Changes ahead

I’m trying to sort out a problem concerning my slipbox: It’s not quite working the way everyone else claims it should. I’ve written a lot about my slipbox. Over the past 2+ years it’s grown to be about 1,000 slips (aka 3×5 cards) Plus the 1,200+ slips containing my collection of quotes.

I occasionally get a flash of inspiration and I sense the awesome power . . . and then it doesn’t happen again regularly. The problem has to do with how I’m putting things into the slipbox. This is a crucial point and (as far as I can find) it’s not often mentioned nor clearly explained. Everyone—including me—goes off into the weeds talking about how slips each get a unique address, how the addresses are fractal, etc. That’s classic systems-building nerd digression.

No the problem I have is, holding a slip with some idea on it, where do I put it? Literally, where is the specific spot in the collection of slips? …between which two existing slips do I place it?

What’s happened to me, is my slipbox is like a lawn: It has a wide collection of short blades of grass. It has few tall plants. There’s an amazing index of people, but each person usually has just one connection to something else in the slipbox. (For example: A podcast guest is usually only connected to the one slip for that conversation’s recording.) While I have hundreds of slips for my recorded conversations, they have almost no connections leading off from them. Again, I’ve a collection of ~100 slips for essays, books and other things I’ve put “into” the slipbox, and those cards have no other connections.

What I’ve built is what I build best: A large categorical archive. A library organized by thinking like a librarian. I’ve organized by topic or category. Here again, there’s a systems-building nerd digression into how you do that. But alas, it’s all just navel gazing structure for structure’s sake. Building a library is not sufficient. A good slipbox can be my library and enable me to find specific things. But a good slipbox is supposed to also let me do more. (It’s supposed to let me have a conversation with my previous thinking. It’s supposed to let my brain have ideas, while the slipbox let’s me explore all the ideas I’ve had.)

Instead of organizing by topic and subtopic, it is much more effective to organize by context. Specifically, the context in which it will be used. The primary question when deciding where to put something becomes “In which context will I want to stumble upon this again?”

In other words, instead of filing things away according to where they came from, you file them according to where they’re going. This is the essential difference between organizing like a librarian and organizing like a writer.


A writer asks “In which circumstances will I want to stumble upon this note?” They will file it under a paper they are writing, a conference they are speaking at, or an ongoing collaboration with a colleague. These are concrete, near-term deliverables and not abstract categories.

~ Tiago Forte from,


After much thought—weeks of thinking, finding the above article, reading, more thinking… I’ve decided I have two problems. The second problem is the one I mentioned at the top: Where exactly do I put this specific slip? I’ve been fixated on this problem for a while, and the solution is above.

But the first problem is that I’m not generating enough slips. (Yes, I have 2,000+ slips in the slipbox. Yes, I’m serious about not generating enough slips.) I’m not capturing what slipbox builders call “literature notes” or “reading notes.” I’m not grabbing my pen and writing stuff down, right in the moment, as I’m thinking about something. I believe this started on day one, when I felt like I didn’t know where I would put such a slip (ie, the second problem) and off I went not making enough notes.

So my new focus is to jot stuff down more. Generate more literature or reading notes. At which point I should quickly get comfortable figuring out where to put stuff into the slipbox.