when to take notes, how to use Zettelkasten in practice, daily notes, periodic reviews, ...)Additional how-to guidesMore tips and tricks...The Obsidian vault also evolves over time:The structure improvesNew templates are addedNew plugins are addedetcRefunds 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.Testimonials”Finally clickeđ how awesome @Obsidian is! Thanks to your excellent Obsidian Starter Kit!”— Cal Desmond-Pearson (@CalSocialHermit)“Off and running w/ @obsdmd. I’ve installed the app & have @dSebastien Starter Kit & my own fresh start Vault open. Learning from former & putting into practice w/ real content in latter. So far, so good”— Raymond D Sims (@rsims)“Great content - got me up to speed with what I was looking for fast ! Sébastien answered some questions by mail also which was much appreciated ! Thanks”— Sam Gonzales”As someone who has bounced around trying to find the right Knowledge tool, I’ve realized that many of my issues have been related to the complexity of the tools and the processes. The structure, design and explanations provided in the Obsidian Starter Kit have finally given me the foundation I’ve needed. 100% worth it”— Michael Aaron (via e-mail)“I absolutely love your kit and it has been so immensely helpful”— Ashwin Appiah (via e-mail)“Thanks for making the product. I’m making efforts to start using Obsidian more in my daily workflow and having a place to start makes the task much less daunting!”— Liam Weight (via Twitter DM)“I’m very new to PKM, but the Obsidian Starter Kit has been a tremendous help in getting me started”— Fredrik Nordström (via the PKM community Slack)“Sebastien’s Obsidian Starter Kit is a powerful tool for those looking to dive into the world of Obsidian without being overwhelmed. It’s a comprehensive solution that significantly shortens the learning curve, providing an impressively structured way to start capturing notes and facilitating daily journaling. The kit’s integration of automated tasks and pre-designed templates are a boon to beginners, alleviating the initial intimidation of starting from scratch. If you’re new to Obsidian and need a solid starting point, this starter kit comes highly recommended. It doesn’t just help you navigate Obsidian, but also empowers you to harness its full potential right from the get-go.”— Lubos KolouchFredrik (via the PKM community Slack)“Just to thank the work and content that allowed me to discover the background of a custom vault. It was a real boost for me and given the price, it was a real investment of time and learning.”— Trobrillant

I'd recommend to start with a simple option: pen and paper! It's as simple as it gets, and more powerful than many apps out there!

That said, if you really prefer to use apps, then these are the ones I'd recommend:

  • Notion as the easiest one to dive into, although far from being my favorite
  • Obsidian as the most versatile thanks to its huge plugin directory
  • Tana as the most promising (but still in beta)
  • LogSeq for those who prefer outlines to documents

When choosing an application, don't waste too much time. Identify the most important features you need and focus on those. More features does not necessarily mean better notes.

Don't waste time

When taking notes to capture information, there's often not much time to waste. That's why it's critical to focus on what's really important and leave out the rest. It means that you need to filter out the details.

That includes everything that you...

  • don't care about
  • don't need now
  • most probably won't need later

You should also spare as much time as you can to take note of what matters. For instance, use abbreviations, symbols, keywords, etc. Avoid writing out full sentences whenever you can, while keeping your notes as clear as possible.

Structure structure structure

Structure is essential for effective note-taking. When you're in a hurry, there's not much time to structure your notes. That being said, take every opportunity to add structure to the captured information. You can do this as you go or after the fact, depending on the time available.

Structuring notes is much easier to do using digital note-taking tools, as you can rearrange the information as you see fit. It's harder to do with paper, as it requires rewriting text, which takes time.

Be methodical, consistently use a note-taking system

Using a clearly-defined note-taking method such as the Cornell method (when writing on paper) makes a big difference in terms of quality and effectiveness. I've developed my own "system" over the years, and it helps me a great deal to take and review my notes. What matters is not so much the method you use, but rather your consistency. Consistently using the same approach will make it much easier for you to take notes efficiently.

Find Your Perfect Note-Taking app with this Free Database of ~300 Tools for Thought
Discover the Ultimate Database of ~300 note-taking and Personal Knowledge Management Tools.

Depending on how many notes you take, you might want/need to explore approaches such as the Zettelkasten method, the LIFT principle, the Johnny Decimal system. I've covered those and others on this blog.

The Zettelkasten method
Discover the Zettelkasten method, one of the most powerful note-taking systems

Independently of the system you design or use, make sure to keep things as simple as possible. Respect the KISS principle. This applies to the notes you take, the structure you define, how you organize your notes, etc.

The KISS principle
We should all apply the KISS principle to everything in our lives

Write atomic notes. Keep those short and focused on one thing

Your notes should bring clarity and should be easy to review/re-discover later. Each note should be short, and focused on one thing.

I'll write an article about atomic notes to convince you about how important these are.

Review your notes regularly

Notes that you don't review are pretty much useless. Regularly review your notes to extract, reorder, structure and improve those. Extracting can mean different things depending on the notes. For meeting notes this means creating and sharing meeting minutes. For lecture notes, it means identifying key concepts and ideas. Then using those to improve your personal knowledge base. It also means summarizing the information, filtering further, etc.

Tag your notes

Be consistent with the organization of your notes. This point is actually part of the "system" I mentioned above, but I wanted to emphasize this. Tagging your notes correctly can help a great deal later when you'll want to re-discover those. Also, be consistent with the tags you use.

Check out this article:

Best Practices for Tagging Notes in a PKM System
Tags are a great way to categorize, describe and track your notes. This post will show you how to approach tagging the notes in your PKM

Notes are meant to be focused (cfr the point about Atomic notes) and linked together to form networks of thoughts, ideas and concepts. The stronger the network, the more valuable your notes become.

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.


In this article, I've shared some tips to help you become more effective when taking notes.

That's it for today! ✨