Starting over with Anki

October 2013

in Self-mastery

I’ve been using Anki fairly regularly for a few years, but it’s time to start over.

My decks are too many and too cluttered. I have too much material that I don’t actually care to spend my time memorizing. A lot of my notes are old and poorly formatted. I haven’t gone through them to fix them all because there are so many.

I’ve failed to follow my own advice!

So, I’m starting over. Clean slate!

I went through my entire collection today and purged everything but the absolute essentials. Of those, I went through every note and cleaned them up, pared them down, and simplified.

My plan going forward is as follows:

1. Less decks

I have way too many decks. Mostly because I love grouping/categorizing/organizing material, but with Anki this is generally a bad idea. Anki will show you cards in a randomized order, but only random within each given deck. Studying related cards too close together primes you to think about that topic, making the learning less valuable.

In general, it shouldn’t matter if my cards are unorganized. If it’s going in Anki, it should be something I want to learn completely. I don’t want to memorize a useful idea from a book only in the context of the rest of the book’s content. If it’s a good idea, I want to remember it, period. This requires making sure the front of a card has enough context so you know what it’s actually asking you.

I’m going to take it to the opposite extreme and start with a very simple layout, and see if I can make it work without adding any more decks:

  • Reality – All factual, tangible information about how the world works and what’s in it, such as people, most book material, educational stuff, etc.
  • Behavior – Cards for changing or adjusting my behavior, such as habit reminders, thinking patterns, motivational stuff, etc.
  • Ideas – Useful reminders, valuable ideas, etc.
  • Experimental – Any experimental stuff that I don’t want to clutter my regular learning material.

There’s obviously overlap, but it’s a good place to start.

2. Only what’s important

I also need to focus more on what’s important. My book notes Anki decks tend to have hundreds of cards, but this is almost always overkill. The key ideas and examples from books can and should be summarized.

Only the more useful advice is worth going through the effort of creating notes and studying them.

3. More “reminder” notes, less rote memorization

I’ve been formulating most of my notes such that I must memorize the exact answer to an exact question.

However, it’s nice to have cards that are simple reminders. Something like “don’t take the small stuff too seriously” is a good general bit of advice, and Anki can be a good tool to feed it to me.

There’s no need to create a question like “what that useful idea about ‘small stuff’ I want to remember?” (or something similar) that perfectly prompts me to remember the advice. Simply exposing myself regularly to good ideas is also valuable.

So there you have it. I’ve deleted everything I have in Anki except the most obviously useful stuff. I’m excited to see how this goes.