How I Use Tana as My Commonplace Book To Unlock Everyday Wisdom

Ev Chapman
December 25, 2023

I have been a collector of things that inspire me since I first starting cutting out photos from Dolly magazines in the 90’s and filling them in a big filing cabinet my parents bought for me.

And I’ve continued the practice in one shape or another for years and years. In journals, filing cabinets & finally digitally.

I didn’t know this was called commonplacing until a few years ago. But as soon as I read about the concept of a commonplace book it resonated deeply.

A commonplace book is a place you collect anything that you personally find interesting from ideas, quotes, observations, information, facts, drawings, insights or anything else.

Anything you come across in life that sparks you, you collect into your commonplace book.

They were immensely popular in the Renaissance and the 19th century when there were lots of new ideas in the world.

In our modern world with almost endless information I think a commonplace book practice is essential for everyone as a way to slow down, process their thoughts & build a bank of wisdom that is uniquely personal to them.

These days I use Tana as my commonplace book. It’s easy to get things in, organise them, make sense of them and connect them together to they can become useful later.

How I Use Tana As A Commonplace Book To Capture, Make Sense & Connect Information & Turn It Into Everyday Knowledge:

STEP 1: CAPTURE THINGS IN

The first step is to setup a way to easily capture all the things that inspire you everyday. The easier you make capture, the more it will become a habit for you.

I do this in three ways:

  • Readwise: Readwise is a great app to be able to connect to anything that you consume digitally and get it into Tana. Highlight books, articles even tweets.
  • Tana Capture: With the Tana Capture mobile app you can get any multi-media into Tana. Snap a picture, record a voice note, scan some text (if you’re on IOS) or just write something down.
  • Use The Day Page or CMD+E: I sit at my computer most of the day, so I also just jot things down as they come to me. If I’m on my Tana day page I just write them down or anywhere in Tana I can just use the CMD+E shortcut and get something to my day page.

Don’t think too much about how to structure anything that you capture. Just get into the habit of capturing it. Then to make sure you can find everything again give it a simple tag like #note.

Just as long as you have someway to identify that is something you have captured into your commonplace system.

STEP 2: MAKE SENSE OF EVERYTHING

To avoid a commonplace book being just another database of quotes you have saved that you never look at again we need to also have a mechanism for making sense of the information we capture & turning it into knowledge.

Information is nice. But knowledge is useful.

I’ve found building a habit of writing about the ideas that I capture is one of the best ways to turn this information into everyday wisdom. I’ve been practicing a daily habit of writing in my commonplace journal for the last 3 years and it’s quite literally transformed my life.

And It doesn’t have to be as complicated as all the note-taking people would have you think.

It’s simply a time to slow down & process our thoughts. A really simple way to do this is to just write down your response to what you collected. I just ask the question — ‘Why Did This Spark For Me?’

To make sense-making your notes a habit I suggest creating a live search on your day page that has all of your recently collected notes. That way it is always available everytime you open your day node.

Here’s How To Set That Up:

In your #note supertag create a field called ‘Status’ with two options. Open/Closed. Then set the default status to be open.

Then go to your day page configuration panel and create a search that finds every instance of the supertag #note where the status field is open.

The search that you want to add to your day page supertag configuration

Now you can open up the search easily on your day page, choose an idea from the pile, review it & then write your response or thoughts down in that same note. Once you’re done just change the status to ‘closed’ and it will dissapear from the search.

That’s as simple as it needs to be.

And if you don’t like writing, then try the in built voice capture in notion. Just type CMD+K (CTRL+K if you’re on windows) -> Start Voice Capture and it will capture your thoughts write there in the node!

Personally I spend about an hour each morning in my commonplace journal, but choose a time that works for you.

Why not set it as an intention in 2024 to write in your commonplace book each day? You will be surprised how much you grow in wisdom if you just spent 20 minutes a day ‘sense-making & writing.’

STEP 3: CONNECT IT INTO YOUR KNOWLEDGE BANK

Now that you’ve made sense of it in the context of your own world, we want to connect it into our commonplace knowledge system so we can easily find it again when we need.

The easiest & simplest way to do this is through relating it to a subject or topic area. That way you can collect all your knowledge on subjects together.

This forms connections, unusual and unique insights & is just a great way to find everything again.

Here’s How To Setup The Structure In Your Tana Commonplace Book:

  1. Create a new supertag called #subject
  2. For every new subject you collect about create a new item with the name of that subject & tag it subject.
  3. Now in your #note supertag create a new instance field called ‘Related Subject.’ When you save a new note in your commonplace book you can now choose an existing subject tag for it or create a new one.

To bring all our notes together around our subject areas go back to your #subject supertag and create a search that finds for anything tagged #note that is related to PARENT.

Now all your notes related to that subject can be easily found within the subject supertag.

And it’s that simple! You’ve just created your commonplace book. A space where you can collect, make sense of & connect knowledge & wisdom.

But remember a commonplace book isn’t just the system you setup. It’s much more of a habit or a practice than it is a system. So set time aside each day to take notice of your world & collect things that inspire or spark you. Then make time to do your sense-making & connecting.

I’ve found this to be one of the most nourishing practices I do each day & I’m confident you will too.

If you liked this post here’s three things you can do to go further:

  1. Want to go deeper into Tana? I have a wonderful newsletter called Tana Toolbox that will turn you into a Tana Pro in just 5 minute a day (no late night Youtube tutorials needed)
  2. Want a template to help you create your own commonplace book? Check out my Notes OS Template which will help you organise your thoughts & ideas.
  3. Want to build a full knowledge building platform in Tana? Check out the Tana Fast Track course which will help you speed up building your unique personal knowledge platform so you can make sense & organise all the information that comes at you everyday.

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