Daniel's working notes

Progressive Summarization


Compression means discoverable Context means understandable

The hard part of note taking is not creating it but how to make it transferable through time, easily discoverable and have understandable context whenever you read that note. Because if it lose context, you won’t understand on what circumstance this note helps.

We need to balancing between briefness of the notes without sacrificing context to make it easier to understand. To make it easier to give context to your notes, ask yourself: “how can I found these notes again in the future, on what occasion or problem I have?”

The importance of having knowledge or information is to help the future you who face challenge or problem.


Part 1

Modern digital tools make it easy to “capture” information from a wide variety of sources. We know how to snap a picture, type out some notes, record a video, or scan a document. Getting this content from the outside world into the digital world is trivial.

What is difficult is not transferring content from place to place, but transferring it through time.

You know what I mean: you read a book, investing hours of mental labor in understanding the ideas it presents. You finish the book with a feeling of triumph that you’ve gained a valuable body of knowledge.

::The challenge of knowledge is not acquiring it::

you can acquire almost any knowledge at almost any time.

The challenge is knowing which knowledge is worth acquiring.

By the time you’re done solving a real problem with it, book knowledge has become experiential knowledge. And experiential knowledge is something you carry with you forever. This is related with Ultralearning where we need to immersed ourself when learning something because we directly exposed and force us to applying our knowledge on real life.

This is the job of a “second brain” — an external, integrated digital repository for the things you learn and the resources from which they come. It is a storage and retrieval system

Note that we have re-created the tickler file, except instead of strict time-based horizons (daily, weekly, monthly, annually), they are scheduled contingently — if X happens, when Y arrives, if I want to do Z, etc.

Tagging-first approaches argue that there should be no explicit hierarchy of notes, notebooks, and stacks.

I propose we make the design of individual notes the primary factor:

  • It works well with any other organizational system, without depending on them (including but not limited to tags and notebooks, if you want to use those)
  • It makes all work you do on your notes value-added, because you’re spending close to 100% of the time engaging directly with the content itself
  • It can more easily survive migrations to other devices, storage locations, and even programs, because note content is much more likely to be preserved than overarching structure
  • It cultivates skills (succinct communication, finding the core of an idea, visual thinking, etc.) that are inherently valuable and highly transferrable to other activities.
  • It makes your notes more legible and useful to others (unlike your internal notebook structure, which is only for your use), promoting collaboration and sharing

With a note-first approach, your notes become like individual atoms. Evergreen notes should be atomic

In the case of notes, I believe the two priorities we are trying to balance are discoverability and understanding.

Making a note discoverable involves making it small, simple, and easy to digest. We accomplish this using compression: creating highly condensed summaries, without all the fluff.

But we also want to make our notes understandable. This involves including all the context: the details, the examples, and cited sources to be sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Progressive Summarization works in “layers” of summarization.

  • Layer 1 is the starting point of Progressive Summarization, like the bedrock on which everything else is built:
  • Layer 2 is the first round of true summarization, in which I bold only the best parts of the passages I’ve imported, look for keywords, key phrases, and key sentence
  • Layer 3, I switch to highlighting, so I can make out the smaller number of highlighted passages among all the bolded ones. This time, I’m looking for the “best of the best,” only highlighting something if it is truly unique or valuable.
  • Layer 4, I summarize layers 2 and 3 in an informal executive summary at the top of the note, restating the key points in my own words.

Part 2

I want my mind to be an empty vessel, a staging ground where ideas briefly stop in their journey from the outside world, to my second brain. See Mind like water

Progressive Summarization is an alliance between your current and future selves, a pact in which your current self pays forward any insights they encounter, in exchange for your future self capitalizing on them at some point in the future.

Projects that fall apart won’t be as traumatic, because you’ll have lots of notes you summarized and packaged along the way.

Linked Notes: