Taking Notes
Mar 26, 2019
3 minutes read

Although many software engineers do not write notes, in my experience, taking notes proved important for how I function. I needed simple ways of writing something really quickly about a meeting, a discussion, an issue that I can document, some finding related to a production failure, steps I took to fix a production problem in case it arise in the future, etc. For this, taking notes is something that cannot avoided. I find myself constantly writing notes as the day goes by, and deleting them when I am sure they are no longer useful.

Your notes can be important, but not always

Not all notes are created equal: some notes end up important and I had to expand on them more and more over time. Other notes are of no importance, to the degree that I don’t know why they are written, and often then end up in the trash. The problem is deciding if taking notes in a meeting or a book is necessary or not. Few words can be said about this:

  1. If you think you will attend a meeting but you don’t want to take notes, then ask yourself: Is this meeting really worth it? What is the point of a meeting if you expect that nothing important enough to write will come out of this meeting? Sometimes, the meeting is important even if no notes are expected to be written (e.g. your opinion is needed on someone else’s architecture.) If the meeting is not important, then save yourself some time and don’t attend it. Notes in a meeting are helpful to determine the next action that you, or someone else, needs to take. These notes will act as a documentation as well as an evidence of what has been determined. Sending these notes to the team to show who is going to do what will hold everyone accountable.
  2. The same can be said about books: if you are reading a book to obtain knowledge, then it is worthwhile to take notes on the book. Book notes that summarizes the points of the book, captures quotes, and your thoughts as well. These notes are helpful so that you do not need to read the same book again. On the other hand, if you are expecting that you not write notes, question if the book is worth reading.

Taking notes can be cumbersome

This is true. Taking notes and organizing them, as well as maintaining them, is cumbersome. This is why you need a simple method of taking notes, a method that works quickly. A simple way is a pen and paper. Most of the time if you are in the office, you have that available all the time. The difficulty, of course, is that there is no easy way to edit notes once written. Another method is typing on a computer. If your work involves working with a laptop, or mobile device or sort, then typing your notes will work as well. The problem is that this is slightly annoying when working with a book. Also, you will need an app that can be opened quickly for note taking.

For this purpose, I wrote a simple command-line tool for writing notes: tnote. All it does is it opens files in the Documents directory as markdown for writing notes, and it opens them in your $EDITOR of choice. I put that to be vim since it is light weight. So tnote is really just a thin wrapper around basic file commands. You can find this took at github.

I have heard that people used hugo to write notes, since hugo can build a website our of these files.

TLDR

If you have not tried to take notes, I encourage you to do so. Use a simple technique and stick with it.


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