Cover of book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing,  Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

by: Sönke Ahrens

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140 Highlights | 33 Notes
  • Location: 89 link
    We write when we need to remember something, be it an idea, a quote or the outcome of a study. We write when we want to organise our thoughts and when we want to exchange ideas with others.
    linkNote: Make a list of all the reasons and ways SuU writes
  • Location: 118 link
    wonder why there always seem to be a few who get a lot of good writing done and still have time for a coffee every time we ask them.
  • Location: 130 link
    Getting something that is already written into another written piece is incomparably easier than assembling everything in your mind and then trying to retrieve it from there.
    linkNote: Writiing does start with an idea, a written down idea. A bunch of ideas interconnected . Thatt mkes a shitty first draft.
  • Location: 145 link
    Self-discipline or self-control is not that easy to achieve with willpower alone.
    linkNote: Will Power and what else? It is an 'And' right?
  • Location: 149 link
    We know today that self-control and self-discipline have much more to do with our environment than with ourselves (cf.
    linkNote: Ah ha. ANSWER to note 3
  • Location: 151 link
    And nobody needs willpower to do something they wanted to do anyway. Every task that is interesting, meaningful and well-defined will be done, because there is no conflict between long- and short-term interests.
    linkNote: Another help for self control and sellf discipline
  • Location: 160 link
    But moreover, it describes how he implemented them into his workflow so he could honestly say: “I never force myself to do anything I don’t feel like. Whenever I am stuck, I do something else.”
    linkNote: #eq
  • Location: 167 link
    A good structure enables flow,
    linkNote: Structure for writing, yes. But also how to structure the day, your activities? But also keepp it fresh, spontaneous, creative?
  • Location: 170 link
    It is certainly not the lack of interesting topics, but rather the employment of problematic work routines that seems to take charge of us instead of allowing us to steer the process in the right direction.
  • Location: 173 link
    Having a clear structure to work in is completely different from making plans about something. If you make a plan, you impose a structure on yourself; it makes you inflexible. To keep going according to plan, you have to push yourself and employ willpower.
    linkNote: What ia the difference between plan nd structure? Can you have saructure without a plann? Esecialy when you are begiining to add structure? Does a lann evolve intoo a structure?
  • Location: 178 link
    It is a huge misunderstanding that the only alternative to planning is aimless messing around. The challenge is to structure one’s workflow in a way that insight and new ideas can become the driving forces that push us forward.
  • Location: 221 link
    The best way to deal with complexity is to keep things as simple as possible and to follow a few basic principles.
  • Location: 226 link
    It is not about redoing what you have done before, but about changing the way of working from now on.
  • Location: 233 link
    Even the best tool will not improve your productivity considerably if you don’t change your daily routines the tool is embedded in,
  • Location: 235 link
    Like every change in behaviour, a change in working habits means going through a phase where you are drawn back to your old ways.
  • Location: 237 link
    Routines require simple, repeatable tasks that can become automatic and fit together seamlessly
  • Location: 263 link
    What we can take from Allen as an important insight is that the secret to a successful organization lies in the holistic perspective.
  • Location: 269 link
    Only if you can trust your system, only if you really know that everything will be taken care of, will your brain let go and let you focus on the task at hand.
  • Location: 278 link
    reading and following his diverse interests in philosophy, organizational theory and sociology.
  • Location: 283 link
    Instead of adding notes to existing categories or the respective texts, he wrote them all on small pieces of paper, put a number in the corner and collected them in one place: the slip-box.
  • Location: 328 link
    He not only stressed that he never forced himself to do something he didn’t feel like, he even said: “I only do what is easy. I only write when I immediately know how to do it. If I falter for a moment, I put the matter aside and do something else.” (Luhmann et al., 1987, 154f.)
    linkNote: #eq
  • Location: 349 link
    It is about having the right tools and knowing how to use them – and very few understand that you need both.
    linkNote: Word. Sonething I need to learn.
  • Location: 377 link
    Strictly speaking, Luhmann had two slip-boxes: a bibliographical one, which contained the references and brief notes on the content of the literature, and the main one in which he collected and generated his ideas, mainly in response to what he read. The notes were written on index cards and stored in wooden boxes.
    linkNote: Sipbox
  • Location: 380 link
    Whenever he read something, he would write the bibliographic information on one side of a card and make brief notes about the content on the other side (Schmidt 2013, 170). These notes would end up in the bibliographic slip-box.
  • Location: 382 link
    In a second step, shortly after, he would look at his brief notes and think about their relevance for his own thinking and writing. He then would turn to the main slip-box and write his ideas, comments and thoughts on new pieces of paper, using only one for each idea and restricting himself to one side of the paper, to make it easier to read them later without having to take them out of the box.
  • Location: 392 link
    He did not just copy ideas or quotes from the texts he read, but made a transition from one context to another.
    linkNote: What does tis mean? Write in your own words, the summary? What your understandijng kf wats happening?
  • Location: 396 link
    The trick is that he did not organise his notes by topic, but in the rather abstract way of giving them fixed numbers.
  • Location: 397 link
    If a new note was relevant or directly referred to an already existing note, such as a comment, correction or addition, he added it directly behind the previous note.
  • Location: 398 link
    If the existing note had the number 22, the new note would become note number 23. If 23 already existed, he named the new note 22a. By alternating numbers and letters, with some slashes and commas in between, he was able to branch out into as many strings of thought as he liked. For
  • Location: 401 link
    Whenever he added a note, he checked his slip-box for other relevant notes to make possible connections between them. Adding a note directly behind another note is only one way of doing this. Another way is by adding a link on this and/or the other note, which could be anywhere in the system.
  • Location: 409 link
    The last element in his file system was an index, from which he would refer to one or two notes that would serve as a kind of entry point into a line of thought or topic. Notes with a sorted collection of links are, of course, good entry points.
  • Location: 452 link
    Notes build up while you think, read, understand and generate ideas,
  • Location: 454 link
    If you want to learn something for the long run, you have to write it down. If you want to really understand something, you have to translate it into your own words.
  • Location: 467 link
    Make fleeting notes. Always have something at hand to write with to capture every idea that pops into your mind.
  • Location: 469 link
    Put them into one place, which you define as your inbox, and process them later.
  • Location: 473 link
    Make literature notes. Whenever you read something, make notes about the content. Write down what you don’t want to forget or think you might use in your own thinking or writing.
  • Location: 475 link
    Be extra selective with quotes – don’t copy them to skip the step of really understanding what they mean.
  • Location: 475 link
    Keep these notes together with the bibliographic details in one place – your reference system.
  • Location: 477 link
    Go through the notes you made in step one or two (ideally once a day and before you forget what you meant) and think about how they relate to what is relevant for your own research, thinking or interests. This can soon be done by looking into the slip-box – it only contains what interests you anyway.
  • Location: 479 link
    The idea is not to collect, but to develop ideas, arguments and discussions.
  • Location: 481 link
    Write exactly one note for each idea and write as if you were writing for someone else: Use full sentences, disclose your sources, make references and try to be as precise, clear and brief as possible.
  • Location: 488 link
    Look to which note the new one directly relates or, if it does not relate directly to any other note yet, just file it behind the last one.
  • Location: 492 link
    Making sure you will be able to find this note later by either linking to it from your index or by making a link to it on a note that you use as an entry point to a discussion or topic and is itself linked to the index.
  • Location: 498 link
    Even if you don’t have anything in your slip-box yet, you never start from scratch – you already have ideas on your mind to be tested, opinions to be challenged and questions to be answered.
  • Location: 547 link
    Focus on the essentials, don’t complicate things unnecessarily.
    linkNote: Word. Good quote
  • Location: 572 link
    Something to write with and something to write on (pen and paper will do) ·       A reference management system (the best programs are free) ·       The slip-box (the best program is free) ·       An editor (whatever works best for you: very good ones are free)
  • Location: 588 link
    To collect the references (duh) and the notes you take during your reading. I strongly recommend using a free program like Zotero, which allows you to make new entries via browser plugins or just by entering the ISBN or digital object identifier (DOI) number. Zotero also can be integrated into Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice and NeoOffice, which allows you to insert quotations without
  • Location: 604 link
    I strongly recommend using Daniel Lüdecke’s Zettelkasten.
  • Location: 622 link
    If we try to use a tool without putting any thought into the way we work with it, even the best tool would not be of much help.
    linkNote: Right.thats what boknotes is cyrrentky
  • Location: 655 link
    There is no such thing as private knowledge in academia. An idea kept private is as good as one you never had.
  • Location: 661 link
    And truth is always a public matter.
    linkNote: In Academia. But can this be generally true? Can there be truth privately? Are privately held truths just opinions? What is public and private here? And definitely, everything in public is niOt truth.
  • Location: 669 link
    If writing is the medium of research and studying nothing else than research, then there is no reason not to work as if nothing else counts than writing.
  • Location: 681 link
    You quickly learn to distinguish good-sounding arguments from actual good ones, as you will have to think them through whenever you try to write them down and connect them with your previous knowledge.
    linkNote: This. Want to get to this.
  • Location: 688 link
    Even if you decide never to write a single line of a manuscript, you will improve your reading, thinking and other intellectual skills just by doing everything as if nothing counts other than writing.
  • Location: 751 link
    Fleeting notes, which are only reminders of information, can be written in any kind of way and will end up in the trash within a day or two.
  • Location: 753 link
    Permanent notes, which will never be thrown away and contain the necessary information in themselves in a permanently understandable way.
  • Location: 757 link
    Project notes, which are only relevant to one particular project.
  • Location: 790 link
    Fleeting notes are only useful if you review them within a day or so and turn them into proper notes you can use later.
  • Location: 794 link
    Permanent notes, on the other hand, are written in a way that can still be understood even when you have forgotten the context they are taken from.
  • Location: 838 link
    In Zotero, you can collect literature in project-specific folders without taking them out of the reference system itself. All this keeps the permanent notes from the project-related notes clearly separated and allows you to experiment and tinker with them as much as you like within the boundaries of each project without interfering with the actual slip-box.
  • Location: 864 link
    Every intellectual endeavour starts from an already existing preconception, which then can be transformed during further inquires and can serve as a starting point for following endeavours. Basically, that is what Hans-Georg Gadamer called the hermeneutic circle
  • Location: 870 link
    We have to read with a pen in hand, develop ideas on paper and build up an ever-growing pool of externalised thoughts.
  • Location: 872 link
    our interest, curiosity and intuition, which is formed and informed by the actual work of reading, thinking, discussing, writing and developing ideas – and is something that continuously grows and reflects our knowledge and understanding externally.
  • Location: 902 link
    Who can blame you for procrastinating if you find yourself stuck with a topic you decided on blindly and now have to stick with it as the deadline is approaching?
    linkNote: List of books for teens to readthe artists waylaws of human natureTaking smart notesgetting things doneessentialismatomic habitssuperhumandeep workrevisit this list, expand on why, add a relevant order. Additional books like thispublish on Mediumwhy should they read? Sucess, maybe. But fir a fufilling and joyous life
  • Location: 927 link
    Sometimes we feel like our work is draining our energy and we can only move forward if we put more and more energy into it. But sometimes it is the opposite. Once we get into the workflow, it is as if the work itself gains momentum, pulling us along and sometimes even energizing us. This is the kind of dynamic we are looking for. A
  • Location: 941 link
    The only thing that matters is that they discover something that gives them a good experience
  • Location: 946 link
    And the only chance to improve in something is getting timely and concrete feedback.
  • Location: 958 link
    fear of failure has the ugliest name of all phobias: Kakorrhaphiophobia.
  • Location: 959 link
    Having a growth mindset is crucial, but only one side of the equation. Having a learning system in place that enables feedback loops in a practical way is equally important.
    linkNote: Feedback yez. At work, how to set up this system? Where i get feedback, and set up a learning system?
  • Location: 968 link
    Reading with a pen in the hand, for example, forces, us to think about what we read and check upon our understanding. It is the simplest test: We tend to think we understand what we read – until we try to rewrite it in our own words.
  • Location: 978 link
    The same goes for writing permanent notes, which have another feedback loop built-in: Expressing our own thoughts in writing makes us realise if we really thought them through. The moment we try to combine them with previously written notes, the system will unambiguously show us contradictions, inconsistencies and repetitions.
  • Location: 993 link
    But if facts are not kept isolated nor learned in an isolated fashion, but hang together in a network of ideas, or “latticework of mental models” (Munger, 1994), it becomes easier to make sense of new information.
  • Location: 1013 link
    watching television reduces the attention span of children (Swing et al. 2010).
  • Location: 1018 link
    it is obvious that we are surrounded by more sources of distraction and less opportunities to train our attention spans.
  • Location: 1056 link
    focused attention, we focus on one thing only, something we can sustain for only a few seconds.
  • Location: 1058 link
    “sustained attention,” which we need to stay focused on one task for a longer period and is necessary to learn, understand or get something done. This is the kind of attention that is most certainly under threat from an increase in distractions.
  • Location: 1146 link
    To be able to become an expert, we need the freedom to make our own decisions and all the necessary mistakes that help us learn. Like bicycling, it can only be learned by doing it.
  • Location: 1231 link
    The first step is to break down the amorphous task of “writing” into smaller pieces of different tasks that can be finished in one go.
  • Location: 1232 link
    The second step is to make sure we always write down the outcome of our thinking, including possible connections to further inquiries. As the outcome of each task is written down and possible connections become visible, it is easy to pick up the work any time where we left it
  • Location: 1251 link
    Next to the attention that can only be directed at one thing at a time and the short-term memory that can only hold up to seven things at once, the third
  • Location: 1268 link
    The smartest way to deal with this kind of limitation is to cheat. Instead of forcing ourselves to do something we don’t feel like doing, we need to find a way to make us feel like doing what moves our project further along.
  • Location: 1272 link
    it is safe to argue that a reliable and standardised working environment is less taxing on our attention, concentration and willpower, or, if you like, ego.
  • Location: 1278 link
    By always using the same notebook for making quick notes, always extracting the main ideas from a text in the same way and always turning them into the same kind of permanent notes, which are always dealt with in the same manner, the number of decisions during a work session can be greatly reduced.
  • Location: 1283 link
    Breaks are much more than just opportunities to recover. They are crucial for learning. They allow the brain to process information, move it into long-term memory and prepare it for new information
  • Location: 1287 link
    To have a walk (Ratey, 2008) or even a nap[24] supports learning and thinking.[25]
  • Location: 1301 link
    all you really have to do is have a pen in your hand when you read.
  • Location: 1302 link
    If you understand what you read and translate it into the different context of your own thinking, materialised in the slip-box, you cannot help but transform the findings and thoughts of others into something that is new and your own.
  • Location: 1310 link
    While the notes themselves are formulated so that they can be understood on their own, they are at the same time embedded in one or more contexts that enrich their meaning.
  • Location: 1323 link
    Luhmann describes this step as follows: “I always have a slip of paper at hand, on which I note down the ideas of certain pages. On the backside I write down the bibliographic details. After finishing the book I go through my notes and think how these notes might be relevant for already written notes in the slip-box. It means that I always read with an eye towards possible connections in the slip-box.”
    linkNote: Literature notes - not slip-notes. The kind of notes I'm making now, which woud go ijnto Zotero
  • Location: 1335 link
    The only thing that matters is that these notes provide the best possible support for the next step, the writing of the actual slip-box notes.
  • Location: 1336 link
    And what is most helpful is to reflect on the frame, the theoretical background, methodological approach or perspective of the text we read. That often means to reflect as much on what is not mentioned as what is mentioned.
  • Location: 1345 link
    Here, everything is about building up a critical mass of useful notes in the slip-box, which gives us a clear idea of how to read and how to take literature notes.
  • Location: 1353 link
    You can type a literature note directly into Zotero, where it will be stored with the bibliographic details. You might want to write them by hand, though.
    linkNote: Zotero on ipad?
  • Location: 1385 link
    Confirmation bias is a subtle but major force. As the psychologist Raymond Nickerson puts it: “If one were to attempt to identify a single problematic aspect of human reasoning that deserves attention above all others, the confirmation bias would have to be among the candidates for consideration”
  • Location: 1389 link
    The classic role model would be Charles Darwin. He forced himself to write down (and therefore elaborate on) the arguments that were the most critical of his theories. “I
  • Location: 1408 link
    Instead of having the hypothesis in mind all the time, we want to:   ·     Confirm that we have separated tasks and focus on understanding the text we read, ·     Make sure we have given a true account of its content ·     Find the relevance of it and make connections.
  • Location: 1421 link
    One of the most important habitual changes when starting to work with the slip-box is moving the attention from the individual project with our preconceived ideas towards the open connections within the slip-box.
  • Location: 1438 link
    It is the practice of looking for the gist and distinguishing it from mere supporting details.
  • Location: 1440 link
    Extracting the gist of a text or an idea and giving an account in writing is for academics
  • Location: 1450 link
    But this dynamic can only start if we ourselves deliberately decide to take on the task of reading and being selective about it, relying on nothing other than our own judgement of what is important and what is not.
  • Location: 1463 link
    take notes – not excerpts, but condensed reformulated accounts of a text.
    linkNote: Kind of note in slip notes - short, summarized, in your own words, in your own language and sesnse if understanding i.e. In your own context
  • Location: 1463 link
    Rewriting what was already written almost automatically trains one to shift the attention towards frames, patterns and categories in the observations, or the conditions/assumptions, which enable certain, but not other descriptions.
    linkNote: Why rewrite in your own words?
  • Location: 1469 link
    linkNote: Project Idea: Web based public zettelkasten + zotero?
  • Location: 1470 link
    With practice comes the ability to find the right words to express something in the best possible way, which means in a simple, but not simplified way.
    linkNote: What does 'simple but not simplifired way' mean? Easy to understand words, without losing the complexity of the nsubject? Is it even posssible?use the siimplest precise word possible?
  • Location: 1492 link
    The most important advantage of writing is that it helps us to confront ourselves when we do not understand something as well as we would like to believe.
  • Location: 1538 link
    “Manipulations such as variation, spacing, introducing contextual interference, and using tests, rather than presentations, as learning events, all share the property that they appear during the learning process to impede learning, but they then often enhance learning as measured by post-training tests of retention and transfer. Conversely, manipulations such as keeping conditions constant and predictable and massing trials on a given task often appear to enhance the rate of learning during instruction or training, but then typically fail to support long-term retention and transfer” (Bjork, 2011, 8). When
    linkNote: Read this in another book recently - cal newport?
  • Location: 1601 link
    On the other hand, most people feel that writing a page a day (and having a day a week off) is quite manageable, not realising that this would mean finishing a doctoral thesis within a year – something that does not happen very often in reality.
    linkNote: Blog tactic for next year?
  • Location: 1604 link
    He would start every morning at 5:30 a.m. with a cup of coffee and a clock in front of him. Then he would write at least 250 words every 15 minutes.
    linkNote: To-try
  • Location: 1627 link
    But it only means that he wrote six notes a day from the day he started to work with his slip-box until he died.
    linkNote: Goal to get to? Start with one note a day , averaged over a week
  • Location: 1629 link
    you could settle for three notes a day and still build up a significant critical mass of ideas in a very reasonable time.
    linkNote: Aggressive?
  • Location: 1638 link
    Taking permanent notes of our own thoughts is a form of self-testing as well: do they still make sense in writing? Are we even able to get the thought on paper? Do we have the references, facts and supporting sources at hand? And at the same time, writing it is the best way to get our thoughts in order. Writing here, too, is not copying, but translating (from one context and from one medium into another).
  • Location: 1675 link
    A common way to embed an idea into the context of the slip-box is by writing out the reasons of its importance for your own lines of thought.
  • Location: 1685 link
    But the first question I asked myself when it came to writing the first permanent note for the slip-box was: What does this all mean for my own research and the questions I think about in my slip-box? This is just another way of asking: Why did the aspects I wrote down catch my interest?
  • Location: 1835 link
    That the slip-box is not sorted by topics is the precondition for actively building connections between notes.
  • Location: 1857 link
    3.    Make sure it can be found from the index; add an entry in the index if necessary or refer to it from a note that is connected to the index.
    linkNote: What is this index? List of all note ids?
  • Location: 1894 link
    In the Zettelkasten, keywords can easily be added to a note like tags and will then show up in the index. They should be chosen carefully and sparsely.
  • Location: 1895 link
    Luhmann would add the number of one or two (rarely more) notes next to a keyword in the index (Schmidt 2013, 171).
  • Location: 1909 link
    We can provide ourselves with a (temporarily valid) overview over a topic or subtopic just by making another note. If we then link from the index to such a note, we have a good entry point.
  • Location: 1944 link
    Assigning keywords is much more than just a bureaucratic act. It is a crucial part of the thinking process, which often leads to a deeper elaboration of the note itself and the connection to other notes.
  • Location: 1955 link
    The first type of links are those on notes that are giving you the overview of a topic. These are notes directly referred to from the index and usually used as an entry point into a topic that has already developed to such a degree that an overview is needed or at least becomes helpful.
  • Location: 1957 link
    On a note like this, you can collect links to other relevant notes to this topic or question, preferably with a short indication of what to find on these notes (one or two words or a short sentence is sufficient).
  • Location: 1960 link
    Luhmann collected up to 25 links to other notes on these kind of entry notes.
  • Location: 1971 link
    original lines of thoughts were often interrupted by hundreds of different notes. This second type of note keeps track of the original lines of thought.
    linkNote: Use different colored connectors for main libes of thought
  • Location: 1974 link
    links that indicate the note to which the current note is a follow-up and those links that indicate the note that follows on the current note.
    linkNote: Back link and front link
  • Location: 1978 link
    The most common form of reference is plain note-to-note links. They have no function other than indicating a relevant connection between two individual notes.
  • Location: 1990 link
    The search for meaningful connections is a crucial part of the thinking process towards the finished manuscript.
  • Location: 2053 link
    He advocates looking out for the most powerful concepts in every discipline and to try to understand them so thoroughly that they become part of our thinking.
  • Location: 2124 link
    It is such an important skill to see differences between seemingly similar concepts, or connections between seemingly different ideas.
  • Location: 2176 link
    Make sure that you really see what you think you see and describe it as plainly and factually as possible. Double-check if necessary.
  • Location: 2187 link
    To be able to see what we see instead of what we expect to see is indeed a skill in itself, not like a character trait of being “open-minded.”
  • Location: 2219 link
    Another seemingly banal tip relates to a distinguishing feature of extraordinary thinkers:
  • Location: 2250 link
    highly recommend treating a digital note as if the space were limited. By restricting
  • Location: 2251 link
    The restriction to one idea per note is also the precondition to recombine them freely later.
  • Location: 2252 link
    A good rule of thumb for working with the program is: Each note should fit onto the screen
  • Location: 2255 link
    Literature is condensed on a note saying, “On page x, it says y,” and later stored
    linkNote: On literture notes
  • Location: 2341 link
    It is the one decision in the beginning, to make writing the mean and the end of the whole intellectual endeavour, that changed the role of topic-finding completely.
  • Location: 2384 link
    If we accompany every step of our work with the question, “What is interesting about this?” and everything we read with the question, “What is so relevant about this that it is worth noting down?” we do not just choose information according to our interest.
  • Location: 2437 link
    Remember: Luhmann’s answer to the question of how one person could be so productive was that he never forced himself to do anything and only did what came easily to him. “When I am stuck for one moment, I leave it and do something else.”
  • Location: 2541 link
    The trick is not to try to break with old habits and also not to use willpower to force oneself to do something else, but to strategically build up new habits that have a chance to replace the old ones.
  • Location: 2542 link
    The goal here is to get into the habit of fetching pen and paper whenever we read something, to write down the most important and interesting aspects.