The napkin and the whiteboard are tools for thought too

Note-takers, be aware of the tourist syndrome

Adolfo Ramírez Corona
2 min readMar 17, 2023

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A handwritten note on a napkin, “Don’t Panic!”.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

There are notes born to be burned.

Sometimes, taking notes is only about taking notes, without being worried about capturing the notes and keeping them in a folder, the cloud, or an app.

The fact we have the technology — note-taking apps, tools for thought, or PKMs — doesn’t mean we need or have to archive everything. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

I know, several apps allow you to capture those scribblings on the napkin, the incomplete and unfinished brainstorming ideas on the whiteboard, or the fleeting notes on the first piece of paper we found at hand.

But they are called fleeting notes for a reason.

Sometimes we just need to see an idea on a napkin or a whiteboard to solve a problem or to have an insight. Once we have the solution or the insight, it becomes part of us, it’s embedded into us. Whatever we wrote down becomes irrelevant.

In this case, note-taking or writing is the tool for thought itself — watching or reading my thoughts makes my thoughts clearer.

There are things we just need to see, read, watch, feel, make, listen to, or even smell, as a means to understand, learn, think about, know them, in a word, experience them.

So, taking notes on a napkin or a whiteboard may seem ephemeral, but it’s not about the note itself as to the experience of taking it.

We tend to exaggerate the importance of the fleeting note more than the experience of the fleeting note.

Let’s call it the tourist syndrome: giving more importance to capturing the moment at every single step with a photo, getting a memento, or buying a souvenir, instead of living the experience of the moment through a pause and contemplation.

Taking a fleeting note and having a pause of contemplation to the idea, thought, image, or sensation in it, is like having a suspire after arriving to see the faraway horizon, the always surprising night sky, the ancient pyramids, or a Frida Kahlo’s at a museum, and notice, “I’m here, this is it, I get it”. And then, enjoy it.

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Adolfo Ramírez Corona

Author, psychotherapist, coach—Human behavior, UX, media & audiences—Father, husband, meditator—Courses & coaching: antifragilewriting.com—More adolforismos.com