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Perfectionist's Dilemma - Notes Style, Outline and Format


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I often have this uneasiness of how my notes look. Often times I just dump thoughts that run through my brain in a note, using tags and Evernote's powerful search function, but is making my OCDness kick in.

What are your best practices when you take notes? Are you following a specific outline? a specific style? or also dumping thoughts in a creative or free manner in a note? 

Please share your best practices. Thank you and appreciate it much!


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My notes run the gamut from random collections of words and/ or pictures,  to carefully laid out notes,  created from templates,  that are designed for sharing and need to look as good as they can on someone else's device.

I don't see the need to have a 'best practice' for notes - by definition,  notes are usually works in progress unless and until they have been published somewhere.  My random collections of words may be an idea for a blog item,  or a note that is factually recording something that may be significant - like a serial number for a new device,  or the care label on a new house plant.  The words may well just be keywords so I'm confident I can find the note again if (when) I need it.

On the other hand I keep a calendar of events for one group which includes the time and place of events,  opening times and costs (if any).  That's a shared notebook that needs to look reasonably presentable whether it's downloaded to someone else's Evernote account,  or just viewed via a public link.  It needs to look (more or less) professional,  and present the information in a clear and straightforward way.

Or there's the blog posts that start out as a few words to remind me to write something,  develops into an outline (usually copied from Workflowy) to get my facts in some sort of order,  and then gradually grows as I flesh paragraphs out from the outline headlines into actual explanations and commentary.

The only golden rule is the standard GTD practice - get thoughts out of your head and on record somewhere so you can prioritise dealing with them in the sure knowledge that they can't be forgotten.  Then you can concentrate on one idea and develop it properly,  rather than having two or three flying about in your head and running into each other.

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2 hours ago, JErnestGo said:

What are your best practices when you take notes? Are you following a specific outline? a specific style? or also dumping thoughts in a creative or free manner in a note? 

I have a set of template notes I use
On the Mac, I use a script for new notes to duplicate the template

Notes are added to my Inbox, for cleanup later on my Mac

  • I use a script to enforce standards for Title, Notebook/Tags, Reminders etc (documented here)
  • For example, if the Note type is a Medical Appointmtent I apply standards
    - title includes Doctor, Date, Issue
    - A reminder is set with date; this is synced to my calendar

For static content (web clippings, mail archive, etc) I usually convert to pdf format and display as an attachment

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The style and appearance of the actual note is not as important to me as accurate search results. To make sure I can find my notes easily, here are the tips I follow religiously.

  • Title prefixes are date coded [YYYYMMDD]
  • Titles are consistent and structured [date - location - subject - person]
  • Tags are all lower case to avoid confusion or dupes
  • Tags have no spaces to avoid using " " [example: hewlett-packard, vs "hewlett packard"]
  • Keywords and/or spelling variants added to note body for improved search results
  • Search code added to group of notes to keep them together [example: notes involved in buying a car]


Here are a couple links that have been around for a while with a lot of ideas




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  • 3 weeks later...
On 2/21/2017 at 10:25 AM, Candid said:

My observation in terms of straightforward note taking is that organized speakers/teachers/presenters yield notes that are also organized. Disorganized folks produce disorganized notes.


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