Is note-taking a waste of time?

Is note-taking a waste of time?

Maybe all your precious time is going down the drain.

“Is note-taking a waste of time?” asked a friend of mine whom I had recommended the idea to and I was surprised. However, the more I listened, the more I could understand why he was feeling that way. My note-taking system has been the note manager, memory collector, task organizer and so much more for me. But I do agree with his points. A second brain, a flashcards system, or any simple note-taking system could be a waste of time. Now before you guys start bashing me for saying that, let me explain.

What I’m about to share applies to pretty much all the note-taking apps out there. There are quite a few like Evernote, OneNote, Obsidian, Notion, Bear, and Roam to name a few.

Note-taking and similar productivity apps can act as a double-edged sword. You can either use them to organize your thoughts and scattered information around you, or you can succumb to the dopamine hits by planning at lengths you don’t need to. I’m guilty of this myself.

I often spend more time planning than what I need to finish the actual task. This situation can be reasonable but rarely. The reason for that lies in something called “Dopamine”. This is a chemical released in our brain to make us feel good. This chemical is the reason we check our phone 20 times in a matter of moments even if it doesn’t ring.

When we sit down to plan, we often get a dopamine hit and fool ourselves into thinking that we are being productive. That was the case with my friend too. He had made his note-taking system more complex than needed, set journaling goals higher than achievable, and changed a note-taking system from a tool to organize your thought to the biggest productivity killer. How can we fix this problem?

Be reasonable about how much to plan

Some of us want to have every single detail of a task, project, or program planned out first hand. We want everything to be perfect, we expect everything to go our way. That’s not how life works.

No matter how hard you try, there are always some tiny details or roadblocks that are missed. These little things can completely disrupt the whole map that you have laid out. Hence, you need to be smart about how much needs to be planned.

In most cases, it is better to plan enough to give yourself clarity but skip out the mundane details. Focus on the end goal. Leave out some room for improvisation and that’ll be rewarding 🙂

Clear the clutter

I’m always trying to update notes over time and consciously try to create notes that can be evergreen. Most of the standard notes that we take can be tweaked to be evergreen. Some of the notes can be changed into templates. You can avoid creating multiple notes by having one with multiple prompts, bullets or quick guides related to each other.

But you can only do it so much. There are countless things that need to be noted down that you’re only going to need once. A shopping list for repairing a house for example.

Hence, you should sit down weekly or monthly and clear the clutter. Delete everything that no longer servers you. Re-adjust the structure if you need to. Highlight frequent items and always cater the system to the tired, bored and sleepy version of you. The simpler and easier the system, the more likely you are to benefit from it.

Like most things in life, note-taking can be rewarding and disastrous depending on how you approach it. At the end of the day, Evernote is not a time-wasting app. Neither is Notion or Bear. It comes down to you and your approach.