Relevance is a skill

Improved by the deliberate practice of note-taking. 📝

Relevance is the ability to see the connections between two or more things in a way where at some level each topic connects to and supports the others.

In terms of productivity, relevance is your ability to discern what’s important from unimportant, which in turn helps you prioritize work. For knowledge workers, relevance is yet another mental skill that assists them with the onslaught of information thrusted at them every day.

Technology has a way of solving problems almost too well and when it does, people, especially knowledge workers, have a tendency to become over-dependent on those digital tools. Relevance has been dulled by the convenience of algorithms and trust in one’s own judgment has been reduced by peer reviews. Both mechanisms add tremendous value to daily life, but usage of those tools comes at a cost if you’re unaware of the dependency you develop when using them.

As with most mental skills, relevance is another skill that can be practiced through writing…. Smart Notes.

Good questions are in the sweet spot of being relevant and interesting, not too easy to answer but possible to tackle with material that is available or at least within our reach.” ― Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes

Action: Start writing notes

Productivity depends on your ability to decree relevant from irrelevant information in order to avoid wasting time.

Slowing down enough to take notes seems like an unproductive waste of time.

Reading a book can no longer be done in haste. Instead, you capture what’s interesting, transfer that into your own thinking, and then connect the new insight into the existing contexts of other notes.

Slowing down isn’t a burden, it’s liberating. And the reason is that note-taking is a form of deliberate practice and each phase of Smart Notes1 refines your ability to determine what’s relevant.

  • Taking more time to read a book means you’ll read fewer books, which means you have to become more selective about what you read.

  • Taking notes from what you read means you have to become selective about what you write down because you’ll quickly realize you cannot write it all down.

  • Taking the time to connect new notes with existing notes means taking the time to see how past knowledge connects to new knowledge.

What seems like a detrimental hit to productivity, is instead a catalyst.

Until next time,

Josh Duffney

favorite-thing-of-the-week: Gone, perhaps, too far to understand Smart Notes 😅

Author’s Note: This is the first newsletter written from my physical slip-box.


I’ve spent the last several weeks re-reading and reverse engineering “How to Take Smart Notes'“ to better understand the original system. As I take those learnings and translate them into Obsidian, I’ll be updating my previous article on it and will most likely split it into a series.