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How to Take Smart Notes

How to Take Smart Notes

by Sönke Ahrens


21.4K reads

How The Writing Process Really Works

Everyone writes—in school, at work, or just to jot down good ideas or insights. Yet, we don’t usually stop to think about how we write, express or manage our ideas.

Most books about writing either teach you how to write (e.g. sentence structure, writing style, grammar) or how to o...

A slip-box (or Zettelkasten method) is a technique for thinking, learning and writing. It originated from German sociologist Niklas Luhmann.

Luhmann was an avid learner and researcher who made notes on small slips of paper, then tagged, organized, and lin...

The slip-box can be used to facilitate a writing project, accelerate your learning, and manage/grow your knowledge. Luhmann originally used an analogue pen-and-paper system to make notes and link them (similar to the concept of hyperlinks in the digital world).

Slip-boxes ...

Throughout the day, make fleeting notes as thoughts/ideas pop up. Jot them down on paper, do it digitally, do a voice recording on your phone, etc.

Review these temporary notes within 1-2 days while the contents are still fresh, then discard them or convert them to perman...

Literature notes are used to help you remember useful content and their bibliographical references.

Write the ideas succinctly in your own words, and include their source/context. Quotes should be copied selectively, and only after you’ve digested what they mean. Keep...

At the end of each day, process the 2 types of notes (fleeing and literature). Consider how they relate to your work or interests, and how they support/contradict what you already know. Then, create your permanent notes.

These could be a recap of what ...

Your literature/permanent notes are stored in a specific sequence, with cross-references to other notes. Luhmann used an alphanumeric indexing system.

For example, an existing note may be labelled #10, and a related note will be filed behind it as #10a. The next unrelated idea is label...

One key reason for slip-boxes failure is because people try to add slip boxes on top of their existing note-taking processes.

For this to work, you should start taking notes using the standard formats from the onset.

  • Start by focusing on one task at a time (instead of multitasking).
  • Understand and internalize the content you read.
  • Take smart notes.
  • Develop your ideas.
  • Assemble and share your insights.
  • Build daily habits.

Handwriting makes pure copying impossible, but instead facilitates the translation of what is said (or written) into one's own words. The students who typed into their laptops were much quicker, which enabled them to copy the lecture more closely but circumvented actual understanding. Th...

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