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Intentional, timely, kind: Bridging note-taking with practice

My thoughts race at the speed of light; I find it difficult to express and explain them as they come and go. Note-taking (and the later transformation of my resulting notes) feels like the ultimate act of kindness: an interface I use to connect others with information that feels relevant, useful, and/or important to them. · 5 min read

My consciousness is a flourishing stream of thoughts: unrestrained, wild, somewhat tangled, but constantly unraveling. While more structured than the source itself, my second brain still reflects some of the rawness of what's going through my mind.

We've established in My second brain remembers that the primary goal of my note-taking habit is self-serving: I write them to create cues for my 'primary' brain, to serve me above anyone else. But I talked very little about real-life applications of capturing and storing my thoughts and perceptions.

The notes I write have the purpose of storing information to be recalled in fundamentally social settings: a meeting with my colleagues; a conversation with my spouse; the pages of documentation I have to write; this very blog post. That information is the outcome of all the organic data processing my ‘primary’ brain did while witnessing or noticing something — and it’s that organicity that makes information so rich. Ultimately, my notes assist me in becoming as intentional and timely as possible in my interactions with others.

My thoughts race at the speed of light; I find it difficult to express and explain them as they come and go. Note-taking (and the later transformation of my resulting notes) feels like the ultimate act of kindness: an interface I use to connect others with information that feels relevant, useful, and/or important to them.

This organic data processing has been fundamental in two different contexts within Outreachy: following our interns’ progress and tracking and organizing notes about past, current, and potential sponsors.

Observation #

With the scale of a program like ours, it can be easy to lose sight of individual interns — we often discuss goals and priorities in terms of cohorts. But when it comes to reading and evaluating feedback submissions, for example, understanding the outcomes of an internship in the context of an intern’s life and perspective can be the difference between a fruitful and an unproductive conversation. I read their blog posts; I take note of their questions; I listen to everything that they share in intern chats; and I build bridges between us and give them the space they need to express themselves.

As for sponsors, my dedication to keeping track of everything about them comes from a [self-perceived] distance from them: I very seldom have or form relationships with our sponsorship leads or points-of-contact because they’re often Americans or Europeans. We haven’t worked at the same companies, and we rarely meet each other at conferences[1], so my other colleagues are usually much more well-connected than me. My notes about past, present, and potential sponsorships are an attempt to balance that out.

Ripening #

My notes transform the abstraction of my thoughts into structured, interconnected, and coherent information. The more I organize them by inserting them into a bigger context, the richer they become. For a past intern, it can be the establishment of relationships between other interns of the same mentoring organization, their mentors, the mentoring organization itself in the form of their coordinators; companies that were past or current sponsors; specific skills and trades.

As for a potential sponsor, that’s the connection between a sponsorship lead and how we were informed about that sponsor; the relationship between that lead and the sponsor; potential sponsorships ranges; the nature of sponsor itself (is it an individual, a grant maker, a non-profit organization, a company?).

That contextualization is what allows me to be timely — the stronger it is, the easier it becomes to answer all sorts of questions my colleagues may have as quick as possible and at a time they are as relevant as they can be.

Curation and distillation #

As much as I’m proud of the richness of my notes, I recognize that different situations require different levels of detail. Providing the right information at the right level of detail is what enables intentionality. I never read or share my notes as is with other people — if I need to share that information with them, I curate it according to the context of that interaction.

If we’re talking about an intern with a late internship start in the context of feedback submissions, I may overwhelm my fellow organizers if I provide them a detailed recount of how other organizers, intern, and mentors agreed on a new start date (which I do keep on file); it’s much more purposeful to give them a summary of the situation to them and connect it with an action plan (for example, sending feedback submissions reminders later that week as they weren’t included in the first batch of automated emails).

If another organizer wasn’t present during that discussion, it’s a kinder use of their time to direct their attention to what’s essential and material when writing posterior notes:

  1. That intern had a late internship start;
  2. We expect feedback submissions early next week.

The same can be said on notes about sponsors; it’s much more intentional use of everyone's time to transform them into a purposeful task (“Talk to Person X about Organization Y’s sponsorship prospects for the December 2024 cohort”) than to just share the original note (“On May 12, 2024, Person X mentioned they included Outreachy in Organization Y’s budget in time for the December cohort”).

Recognition #

Above all, my notes empower me to give credit where it’s due:

  1. Sage Sharp has been working tirelessly to transfer knowledge about our systems and their respective servers. They are empowering every single team member to have the technical and access capabilities to work on our critical infrastructure.
  2. Omotola Omotayo has been leading an internal initiative to write more grant proposals. Her great understanding of the team’s weaknesses and strengths enables her to assign specific grant questions to the right person every time, and her project manager skills make sure we’re deployed at the right time.
  3. While onboarding new mentors, Tilda Udufo discovered a relationship between projects, final applications, intern selections, and mentorship agreements. A severed relationship between a final application to a specific project and an intern selection to that project meant that a mentor couldn’t sign a mentorship agreement. Her continuous experimentation with a local installation of our website helped us figure out a solution without disturbing Sage Sharp’s vacation.
  4. Karen Sandler has connected us with several grant opportunities, and encouraged us to think about our program from several different perspectives and applications. Her guidance helped us expand and enrich our understanding of our program’s mission, goals, and capabilities.

Warmth #

It may feel strange to read about a methodology for sharing all the information I gather from note-taking; it may give you the impression that every interaction of mine is precisely scripted and calculated. This is the documentation of systems of thought and practice already in place — again, my notes are here to assist my personal expression, not to replace me. My intentions and my kindness are what infuses them with the warmth and organicity they require to become effective tools of communication. My notes exist as an expression of my care. [2]

  1. As a Brazilian, I understand my hometown isn’t a top destination to many in my field, and traveling to the United States or any European country — any part of the world, really — is an endeavor that requires serious financial planning and commitment. ↩︎

  2. I originally wrote “My notes exist because I care”, but I don’t like the implication that the absence of notes of a certain kind imply in uncaringness. I may write about how ephemerality can be as intentional as seeking permanence in another blog post. ↩︎