How to take smart notes

This was a habit-changing book for me. It was about much more than note taking. It was about a set of processes that allowed me to question and be more a more active participant when absorbing information.

As the book says, writing is thinking. More precisely, writing is distilled thinking. The process of penning information down in your own words improves understanding and forces you to address your blind spots.

The book suggests taking temporary notes when consuming information such as books, videos, podcasts etc. In my experience, just the act of holding a pen when consuming information changes my relationship to these mediums. I scribble down questions I have, explain complex topics in my own way, and note down possible links to other ideas.

Later, those temporary notes are to be converted to permanent notes. The objective of permanent notes is to write about topics using the temporary notes and link related ideas together. It’s important that the topics be self contained and linked to other topics. This allows one to navigate by topic and see all ideas that are linked to it.

I found that as this knowledge base built up, I was able to form connections between very different topics. Furthermore, I noticed connections between ideas I was currently reading and previous ideas. This highlights one aspect of this process. As I started using it more often, I found that I improved in all the different aspects of the process such as questioning, linking ideas, combining notes, and finding relationships between ideas.

Finally, this process makes writing articles much easier. Picking and pulling a strand from a graph of interlinked ideas explained in your own words is much less imposing than staring at a blank page. You can focus on what you find most exciting, pull in needed content from the graph, and remove that which is not needed.

The title doesn’t do the book justice. Definitely a 5 star book for me.

PS: I’ve been publishing my notes here for the last few months.