Updated on 07.31.14

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: 1,100 Notes Edition

Trent Hamm

Over the last year, I’ve been jotting down individual notes and thoughts that I’m intending to include in my next book. Now that the time has come to start putting this together, I sat down and finally did a thorough accounting of all of the notes. I made them all electronic (using Evernote heavily for this) and took a hard look at what I had.

1,100 notes, without any sort of structure at all.

What does it all mean? That’s what I’m really puzzling through right now. I definitely see some huge patterns in the notes, but what’s the big theme really tying all of these ideas together?

Lately, I’ve been taking long walks and puzzling through all of this. I’ll spend an hour reading through note after note after note, then I’ll get up, put on my shoes, and go walking/jogging for a while. Connections pop into my mind when I’m out there and by the time I’m back, I see things in a new light.

It’s coming together. The shapes are beginning to emerge.

Here are some interesting personal finance articles I found in the last week.

The Basics Behind a Budget that Works After reading tons of articles describing different versions of “a budget that works,” I’ve come to the conclusion that no budgeting technique really works for everyone. For me, a much simpler approach works well. (@ simple mom)

Things Wear Out I agree – the best value is an item that simply wears out. It’s worn, well-utilized, and useful until the very end. Like a good pair of shoes. (@ wise bread)

A New Era of Personal Finance The old advice isn’t working any more. (@ saving for serenity)

Why Pursue Financial Freedom? I think different people have different answers to this question. For example, my reason is simply so I can pursue some of my major life goals – writing a novel and having it published and well-promoted – without worrying about an income. (@ get rich slowly)

30 Days to a Better Man This is a set of truly great articles, but a better name for the series would probably be “30 Days to a Better Person” as most of these articles apply well to well-rounded women, too. (@ art of manliness)

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  1. Tsh says:

    Thanks for mention, Trent! I enjoyed the 30 Days to a Better [Wo]Man as well.

  2. Tori says:

    I agree with your opinion about the title “30 Days to a Better Man” series. While I agree there is a need for The Art of Manliness itself, I am a frequent reader of the blog and especially appreciate the tips about how to be more well-rounded.

  3. Brian says:

    You might try the software Freemind (it’s free) to organize your thoughts. I’ve found it quite useful in taking a series of concepts and putting them together into coherent topics that are then actionable. It took a bit of getting used to, but once I understood how to create trees and branches effectively (and move them around) it was quite simple.

  4. Grad No Job says:

    The Financial Freedom article to me is kind of a no-brainer. It’s kind of like asking “Why Pursue Freedom?”. I agree, however, with a commentor on that article concerning the pursuit of financial literacy over the vague idea of financial freedom.

  5. Amy says:

    Have you thought about creating an affinity diagram out of your notes?

    We use this method in my field (user experience research) regularly to make sense of many small bits of data. (sometimes thousands) I love being able to see everything laid out in front of me, and how the various pieces of data make sense together.

  6. “Things Wear Out” interested me in the distinction between wearing out and breaking. It’s true, something that is just worn may still be usable, or have salvageable parts. But something that breaks may be entirely useless – I recall trying to fix an appliance. I could see what needed to be done, but there was absolutely no way to get to it. So the whole thing had to be discarded, because I couldn’t even remove parts without breaking them.

  7. Oz says:

    When you say “no structure at all”, do you mean just one notebook and 1100 notes under it? No categories of any sort?

  8. SAO says:

    I’d love to see the “trusted advisor” idea fleshed out. How will consumers be able to distinguish between scam artists and honest-to-goodness advisors? Also, what about good-hearted advisors who also happen to have no idea what they’re advising on?

  9. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “When you say “no structure at all”, do you mean just one notebook and 1100 notes under it? No categories of any sort?”

    Basically, yes. I’ve been noting every idea over the last three years that’s been useful for me in the myriad of financial, career, and other changes I’ve made in my life. Now, the trick is to figure out what they all mean as a cohesive whole.

  10. leslie says:

    I like the idea behind “The Basics Behind a Budget that Works” article and wish that I had read it six months earlier. I just finished a post about this on my site after struggling with a budget for six months that just did not work for me. After re-designing it to fit my needs, it is much easier for me to handle.

  11. Sharon says:

    When I have to do a project like that, I put everything on an index card (literal or figurative) and just put them in piles. I pick up the first one, figure out the category, and then label it and pick up the next one. Categorize it. If it matches number one, then put it on that pile. The most important pile/file is the “Misc.” one. Things that don’t fit any other category and don’t look likely to have companions go there. When that pile/file gets thick, check it for categories. When you get to item 1099, there will probably still be a few things in the Misc file that don’t have any mates. Then you can either disregard them, or use them for another book in the future.

    The real trick for me is keeping the dogs from plowing through the piles on the floor! Also, just handle one item at a time. Forget about how many you have still to do. Focus on the one.

  12. Marisa says:

    Trent – every time you mention Evernote, I want to ask: how do you organize your notes? For a while I used KeyNote on your recommendation and liked the tree structure organization, but since it’s not really updated anymore, I tried out Evernote. I like that I can get to lists on my Blackberry and that my pc sync’s up to the web automatically, but I can’t figure out how to organize my notes. Having them in one big list drives me nuts! Do you just use tags?

    Oooh, even better, would you be willing to share a screenshot of your Evernote page? If not, a description would be fabulous!


  13. Leszek Cyfer says:

    Have you ever read “Lila. An inquiry into morals” by Robert M. Pirsig? It’s the continuation of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.

    There is passage in the book where Pirsig explains how he makes order within thousands of notes he’s made on the subject of metaphysics. Basically it’s the way Sharon pointed with the index cards, but it goes much deeper – he takes two cards and asks a question: “which one goes first?”. As he writes, somehow it’s easier when you have just the two cards to choose between. When it’s known he puts them in order into a index drawer, takes next card, and compares it with the first card in the drawer, then if it so happens, with the second card – and puts the new card into its place. And so on.

    There’s much more to this, and I strongly advise you to read the book, if not both of them. “Lila” is incredible – it has made a profound impact on me and changed the way I perceive the world. That’s the book I’d take on Robinson’s Island with me :)

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