Tip: Create Your Own "Quick References"

In software development, and in life, there are a lot of things you have to keep in your head. From different programming language syntax quirks, to keeping your goals in mind, to the steps to deploy a project (if it's done manually). We've got more complex information and details swimming around in our heads than ever.

That's why I'm a big proponent of recording that information and getting it out of your head. Why limit yourself to your memory which is unreliable when recording and retrieving information is easier than ever?

Many people take some version of notes to keep things out of their head, however, I suggest that people also keep a separate "quick references" section separate from their "general notes". While general notes are great for writing quickly and messily, finding a particular piece of information in a large amount of notes can be inconvenient. Having a separate section for curated information where finding and reading the information is prioritized can be helpful.

What to use quick references for

Cheat Sheets

The most common and useful kind is the "cheat sheet". Random collections of things that you just can't seem to remember and you have to keep looking up over and over again. For example, there are so many command line tools with single character flags that are difficult to memorize. They often have man pages, however you often just want a tiny bit of information in a very long document and they're not always easy to understand. Whenever I find myself Googling for the same StackOverflow answer over and over again, I know that it's time to add that bit of information to a cheat sheet.


A lot of us create goals, however we're not always in the right headspace to prioritize them when deciding how to use your time. If those goals are written somewhere that's not prominent, then those notes and goals are not being very helpful. However, if they are accessible and you can remind yourself of your priorities easily, then they are more useful. Also, if you're forced to curate the ones you reference most, it helps force you to prioritize them.

Manual processes

Processes that are usually the same with lots of steps can be difficult to remember, especially if you have to do the process again after a long hiatus. I try to automate things like build processes, even if it's just with a quick script, but sometimes it's not practical to automate right at that moment. Creating a quick reference is the next best thing. If you get around to automating it, you can use the quick reference as a basis.

Other examples of quick reference topics

Advice for creating and maintaining quick references

Hopefully you'll find quick references and this advice useful! I'll add some more of my own quick references over time as examples and for you to use parts of them in your own quick references.