David Perell has a YouTube video about a topic near and dear to my heart: note-taking. To make it even better, his video is also all about Kendrick Lamar’s note-taking process. Damn. Pun intended. Sometimes the internet actually gives you stuff you want.
Perell says the most valuable part about notes is their infinite shelf life. “The ink preserves what the memory forgets.” Once you write it down, it’s there in your personal library. When we go to research or work something out, notes give us our own personal references.
From a time management perspective, Perell points out how the creative process shouldn’t strictly live in a creative time block either. Note-taking helps bridge our creative and non-creative time. When you’re walking the dog, doing the dishes, or ADD-ing out on a Zoom call for work, you just might have an idea worth adding to your library.
In this way, note-taking is how we stay creative even when we don’t think we’re being creative. It’s the act of staying present, being mindful, or just noticing when something catches your curiosity and storing it for later. When it is time to sit down and do some creative work, we’ve got our notes to help jumpstart the process.
For Kendrick, he’s been taking regular, copious notes since the age of 17. He was born in 1987, so that’s since 2004. His breakout success started in 2012. Now, pound your fist on the table and read these words aloud, “Since. The. Age. Of. Seven. Teen.” Yeah. Now you’re envious too (good). Kendrick has a library.
Think about what that habit means. When he’s working on a new project, he’s got years of notes to reflect back on. He tags, organizes, and structures them so things can bubble up and act as inspiration later. It’s his own personal database of personally meaningful and amusing thoughts. Without working 24/7, he’s working 24/7. And he’s Dewey-Lamar decimalizing all of it.
Personally, I’ve been doing a version of this too. I’ve been plugging little thoughts away in the notes app on my phone for the last 4-5 years to help build a writing habit. These posts, for example, usually come from whatever interested me the most over the past week. It’s an easy habit that I find rewarding because it helps me think as well as remember.
The ink really does preserve what the memory forgets. Start to fill that infinite shelf. Be inspired more often. Take good notes.
If you have a habit, what’s it look like? If you don’t, why not? Give David Perell’s video a watch and let me know what your system is (or what it will be now that you’ve thought about it some).
One example of the product of good notes from a master note-taker: