Notes on the why and how of taking notes

Disclaimer: This is my experience

These are my opinions. They are built up over time. This does not make them right.

Disclaimer: On taking notes (and on learning in general)

If the rules seem arbitrary, it's because they are

Terms like yak-shaving, bike-shedding exist for a reason.

O ye of little faith, you need to enjoy the process

I hope my talk helps with that

Q1 svs: What are the Long-term Benefits of note-taking, if any?

What are the long term benefits of note-taking. For the moment it is a lot of effort and I can't see the payoff. Can you describe this for me?

~ svs

Q2 mayur: What's the line between taking notes and taking action?

Have seen myself and others putting a lot of time in structuring information (personal and org related), and sometimes it feels like it's better to just stop that and act. Where is the fine line between structuring information vs OCDing over notes?

~ mayur

Q3 joshua: How do you actually take good notes that make sense?

How do you actually takes good notes that actually makes sense , Most of the times either my notes are too short like one two words which doesn't make sense after sometime or its mostly copy paste from the source which I feel doesn't provide any value (I would rather directly read from the source)

~ joshua

Q4 joshua: How do I reduce the number of notes I'm taking? I'm not aware of what's in my second brain.

How to better linking the docs and reduce the repeating of content , Let's say I am learn basics of concepts of git in one of the udemy course after sometimes I am taking another course which also going to covers git, so instead of repeating the again how one can reuse the existing notes. The main problem for me is not linking, it's I am not aware of the existing topics in my notes so I tend to repeat a content lot.

~ joshua

Fleeting Notes: Notes that are not "in my system"

By definition: this is all the writing I don't care to find again.

Some examples (I'm holding them up)

  • grocery lists
  • notes in the margins of books
  • meeting notes too! (more on why below)

Any other examples?

  • ??

Any note I write without the luxury of pausing has no long-term benefit.

Hence, meeting notes are fleeting notes

[relates to: Q1-svs]

But it does have a short-term benefit …

"We think much faster than we speak"

Writing forces me to slow down and into active listening.

Reference Notes: Notes from books and videos

(also called literature or citation notes)

Notes that I take when read a book or watch a video.

Why do you think they are called Reference Notes?

Because they are an index to a reference

Niclaus Luhman didn't like writing in books.

An example of a reference note:

When taking reference notes, don't summarise!

"either my notes are too short like one two words which doesn't make sense after sometime or its mostly copy paste from the source"

[relates to: Q3-joshua]

You don't need to take notes of everything

Effective learning requires focus

There is a difference between taking notes and bookmarking

[relates to: Q2-mayur]

Writing notes and Reading notes are separate activities

Writing notes:

  • Friction-less, instant creation

Reading notes:

  • Best-in-class searching, discoverability

Titles and tags are meant for searching

Avoid Repetition

Your "title+tags" combo should be the shortest unique string you can come up with.

Links are meant to help you discover interesting trails

Forward-links, Back-links, Up-links, Down-links

I don't like linking text while writing it, because I find it really distracting when reading it.

Linking at the bottom lets me provide context

A good test of whether I add a link is whether I can write the context for it.

An example of such a note:

[relates to: Q2-mayur]

Those were also examples of main notes

A main note is an atomic idea.

The atomicity helps with linking. It does not help with learning better.

"There are those who talk about productivity, and then there are those who are productive"

When you are creating something, focus on creating it. Don't focus on creating notes for it.

[relates to: Q2-mayur]

Takeaway: Use full sentences as titles for your notes.

Full sentences express ideas clearly. Where possible, we want one note to be about one idea.

Takeaway: Avoid repetition in title+tag.

Remember that:

  1. You want to pack the maximum amount of "searchability" in your title + tags combination.
  2. This is not content that you are publishing online (where tags play a different role)

[relates to: Q3-joshua]

Takeaway: Write notes with an outcome in mind!

Example Cues:

  • Only create notes related to projects that you are actively working on! Outcome: deeper understanding
  • Create a note as a response when someone asks you a question (like on a forum, slack, discord). Outcome: a thoughtful response

Example Notes:

[relates to: Q2-mayur]

Takeaway: Make notes afterwards, not before

When you find yourself revisiting a topic, rewriting similar responses, or extending ideas already in your notes – start creating new notes.

Example Notes:

[relates to: Q2-mayur]

Takeaway: The re-visit is when you see the idea.

There is zero long-term benefit of note-taking, if you are not re-reading those notes.

[relates to: Q1-svs]

Thank you!


Published On: Fri, 11 Aug 2023. Last Updated On: Tue, 14 May 2024.