How a Design Thinking Exercise Solved a Chronic Note-taking Problem

I’ve often found myself identifying ideas I might want to develop or pursue but yet not ready to turn that into a concrete activity. It’s a possible future avenue, but one I may (or may not) come back to in time. I want a way of taking notes about these possibilities and occasionally reviewing them when I’m looking for a spark of inspiration. However, I’m not ready to make any commitment, and I may not even have a good framing yet for what the idea even is.

What Didn’t Work for Note-taking

I hesitate to put such ideas into my task management app (Things), as it’s not something I want to actually do yet. I tried it at one point anyway, but it just didn’t work out for me.

What I’m calling “buds” are a fragment of thought sparked in some broader context. However, they’re not yet clear enough to be divorced from that context and retain meaning. They’re something to come back to and reflect on and develop out. Coming back to a bud that I’ve clipped from its context more than a few weeks out is like a puzzle my past self left for me to solve.

On the other hand, I didn’t have a good system for what to do with these thoughts. Like many, I’ve suffered from the problem of having a “lot of different notes in many different places,” as Sönke Ahrens observes in How to Take Smart Notes. A fragment sitting in a meeting note somewhere was just lost in time to the limits of my memory.

What Does Work for Note-taking

Two things changed: First, I began associating these thoughts to the "buds" from the Rose, Bud, Thorn exercise we do at Atomic. Each is an area of opportunity or idea I’ve yet to explore, as Kim describes them. I found the term to be a perfect fit. Second, I switched to a note-taking app that supports back-links and shows back-links in context. I’m using Craft.

Taking Notes in Craft

The combination of a good name and a way to leverage it has solved this problem for me neatly. Since back-links show the link in context, I can drop a link to my “Bud” document in the scribble that captures an idea I may want to revisit. I flag that idea as one to come back to within the larger context that idea relates to. And since it’s a bud and not a to-do, it stays off any list of action items so I also don’t feel pressure to develop the idea out now.

I can come back to the buds and pick which to develop into a rose when the time is right. Or I can clip it if the idea doesn’t seem to be worth pursuing after all.


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