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My AKA

AKA is an acronym for ‘also known as’ – But not on planet Neil.
In my world it means Analogue Knowledge Archive – A collection of hand-written index cards in a box.
Having an AKA has improved my life.
Having an AKA has improved my writing.
Having an AKA has made me better.

Big claims.

Let’s get into it.

I planted the seeds of my AKA system way back, when I stumbled across a web article about something called a ‘Zettlekasten’.
From there, my curiosity led me down a rabbit hole.

It all starts with a German by the name of Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998). He was a sociologist, a philosopher, and a thinker. It’s fair to say he was also a prolific author and writer – 70 books and nearly 400 academic articles give testament to that.
He put his productivity down to his system of note taking.
Using index cards and stored them in ‘slip boxes’ (German: Zettlekasten).

Personal Knowledge Management – A popular topic of discussion online.
There are loads of PKM tools out there today.
Notion, Obsidian, Roam Research, Evernote, Craft, Bear….. The list goes on.
It’d be easy to think PKM was something new. It’s not. Luhmann had it nailed decades ago.

I’m a sucker for productivity software. If I’d spent as much time writing as I’ve spent ‘playing’ with shiny new productivity toys, I’d be on my way to Luhmann levels of publishing.
I’ve tried all the PKM tools listed above. Bear is the only one still in use.
I’ll tell you what I use it for another time.

Why didn’t any of them work for me?
There are a few reasons.
But the main one is that they all made it too damn easy to ‘dump’ stuff into them.
I’d find a good quote, a nugget of wisdom, a snippet of inspiring text, and ‘click’, there it was, safely stored in my PKM of choice.
And there it stayed.
Unseen, unused and unloved. Until, after getting bored with the whole thing, I downloaded a new shiny PKM app.
All a pointless waste of time.

But I knew I needed to find an answer. It frustrated the hell out of me.
My memory wasn’t enough. I knew I had to find a way to store the valuable knowledge I kept finding. I hated that the fruits of my prolific reading would rot on the tree.

Then YouTube led me to a guy by the name of Scott Scheper.
Americans wearing a baseball cap back-to-front and greeting me with a “hey guys, what is up”, usually cause me to click away immediately.
But I’m working on my open-mindedness and tolerance, so I hung around.
I’m glad I did.

Scott believes in the analogue way of storing knowledge.
He calls his system the ‘Antinet’ and claims he can teach people to become a learning/research/writing machine.
In Scott’s world ‘Antinet’ means an Analogue, Numeric-alpha, Tree, Index, Network. Sorry Scott, I like my AKA better.
Also, I don’t want to be a machine.
But that’s me being small-minded.
Scott works amazingly hard at communicating his passion for the analogue way of doing things. He’s helping folks become better at using one, and as a result, better at shipping great work.
That’s a laudable vocation.
My petty snarks are undeserved. What he teaches is potentially life-changing, and I don’t say that lightly. He’s a good guy.

I took what I learnt from Scott’s videos, tweaked it to suit the way I think and work, and now, finally, I have a PKM that fits me perfectly.
Read that paragraph again.
I think it’s vitally important.
We’re all unique.
Our brains reflect that uniqueness in the way they think.
To work effectively, a PKM system needs to become a part of your brain. It has to work smoothly.
It has to be your own.
It took me a while to realise that.

At first, I followed Scott’s instructions to the letter. It didn’t feel right, and I nearly moved on.
But something felt different. This time, I felt I was within touching distance of something special.
That’s why I stuck with it. I experimented and tweaked until it all came together for me.
So don’t copy what I or anybody else has done. Use it as a foundation. Take the blocks you need but build your own house, eh?
And Scott. If by any chance you read this, thanks. You gave me the foundation blocks for a house I’m planning on living in for years to come.

It’s early days yet.
I started my AKA in early May.
To date, I have around 200 cards, index linked to about 160 subjects.
And I’ve never felt as comfortable with a system.
During the day I’ll bookmark things from Twitter or the web. I’ll save into my Bear notes app.
Then, every morning I’ll take time to review what I’ve saved.
Looking at it with fresh eyes helps me evaluate its worth better.
I might decide to keep it as is.
I might add my own thoughts.
I might delete it.
And I look forward to the process.
Taking the time, hand-writing on a physical card, choosing subject headings, creating the index, lifting my file boxes down, opening them, flicking through the cards. Feeling them, smelling them.
Weird, right?
Except it’s not.
Every single part of the process acts to reinforce the memory. Physical contact with something real.
Clicking a button doesn’t come close to that.

And here’s the most important part – I’M USING THAT STORED KNOWLEDGE
Even with the few cards I’ve collected I’m seeing benefits.
It’s incredibly satisfying to pull out a few cards relating to something I’m thinking about.
I lay them out on the desk or put them up on my magnetic whiteboard.
Looking at them sparks new ideas, highlights connections, inspires me to get writing. No more staring at a blank screen.
Now, even before I type the first word, I know where I’m headed
That’s an amazing feeling.

And at the rate I’m adding them I’ll have close to 1000 in a year’s time.
How exciting will that be?

I said at the beginning that my AKA is simple – so I’d better prove it, hadn’t I?

Here’s an example of one of my index cards.

Top right, you can see a ten-digit number in green.
That’s the card’s unique identification code.
Hopefully, you’ll already have spotted how it’s made up.
It’s simply date and time.
Day (2-digits)/Month (2-digits)/Year (2-digits)/Time (4-digits)-24hr clock

Top left are the Content Subjects in black
I take time to choose these as they’re not always obvious.
I read the text I’m saving and think about what it’s telling me.
Sometimes a subject pops into my head immediately.
Other times, it takes longer.
Notice also that a card can have multiple headings.
There’s no limit, most of the time, it will have a couple.
It’s better to have more than less.
The worth of the entire system depends on the quality of its index.
A card filed under the ‘wrong’ single heading may not be found when it’s needed. It may even get missed completely.
That said, I don’t stress over the decision.
If your brain suggests a topic once, then chances are it’ll suggest it again next time something related comes up.
We’re back to the system as an extension of your brain. What works for you, works.

The text in blue contains the valuable knowledge I want to save.
Often I’ll add my own thoughts about what I’ve written. It takes just a few lines.

Finally, at the bottom of the card, in red, I record the source, be it an author, a book or a tweet.
I also create index cards for those sources, particularly people.
That allows me to pull all the knowledge cards relating to one source, if I wish.
All these knowledge cards get stored in numerical order in a single card box labelled ‘Main’I use lined, white, 6″x 4″ cards. I like the size because it gives me enough space to put everything on one side of the card. You use whatever cards you like.

Next comes the Index.
Dead simple this.
A single card for each topic or source, stored in a similar box alphabetically.
I use plain white cards for sources and coloured cards for topics.
But it’s not a hard and fast rule, and it doesn’t matter.
To be honest, I usually just grab whatever card is at the front of my new cards.
(I made a little storage box for them that sits on my desk).

Here’s an example of one of my index cards

Self explanatory I hope.
I simply list the unique identification number of any main card falling under that subject heading.

Once finished it lives in another storage box labelled (you guessed it) ‘Index’

Finally, a top tip:

I keep a Google spreadsheet of all the subjects I’ve created index cards for.
It saves me looking through the physical index box to check if I’ve already created a card.
With an ever-growing number, my memory struggles sometimes
Plus, scrolling quickly through the subjects while selecting a card subject heading often highlights an obvious choice.
Last, it’s useful to sort the entire list A-Z at the click of a button. Particularly after adding a new topic.

That’s it.
Done and dusted.

One last thing.

If by any chance you watch any of Scott’s videos, you’ll hear him talking about ‘Bib’ cards.
‘Bib’ is short for ‘bibliography’. Scott uses his Antinet to catalogue and store notes from any book he reads. Specifically, he’ll collate information about the book itself and his thoughts relating to the content. It’s a detailed process and one I wasn’t prepared to dig into yet.
I might revisit that later though, I’m sure there’s value in his system.

For now, I’m keeping my ‘bib’ (reading) notes in ‘Workflowy‘.
Why?
Because that’s what. works for me.
I repeat – “It has to be your own.”

If you’ve read this far, thank you.

Perhaps I’ve prompted you to gave a go at creating your own AKA . If so, you’ve now got a few blocks to go build with.

Let me know how you’re doing.

Catch you next time.

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One Comment

  1. Ray Luxford Ray Luxford

    Love your enthusiasm. What a great idea for all those thoughts and ideas we all have and mostly forget.
    Looking forward to your next book.

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