STOP Losing Notes. Always Find Notes with Retrieval Mechanisms.

Embrace the power of Retrieval Mechanisms and always find your notes in Tana.


“I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS. I must have saved it somewhere…”

Have you ever felt like this (↑) before?

Well, this Letter is for you.

If you can't find your notes, you can't use your notes.

And this is a big problem, I understand.

But don't worry if you have a problem finding notes… Today we'll solve that problem.

I have a solution for you.

literally wrote a Master's Thesis (and 2 scientific articles) about connecting notes with AI, and I decided to create an organization system for my notes designed specifically for Tana.

After profoundly studying the Building a Second Brain (BASB) methodology (and teaching it to hundreds of people), I decided to get what resonates and create my own organization system.

I consider it to be an evolved version of the PARA Method.

It presents a new paradigm to organize notes, based on networks instead of folders, where notes can belong to different places at the same time.

Just like the ideas in your mind.

Let me show you how it works…

💬 Quote: Retrieval

In reality, information that cannot be reliably retrieved is not really being stored.

– David Deutsch

This is the foundation of any organization system.

If you can't find information, it's not there.

Retrieval becomes a top priority in ANY information management system, otherwise you are just gambling.

IMPORTANT: Retrieval is important for humans AND for Artificial Intelligence.

As stated in a previous letter… Intelligence does not exist in a vacuum. (Artificial) Intelligence depends directly on the data you use.

Make AI's work easy.

Make your knowledge easy to retrieve.

“How?” – You ask.

Create a Network of Knowledge with Retrieval Mechanisms.

🖼️ Images: Retrieval Mechanisms

Retrieval Mechanisms are used so that you can retrieve notes exactly when you need them.

They are made of Fields and Searches.

Think of an important piece of information you want to retrieve.

Now, here's how Retrieval Mechanisms work:

  1. Add Retrieval Fields to the supertag that you want to retrieve.
  2. Add Retrieval Searches to the supertag where you want to retrieve it.

Let's look at how this works.

1. Retrieval Fields

Retrieval Mechanisms work with 5 different Fields:

  • Projects: Outcomes you're committed to.
  • Areas: Roles you play in life.
  • Sources: Books or courses the note came from.
  • Topics: General topics you're interested in.
  • Action Zones: Places where you take action.

These fields cover the different places where you would want to find notes.

IMPORTANT: I use the #note supertag for everything! It has the Retrieval Fields built into it, which means I can reliably save (and retrieve) everything.

#note supertag has Retrieval Fields which map to other supertags

The main question you are asking yourself here is:

❓ Where do I want to find this note later?

The answer to this question will guide you to fill in the fields in the #note supertag.

Each of these fields sends the note to other places in Tana, represented by the respective supertags.

Fields are configured so that you can easily chose appropriate destinationsFor example: start typing a project name, and project suggestions will appear.

Filling in the Project(s) field.

Also keep in mind that you can assign the same #note to multiple places.

For example: a note may belong to a Book (Source) you're reading, while also belonging to a Content (Action Zone) you're writing, and an Area in your life, all at the same time.

Note belonging to multiple places

By now, you're probably asking yourself…

How does this connect to the Searches?

2. Retrieval Searches

Retrieval Searches collect #notes at these 5 locations:

  • ProjectsOutcomes you're committed to.
  • AreasRoles you play in life.
  • SourcesBooks or courses the note came from.
  • TopicsGeneral topics you're interested in.
  • Action ZonesPlaces where you take action.

Each Field is associated with a supertag.

In each of these supertags, a Retrieval Search is created to retrieve all the #notes that were assigned to this supertag.

These supertags represent the places where you actually retrieve your notes.

These are places where you will TAKE ACTION.

The Retrieval Mechanisms are oriented towards execution.

Find your notes → Execute on your notes.

For example: In this exact Tana Fis Letter which I'm writing (Always Find Notes with Retrieval Mechanisms), I can easily find all #notes assigned to this Action Zone, and execute on them.

#notes being retrieved with a Retrieval Search

📄 Note: Action Zones

Action Zones

Action Zones represent any digital container where action is taken.

An important part of Action Zones is that they collect your notes, and connect them directly to where action happens. The emphasis here being to bring knowledge to your action.

Action Zones are similar to what RJ Nestor refers to as 'bins', which are containers for tasks.

Let me give you an example.

Consider the PARA Method, by Tiago Forte, which is an organization system based on Actionability (Projects = most actionable, Archives = least actionable).

The first components are Projects and Areas, they are the most actionable ones, and are classic Action Zones.

Projects and Areas cover the biggest Action Zones.

But if you treat every digital container where action is taken as a Project or an Area, you will be prone to overfitting.

Overfitting is a concept from Machine Learning that is explained by the famous quote: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail."

Yes, you can absolutely have 30 different Areas to keep track of. No one will stop you.

But you can also separate them into other Action Zones.

If you consider every single ‘ongoing responsibility’ at any given moment in time, that can easily become overwhelming.

Action Zones provide alternatives to categorize where Action happens. They are usually a sub-category of Projects or Areas, but with a different emphasis.

I consider the following to be Action Zones:

Sub-categories of Areas:

  • Clients
  • Products
  • Tools / Software
  • Etc.

Sub-categories of Projects:

  • Contents
  • Etc.

Each Client can be considered as an Area, same goes for each Product you sell, or every Tool (Software) you use.

All of those are ongoing responsibilities, and may demand action.

But we can all agree that email automations in ConvertKit (Tool), and landing page for Tana template (Product) belong to a different category than Romantic Relationship (Area), or Health (Area).

With that in mind, I consider Areas to be the major Areas in life, while Action Zones are used to collect other types of responsibilities, such as clients, products, and tools.

As with contents, I believe content creation is much more dynamic than Project Management. Ideas don't have a clear target date, or a clear set of actions you need to take.

I avoid treating content pieces as projects, as I see them as two different categories.

"But Fis, why would you group different sub-categories into Action Zones?"

Instead of creating a new field for EACH of these categories (which would be overwhelming), I decided to group them all into Action Zones.

This way, one single field can handle several different categories.

Action Zones:

  • Clients
  • Products
  • Tools / Software
  • Contents
  • Etc.

IMPORTANT: Action Zones are flexible.

You can easily expand this list by extending any other supertag with the #action zone supertag. This way, you can add other Action Zones that are unique to you.

SPOILER: The Retrieval Mechanisms discussed in this letter will be available for purchase VERY SOON in a Tana System near you.

I can't reveal much about this Tana System yet… 🤐

But I can tell you that this is a very powerful system in Tana that I've been building for over a year. It includes the Retrieval Mechanisms and several other PKM mindsets and concepts.

And of course, it integrates seamlessly with AI, following the research that I've been doing on AI and PKM since 2021 (more info below).

🔗 Further Reading

Creating Knowledge Connections for Personal Knowledge Management

Last week, my research on AI connections for PKM was published with Springer Nature Computer Science!

If you want to know more about the Field of 'Topics (AI)' that appears as one of the Retrieval Mechanisms, you can read the article to understand the methodology behind Topics.

Topics are equivalent to the Concepts in this article, they are automatically identified by AI and used to create a Network of Connection between your notes.

Here is the link for reading:

Creating Automatic Connections for Personal Knowledge Management - SN Computer Science
The field of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. Interestingly, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Large Language Models are also becoming mainstream, but PKM has not seen much integration with NLP. With this motivation, this article first introduces a methodology to automatically interconnect isolated text collections using NLP techniques combined with Knowledge Graphs. The text connections are generated by exploring the semantic relatedness of the texts and the concepts they share. The article proceeds to describe PKM Assistants that incorporate the methodology to assist users in understanding and exploring the knowledge contained in text collections using a Knowledge Management tool called Tana. The article continues with an assessment of the methodology using a text collection composed of several books and book passages collected for each book. Finally, the article concludes with a discussion of the proposed methodology, with special attention to the potential use cases.

Hope you enjoy!

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    Thank you for reading!

    Fis Fraga, M.Sc. is a Tana Ambassador and digital writer. He helps people develop a productive and fulfilling life using a mix of Knowledge Management and Artificial Intelligence.

    You can read more at:

    Articles - Fis Fraga
    Articles by Fis Fraga - Second Brain with AI in Tana. A guide to meaningful productivity, work smarter with an AI-powered knowledge workspace in Tana.