Tim Ferriss’s journaling and note-taking strategies for brainstorming, gratitude, reducing anxiety, and more.
Hey guys, Tim Ferriss here. Wanted to talk about note-taking. I have what you might call hypergraphia – which means I write all the time. So I have hundreds of notebooks.
So I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to talk about what the hell to do with lots of notes. You need a systematic way of filtering the best stuff to the top of your attention, at least in some fashion.
So I’ll show you a few ways that I do that. It’s pretty straightforward but the key to all of it is multiple passes. For almost all types of note-taking and I’ll describe a few different types of note-taking that I do regularly.
The key is multiple passes and constantly asking, in effect, ‘What did I think was important and cool that isn’t that important or cool?’ And then only selecting the absolute and distilling the absolute best.
So let’s take a look at something really small. This is the type of notebook that I would put in a pocket, a back pocket and this is from an event. It was actually a very good event which was a Vanity Fair event in San Francisco, many years ago, I want to say around 2013.
And I’ll show you one of the exercises that I like to do when I’m feeling overwhelmed or feeling like I need a reset – which I do certainly around New Years, and there are certain seasonal times and I like to reflect!
So I made a list and the top is very simple – ‘Craziest things I could do or eliminate’!
So I wrote this very quickly and part of the point of the exercise was to write quickly and come up with all of the craziest things, I could do, that might alleviate stress.
- Shut down blog
- Stop all social media scheduled for three months (question mark)
- Sell all homes
- Stop using money
- Stop eating for 30 days
- Cut off feet [turn out not to be something I want to do. So I didn’t cut off my feet]
- Give away all money
- Buy one house with all money
- Live penniless for one year
- Volunteer in a retirement home [I thought that it would be invigorating and karmically wonderful to do that particularly with ideally, a dog, like my current dog Molly.]
Nonetheless I did not cut off my feet. I did not stop eating for thirty days, However, later I did multiple ten-day fasts!
The point of this whole list is to come up with lots of crazy ideas. They can be bad. They should be absurd. They should seem absurd. And then perhaps out of all those terrible ideas you’ll find one that will productively stretch your mind enough that you find a solution that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
And in this case – ‘Stop all social media/ Schedule it out for three months’ – was the one of the entire list that I ended up choosing. And it completely changed how I related to using social media.
And now that is a regular component of taking off-grid time to recharge and scheduling things in advance. Using many different tools – whether that’s Buffer, Edgar or Zapier. For automating, a lot of this is also very helpful from Instagram to other platforms and so on.
In any case that is one example of note-taking and then reviewing. So the boxing and circling was a second pass, say a week later, after the event.
Then the highlighting was yet another pass, say a quarter later. I don’t know the exact timing on this because I did act on it quite quickly. But there is a schedule for reviewing. So you’re not just spewing onto the page and then forgetting it, with the exception of the next thing that I’m going to show you.
So this is the expedient in the pocket – brainstorm type of notebook. I’ll show you one more. I’m going to cover it up a little bit just to protect names. You can see here, I’ve got the Vanity Fair event. I have a couple of names at the top that were interesting to me: Walter Isaacson, who I much later ended up interviewing on the podcast – who is a brilliant guy, incredible writer.
And then a bunch of quotes.
“Playing the ratings game, prevents you from taking risks!” It’s Ted Sarandos from Netflix.
“Seinfeld took four years to find an audience.”
“Mad Men was turned down sixty-six times by buyers.”
I highlighted these, when they made three passes… because I felt like these were incredibly inspiring reminders – that overnight successes rarely are overnight successes!
And then the bottom right is the action steps that I’ve listed. And I create these boxes in the bottom right-hand corner… I’m right-handed might be easier on the left for lefties, I don’t know… But I create a box in the bottom right hand corner of all these pages, so that I can put down potential action steps.
The other thing that I’ll do is I will number these pages. But suffice to say if you see that you see page 39, I will number the right-hand pages. So 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… and then I create an index later. I’ll create an index in the beginning of a notebook much like the index that I would use in books that I’m reading, so that I can find highlights later.
And you might ask, ‘Well! What about the pages that don’t have numbers?’ That’s easy. That’s 0.5, all right! So if the number on the right hand side is say ‘page 2’ if I flip it over on the back of that page in the index it would just be 2.5. So, that’s how I keep track of something like this.