Four Colours


A few years ago, I read a book that changed the way I took notes. That book was “How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think” by Lion Kimbro. Thanks to my podcast, Sources and Methods, I had the chance to chat with Lion a few weeks ago. The episode will be out in November but I wanted to share one of the ideas that I’ve found most useful. He wrote about it in his book and we discussed it again on the podcast.

It involves taking notes with a four-colour pen. I’m talking about pen-and-paper here, not digital notes, though I suppose it might work there too with some tweaking. You use a different colour to ascribe different meanings to your notes. Thus, quoting from his book:

RED: Error, Warning, Correction
BLUE: Structure, Diagram, Picture, Links, Keys (in key-value pairs)
GREEN: Meta, Definition, Naming, Brief Annotation, Glyphs
BLACK: Main Content [p. 26]

Most notes will thus be in Black, but other things can stand out by sticking to the system outlined in the quote. It takes a bit of getting used to, including sticking up reminders on walls showing the colour scheme, but after a week or two it’s instinctual and really helps when revisiting notes at a later date.

Lion shares lots of other note-taking tips in our podcast, which I’ll post here when it’s out.

A short practical tip: ever since reading Lion’s book, I’ve been using a Bic four-colour biro which are quite easy to find in most stationery stores. Lion mentioned a different type which I’ve now been using for a week or two and have had a really good experience so far. It’s the Zebra Sarasa4 model (pictured above). If you want to get into taking notes using four-coloured pens, I’d really recommend it.