Write linked notes so you don’t have to remember

Writing linked notes helps engineering makers and managers alike develop the super-powers of augmented memory and the appearance of effective multitasking.

I’m revisiting Simon Willison’s essay and conference talk Massively increase your productivity on personal projects with comprehensive documentation and automated tests. I’ve started thinking about it1 as “the surprisingly effective power of writing linked notes”.

In particular, those last three words:

  • Writing: most thinking is improved and clarified by writing.
  • Linked: writing is even better when the writer or interested colleagues can return to it later. Linking facilitates discovery via browsing and searching.
  • Notes: mostly static text, but sometimes executable tests/documentation, too!

Over time, writing linked notes gives you what looks like the myth of multitasking. Really, it’s reducing the cost of context-switching and remembering:

This is how it relates back to maintaining 185 projects at the same time.

With issue driven development you don’t have to remember anything about any of these projects at all.

I’ve had issues where I did a bunch of design work in issue comments, then dropped it, then came back 12 months later and implemented that design—without having to rethink it.

Occasionally, I get a feeling, whilst working on a tricky problem, that I am starting to lose the thread. Keeping all the variables, ideas, and context is difficult as the interconnections grow. That’s the moment when writing it down to get it out of my head allows me the space to remember less, concentrate more, and push through to make progress again.

Highly recommended.

  1. And, sharing it with anyone who will listen. Present company included.
Adam Keys @therealadam