Episode 87 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Austin Govella. Austin is UX design lead at Avanade, a global professional services company. He’s also the author of Collaborative Product Design and co-author of the second edition of Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web.1
Austin is also a dedicated note-taker, as I am. So, I was curious to hear about his approach to note-taking. I wasn’t disappointed.
His approach is informed by his background in information architecture; he takes and triages notes methodically, looking not just to capture ideas but also to structure them for later retrieval. For example, he distinguishes fleeting (or reference) notes and more atomic “thinking” notes that allow him to explore new concepts, learn new things, or make connections between ideas.
Atomic notes are constantly evolving as we learn more. In applications like Obsidia (which both Austin and I use), you can reference notes that don’t yet exist and fill in the blanks later. This reduces much of the friction inherent in thinking through notes. As Austin put it, “[It’s] super easy. Requires no thought. And it shouldn’t require any thought.”
We discussed tagging notes. Austin uses three types of tags:
- Status indicators (e.g., flagging notes that need some kind of action)
- Topics (e.g., “design thinking” might be a topic)
- Type of information (e.g., is this a concept or a principle?)
Again, I found a lot of resonance here — these are also the types of tags that I use when organizing my notes.
Finally, we also discussed the difference between work and meta-work, and the risks inherent in “productivity porn” — spending more time working on the system than working with the system. Austin brought up an interesting idea: it’s possible (and perhaps desirable) to outgrow and abandon many of the structural constructs you establish early on.
As the tools we use to capture and organize and store our notes have gotten better and more sophisticated, we can use techniques, tools, frameworks, and practices from disciplines like information architecture to improve our knowledge gardens. I was excited to hear about Austin’s approach — I hope you get as much value from our conversation as I did.
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