Making Anki Cards for Practical Information


For the sake of this article, let’s reduce “practical information” into an atomic unit — an “imperative.”

These “imperatives” (e.g. “drink 8 glasses of water” or “eat a high protein, high fat breakfast”) are the synthesis of knowledge and a goal.

So they come from how you integrate what you know into your life based on an agenda.

Therefore when you make cards for imperatives, the question must be integrated into a specific context in your own life. Otherwise, you can decontextualize the imperative into the knowledge that led to it.

  • Goal: Stay healthy, stay hydrated
  • Knowledge: The human body requires 2—4 liters of water per day depending on activity levels
  • Imperative: Drink 8 glasses of water per day on off training days, 16 on training days

You have a few options:

  1. Make cards for the imperative
  2. Make cards on the ideas that led to the imperative
  3. Make “levels-of-processing” cards on the imperative

Option 1. Make cards for the imperative

  • How many glasses should I drink on off-training days?
  • How many glasses should I drink on training days?

Or, since the two can be similar in form and is not answerable through recognition, you can use cloze:

  • During ((training)) days, I should drink ((16)) glasses of water
  • During ((non-training)) days, I should drink ((8)) glasses of water

Option 2. Make cards on the ideas that led to the imperative

Alternatively, you can just make cards for the knowledge part and decontextualize it from the goal.

  • Q: How many liters of water per day does the human body require? (i.e. range in liters)
  • A: 2-4 liters

Not having the Anki card for the imperative doesn’t mean that you will not do the thing. It means that you are relying on yourself to recontextualize the knowledge, that is, that you will apply it when you are presented with the right context.

Option 3. “Levels-of-processing card” on the imperative

For example:

  • Why should I drink 16 glasses of water during training days?

Depending on how much you know relevant to the imperative you’re trying to make cards for, you may find this harder or easier.

Say for example you’re always trying to improve yourself, and you just realized something meta:

“Find the best ways to sharpen the saw”.

Everybody talks about getting quick results. When cutting the metaphorical tree, however, what you’ll find them do is search for the best saw possible.

An alternative approach would be to sharpen the saw that you already have. What I believe, though, is to not stop at “sharpening the saw” — you should also try to find the best saw sharpener you could get your hands on.

Then you can go a little deeper by making a card about it.

  • What are the ways I know of for finding the best ways to “sharpen the saw”? (3x)
  • Why do I not settle for just “sharpening the saw”?

Further reading

“Textbook knowledge” is easy to atomize, but what about those you learn outside of school? What about information that contains layer upon layer of bias and context?

I recommend using the 3 layers of evidence as a mental model for this.

You can think of it as “peeling the onion” — you decontextualize knowledge into its most fundamental component, then you make interpretations on your own to enrich your knowledge. You can then make use of them by applying them into your own processes, workflows, routines, programs, strategies, checklists, or whatever. At least, that’s how I do it.