August 5

How I Use Mem: A Note Taking Strategy for Maximum Output

What if you had a note-taking strategy that would allow you to upload your brain to the internet, capture tasks, ideas, and build a system so you never forget anything? Imagine being able to unlock the matrix to your brain, make connections between your ideas, come up with more ideas and maximize your creative output.

Even though this note-taking strategy sounds like science fiction, it’s not because of Mem.

I read over 100 books a year, conduct 100’s of podcast interviews, and write articles, newsletters, and sales pages. Having an effective note-taking strategy is vital to my productivity. If you want to be a prolific creator it’s vital to yours as well.

When I first learned about Roam Research through the work of Nat Eliason, I signed up for his Effortless Output in Roam course. For me, being productive has never been a challenge. But I wanted a note-taking strategy that would help me improve my system for maximizing creative output.

While I loved everything Roam could do, the user interface was a bit too clunky for me. A few months ago, Mem became an important part of my note-taking strategy for writing, book notes, and knowledge management.

The Traditional Note Taking strategy

Photographer: J. Kelly Brito | Source: Unsplash

Most people take notes in books by underlining or highlighting passages. Then they copy the quotes into their note-taking app of choice. But Knowledge management is not just storing references.

People create hierarchies for their notes. There’s no connection between the notes they take. There’s no point in having a collection of notes if you are not going to do anything with them. Elaboration is critical because it improves your understanding of the material.

Organizing notes in hierarchies makes this difficult. Sonke Ahrens says “A top-down approach where you start with a question immediately creates a conflict of interest between insight and getting things done because anything that’s not in your plan creates friction.”

With a conventional note-taking strategy, people see taking notes as a separate activity from writing. But it’s not.

When it comes to writing, everything from research to proofreading, is closely connected. All the little steps must be linked in a way that allows you go seamlessly from one task to another. – Sonkhe Ahrens

Even if you have an insight that you want to act on, you may not be able to remember it, which creates friction between insight and productivity.

Networked Thinking: A New Paradigm for Your Note Taking Strategy

Photographer: Omar Flores | Source: Unsplash

Networked thinking is about making connections between ideas. When you approach your note-taking strategy this way, ideas have sex with each other and the offspring are new ideas to explore and consider.

With traditional note-taking apps, you have to impose a structure on them. But with Mem, the structure emerges organically. It allows you to build a system so you never forget anything.

Guiding Principles for my Note Taking Strategy With Mem

Photographer: Kelly Sikkema | Source: Unsplash

1. Every Mem is the Seed of a Bigger Idea.

In his book, How to Take Smart Notes, Sonkhe Ahrens says that every intellectual endeavor begins with a note. The first principle of my mem note taking strategy is that every intellectual endeavor begins with a mem.

2. Mem is an Idea Factory, not a Note-Taking App

In the industrial age, the assembly line for manufacturing is linear. We begin by using raw materials and labor to produce goods.

But in the digital world, there are no widgets. The assembly line looks more like a hub with spokes. The hub is the creator or knowledge worker.

Raw materials are the spokes, which are the ideas, insights, and notes we capture. The spokes are connected to other spokes, all of which are connected to the hub. Work is writing, editing, collaboration, and teams working together to make ideas happen.

3. Workflow is an important Predictor of Career Success

According to Sonkhe Ahrens, workflow is one of the most important predictors of academic success. The same is true for career success. If you observe the behavior of some of the most successful people in the world, you will notice that they all have one thing in common: the way they work.

The way they work may be different, but what they have in common is that their work processes are well thought out. They structure their work, stick to set habits and routines and focus on the process that helps them bring their ideas to life.

Most of the problems we face are often not due to poor time management, but attention management. A good workflow solves the problems of time and attention management at the same time.

Professionals create on a schedule. But they also understand that creativity comes from Unexpected Places and that you need to take time and give yourself the space to think about your ideas. Do not assume you know where your inspiration will come from.

You have to make connections between unrelated areas. Often creative solutions emerge in this way.

4. Your brain is a Network, Not a Hierarchy.

Throughout your life, you accumulate information and knowledge, through conversations, and the media you consume. But your brain is not like a hard drive or a Dropbox where you have folders upon folders upon folders. It’s a network of thoughts, ideas, and insights.

You might be talking to someone about a song you like. You have memories and feelings that you associate with it. Your brain makes a connection between the song and the memory, which can lead to an unexpected insight or idea.

Want to Learn How to Take Better Book Notes?

Remember and take action on what you read. Build a library of knowledge that’s always at your fingertips. Retrieve, analyze and synthesize information with minimal friction. Get my free book course on how to take better book notes

What Makes Mem Different and How it’s Changed My Note Taking Strategy

Regardless of your note-taking strategy, you need a framework for how you organize and deal with information. But first, you need to understand the basic building blocks of Mem.


This is what a Mem Looks Like

The principle of atomicity is one of the core ideas of The Zetttelkasten note taking strategy, which I’ll describe below. Each mem contains only one unit of knowledge. But within that knowledge unit, you can link it to other knowledge units. You can also assign tags to each mem, which is useful when you are trying to find all your memes on a particular topic.


note taking strategy
The Mem Timeline

The timeline shows you all the notes you have ever created in chronological order. But you can also search your timeline by topic by searching for an assigned keyword or tag.


note taking strategy
The Task View

When you add a task to a mem, it will show up on your tasks page. The beauty of this is that you can easily capture tasks or new ideas without interrupting your workflow.


Templates in Mem

Flows are templates in Mem that allow you to have the same structure for different types of Mems you use. For example, I have a flow for capturing book notes that allows me to pre-populate information that is part of each book note or project.

PARA – Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives

Sample Project Page in Mem

After years of looking at different methods for organizing information, the best framework I have found is the Tiago Forte method for building a second brain.

Each individual mem is a unit of knowledge that becomes part of your second brain. Using the framework for building a second brain developed by Tiago Forte, you organize information into 4 categories with the acronym PARA.

  1. Projects
  2. Areas of responsibility
  3. Resources
  4. Archives

To build your second brain in Mem, do the following.

  1. Create Individual Mems for the 4 categories above.
  2. Within each category, create mems that fall under those categories.

If you’re creating an online course, create a Project Mem for that course. In the Mem for the project, write down the assignments that are related to the project. Then link all the related references. Because all the resources and tasks you need are at your fingertips, you avoid context shifts.

Do the same for all areas of responsibility. Because of the way Mem displays tasks, setting up your projects this way allows for what Scott Belsky calls sequential tasking. You’re able to seamlessly complete tasks for multiple projects.

Through the lens of the hub and spokes model, the 4 overarching categories of your second brain become the first four spokes.

The Zettelkasten Note Taking Strategy

Nicholas Luman developed this note-taking strategy and published 30 books, earned his Ph.D. in one year, and wrote 500 papers in his lifetime. Once you learn it, it will change the way you take notes forever.

4 Types of Notes

1. Fleeting Notes

These are notes you jot down throughout the day. Maybe they are ideas you have while reading. Sometimes you throw them away. I usually have a notebook next to me when I read. If I highlight or underline something, I make a note in my notebook so I can remember it later.

2. Reference Notes

note taking strategy
Reference Notes Mem

Your reference notes are the highlights from books, podcasts, etc. They contain the quotes you want to remember. They are used to create permanent notes and literature notes.

3.Literature notes

Literature Note Mem

Literature notes are different from reference notes because you are not simply copying and pasting quotes. Rather, you explain them in your own words. The paragraph you just read is from one of my literature notes from the book How to Take Smart Notes.

Each literature note is linked to the original source, which is your reference note.

In school, we memorize information to regurgitate and pass tests. But as knowledge workers and creatives, we need to prioritize real learning to bring our ideas to life. Literature notes lead to real learning. Copying and pasting citations does not.

4. Permanent Notes

A permanent note is your primary insight. It’s something you can understand without context. You’d know what it was about without having to refer to the original source. Your permanent notes are what ultimately transform your database of notes in Mem into an idea factory.

What this Note Taking Strategy Looks like In Practice

As I read, I underline passages that I want to remember. At the end of each chapter, I jot down a quick note and the page number in a notebook. These are my fleeting notes.

After I write down my fleeting notes, I go through them and create a mem for each note, paraphrasing the idea in my own words. These are my literature notes.

Whenever I come up with new ideas while writing literature notes, I create a bidirectional link from the literature notes. These new ideas become my permanent notes. Even if I don’t write something right away, I’ve captured the idea and can come back to it.

Last, I use Readwise App to record all the highlights of a book. These are my reference notes. I capture reference notes last because they help me remember what I read without having to go back to the original source.

The Non-Linear Approach to Writing an article

The way you organize and handle information has a significant impact on how you approach the steps of the writing process. Since you can’t plan insights, a linear approach to writing invariably leads to writer’s block. A non-linear approach eliminates it.

Once you realize that your structure needs to be linear, but your process doesn’t, then you can tackle more ambitious projects like writing books.

Let’s say I want to write a new article about the steps in the decision-making process. I have about 40 notes on decision-making in mem from the books I’ve read recently.

Since I have an extensive collection of notes, I don’t start with a blank page. Instead of creating an outline for the article from the top down, I start from the bottom up, and the structure emerges organically. The collection of notes forms the basis for the article I want to write.

With this approach, you don’t have to write 1000 words a day to be a prolific writer.

How to use Bidirectional Links to Overcome Writer’s block

One of the main causes of writer’s block is starting with a blank page. And a blank page can be daunting for even the most experienced writers. When I wrote my first book, Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best, my writing coach Robin and I spent over a month creating an incredibly detailed outline.

But the day I first opened the Google doc and stared at the blank page, I was paralyzed with fear and anxiety. In my head, I drew up doomsday scenarios, imagining that I’d have to return my advance and give up on my dream of becoming an author. Finally, I finished a 45,000-word manuscript in 6 months.

According to Shawn Achor, the brain makes progress toward a goal based on the perceived distance to that goal. The closer we get to the finish line, the faster we progress. Visible progress is an accelerator of success. When you don’t start with a blank page, you reduce the perceived distance to your goal.

The workflow for the steps in the writing process is linear for most writers and knowledge workers. They may have an idea for a topic they want to write about or a project they want to start. So they create outlines for articles, plans for projects, etc.

But, as I said earlier, your brain is a network, not a hierarchy. And the linear approach to the writing process assumes the opposite

Mem allows you to write the way your brain thinks. It allows you to take a non-linear approach to the writing process. Each meme you write is a puzzle piece, and then you put those pieces back together in a meaningful order.

The beauty of bidirectional linking in Mem is that you never start with a blank page, you never have a shortage of ideas to explore and consider. You can have insight without taking immediate action.

How Mem makes You More Creative

Creative ideas take time to germinate. You can plant a seed for an idea today, but it may not bear fruit for weeks, months, days, or years. I wrote the idea for a book in which surfing is a metaphor for life and business four years before I wrote Unmistakable: Why Only is Better than the Best.

The main benefit of mem is that you can capture and access information anywhere without having to spend countless hours organizing your ideas.

You can capture ideas, notes from books or articles on the internet, or even just random thoughts. It’s the ultimate way to build a system so you don’t forget anything.

Want to Increase Your Creative Output

I’m building a new course about how to use Mem to take better notes and maximize your creative output. If you want to learn more about the course and be notified when it’s available, click here.


You may also like