Why does card note writing work?

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The popularity of “How to Take Smart Notes” and the advent of a series of double-chained notes made this more “modern” way of taking notes really cool. When I read articles and videos recently, I can always encounter authors who feel that they are “hate to meet each other” about this method, and then make some interpretations.

Many readers and viewers will be envious after watching it, and then give these content a thumbs up. But, have you ever wondered why the card note writing method works? How to function effectively? Why do many people chant “enjoyable” while others scoff at it?

I recently reread the Fogg Model of Behavior and have a new understanding of this issue. So write this article to share with you.


In my opinion, the biggest difference between card-notes and traditional writing (with a splendid mind, a thousand words, and even eloquent writing) is whether there is a reasonable prediction of the “motivation” of ordinary people’s writing.

A lot of people will buy an annual pass to the gym and then quickly stop going. This sum of money, for many gyms, is considerable and welcome. Interestingly, even if many people have heard similar stories, they cannot resist the urge to “pay for a fitness year card”. Because they firmly believe that they are fully motivated and will stick to fitness. Those things that are not firm in their will and lead to overspending of money will definitely not happen to them .

This is of course not only reflected in the gym. Examples you are familiar with should also include purchasing software subscriptions for annual membership functions. Even, because of the promotion sometimes, people will buy it for several years in one go.


Because scientific evidence from more than one study shows that people significantly overestimate the persistence of their high levels of motivation .

The reality is not so. Motivation does not hang in the air all the time, but fluctuates under the influence of many factors. In other words, you can’t expect motivation to be a “perpetual motion machine” that just does work and doesn’t consume energy. Since energy is required, one of the raw materials is called “chicken blood”. So you will often hear about a behavior called “beating chicken blood” or “painting big cakes”. You don’t laugh at this behavior as low, for some people it’s very effective and necessary.

Back to our topic (writing). Ordinary people have exaggerated expectations about their motivation to write. For example, starting today, with 1,000 words a day, a master’s thesis in a month; or 500 words a day, a novel in half a year…

In fact, almost no one can guarantee such a stable output willingness. Motivation can’t last forever, how can we ensure continuous output?

For most people, the answer is to reduce costs sufficiently.


If the task you are facing is very difficult, a high level of motivation is necessary to achieve the behavior; but if the task you are facing is very simple, the required level of motivation can be greatly reduced. If you lower the word count, you might be able to complete the act of writing even on a sweltering, bad day.

This is precisely one of the keys to card writing—you’re no longer dealing with a whole, but a part. You’re not faced with a blank Word document, but a little card. In the face of the whole, you are weak; in the face of the parts, you are strong enough. And countless facts (even your own experience) prove that this human nature of “bullying the soft and fearing the hard” is innate.

Many videos and articles will give you analysis to this level. Then you’ll feel that it makes perfect sense, and you’re excited to start practicing. Some people think that as long as you write three 100-word cards every day, and then continue for several days, your papers, reports, and books will be done. But how long have you been holding on?

In fact, when it comes to long-form writing, size is only one element of cost, far from being the whole story.

Some schools have extended the writing cycle of undergraduate thesis from the original three months to one year. In this way, on average, only a few dozen words need to be written every day to reach the length standard of the graduation thesis. But does this result work?


Because students turn to self-confidence to procrastinate because tasks are too easy.

When will the procrastination end? Certainly when tasks are piled up until they have to start. About a week before the first draft submission date.

Merely reducing the length of a single writing text is not enough. Every time you write a card, you just start a new task. Your efficiency today is the same as your efficiency 100 days from now. This simple linear split will not bring you substantial benefits, but will make the task less interesting, just like screwing a robot arm on an assembly line.

To understand “cards” literally, and then to practice them incorrectly, many people think that the card note-taking method is an “exaggerated” thing.

But that’s not the fault of card note writing. Before you practice it, you should at least understand what it is talking about, right ?


The real power of card notes is that as the task progresses, it becomes easier for you to generate new cards. That is to say, the cost of content production is gradually decreasing steadily. This is the “non-linear” production process, and this is the key to the explosion of productivity for many people.

It sounds like nothing new, but once you understand how to do it, it makes a big difference.

Take the word “bullying the soft and fearing the hard” mentioned above as an example. When thinking about this question for the first time, you may have to go a long way to connect it to our mind weakness + writing pain point. Then you’ll have to think a lot to describe it visually.

The effect of card notes is that once the above process is completed, it can be reused . The next time you think about this concept, you can immediately list all the previous notes about the word in your second brain , and you can choose a link according to the situation.

Some content, spanning a long timescale, you may have long forgotten the exact date of writing, or even wrote about it.

However, because of the “linked” nature of card notes, you’ll suddenly be brought into context and immediately understand that you’ve thought and written about the subject many times before. Going a step further, I can still associate and recall, from which angle I used it. For example, when I conceived this article, I immediately combined the current context (Fogg’s behavior model’s description of motivational fluctuations) and the previous context (cost, card link characteristics, procrastination…) to burst out new ideas. , and then form a new card output.

The advantage of card writing is that it isolates your own thinking from the publishing process, and at the same time integrates it organically. When you are thinking about recording, you don’t need to consider every word, because this is not a release; when you publish, because you have a lot of thinking results as raw materials, you will not fall into the dilemma of being difficult to cook without rice.

Why does the card note writing method reduce the cost of creating new content by linking previous thinking?

Because card notes form a web through link relationships. Because it exists in the second brain, it avoids the loss of nodes and links due to your forgetting.

Whether it is an old node or a new node, because it is linked to a big network, it forms the aid of horns and can effectively support each other. For example, different context switches can be provided, and links with other nodes can be used to expand the reference content range of current thinking and writing. In particular, when you find that a node already has rich links, do you need to start from scratch every time and go to the search engine to find examples, materials and supplementary explanations? Not at all, you have a private library at hand that is closely related to the current topic, and is linked in a small world way. All raw materials are within six degrees of division and become within reach.

Many people will start to get excited again when they see this, and then start to practice. Then, unable to hold on for long, I gave up.


Because even if your note-taking system has nodes and links, the efficiency is not necessarily high enough.


If you can only use pages as nodes, then the most basic unit of granularity at this time is a note. However, all your subsequent citations are nothing more than common citations to the same note. This is actually not much different from the Tag in the traditional note-taking tool. But the question is, when there are 5000 associated notes under a label, what is the meaning of this label?

At most, when visualizing, you can see a large node, and countless (indiscernible) tentacles that extend out.

Of course, there are still differences between pages and labels as nodes. Because you can fill in the content on the page. But every time you open this page, you see the same content. You want to make some revisions, but it feels like “one hair and one move all over the place”. You have to be concerned – will my current changes conflict with past citations? These obstacles may hold you back. Not only will this not improve your thinking and recording costs, but it will even bring more new burdens.

So, when you practice card notes, you must pay attention to whether the granularity is fine enough. For example, if the result of my search is only the note “Bullying the soft and afraid of the hard”, then it will not help much. But if you can link to the specific contextual paragraph in which the concept occurs, the effect is different.

In this example, I let the note-taking software list the relevant context by referring to the block instruction.

When you decide to select a context for reference, press Enter to select it. Then, you can expand 3 kinds of content in the same page view:

  • New card for current writing
  • The card that directly links the reference (specific to the paragraph)
  • The same concept, directly related to other cards

Laying out a view like this allows you to see context across time and context. All you need to pay is a few parentheses and a few mouse or trackpad clicks. Because of these rich reference materials, you can assemble the previous note materials like Lego. The dimension between them can be a reference instance, a sequence, a top-bottom, etc. This flexibility and precision allows you to build complete local networks. This is like the capillaries of your knowledge network, you can’t be careless. And once such a structure is established, when writing, you can follow the vines, and the words flow naturally. Do you still have so much anxiety about the follow-up writing?

Why don’t you run and practice? Because you know this time, we’re not done talking yet, right?


Yes, even with such precise granularity, it’s still not complete. Because you saw the screenshot above, the content that can be displayed is very localized and not intuitive enough. In fact, evolutionary pressure has forced us humans to be more sensitive to images. If some important content is further modularized in the form of canvas to form a shortcut path, it will be more convenient to call it later.

Why should I add an app that combines cards and whiteboards in addition to the outline note-taking tool? This is the answer.

The advantage of visualizing the notes and their links is that you exchange space for time and record your current thinking in one more dimension. It seems to take up more resources, but the next time you think about related problems, you don’t have to repeat the process of finding context and constructing local knowledge networks. When you open the whiteboard and zoom in and out, all the effort you have spent has become a clear result at a glance.


Let’s summarize. Why does the card note-taking method work? Because people’s motivation is difficult to maintain a high level, they need to bite the cost and try to pull it down. The card note-taking method mainly relies on the following improvements to help you reduce the cost of thinking and writing:

  • Reduce the size of each writing and reduce the cognitive pressure of writing;
  • The mesh structure reuses cards to reduce the cost of generating new content that integrates old knowledge points;
  • The fine-grained citation function brings multi-dimensional context and reduces the cost of finding new supporting materials;
  • Spatial view layout avoids repeated link search and construction costs when creating new content

I hope the above explanations can help you effectively reduce your own thinking, recording and writing costs, create long essays easily and happily, and enjoy the flow experience.

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