“How to Take Smart Notes” Book Summary

May 2, 2021    •   minute read
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In this issue is the summary of Amazon’s top-ranked book How To Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique To Boost Writing, Learning And Thinking — For Students, Academics, and Nonfiction Book Writers.

Don’t be fooled by the last part of the title, the book is for you too if you want a holistic note-taking system to improve your learning and thinking.

Let’s get started.

How to Take Smart Notes: One-Paragraph Summary

Taking good notes is not enough. You need a smart organization system to keep and connect them if you want to make use of them a long while later. Smart note-taking based on the Zettelkasten Method or the Slip — Box method can help you improve your learning and thinking.

How to Take Smart Notes Book Quote

The slip-box is designed to present you with ideas you have already forgotten, allowing your brain to focus on thinking instead of remembering.(p. 41)

Key Takeaways

There are four key takeaways from How To Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique To Boost Writing, Learning And Thinking — For Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers.

1. Zettelkasten is a smart note-taking method.

It is a toolbox for creative thinking, involving writing notes and organizing them for easy retrieval. All your ideas and thoughts should be written and store in your Fleeting Note box. Then, regularly, you should review your notes. The review should involve four steps. First, make sure that your notes are understandable when you or anyone else read it years later. Second, you give each note a unique ID. That will make it easy to reference to them. The third step is to connect them together. The goal is to reduce stand-alone notes as much as possible. Finally, it is time to organize them. Those connected to one another should stay together.

It is not the slip-box or our brains alone, but the dynamic between them that makes working with it so productive.(p. 56)

Ahrens suggests that you have three boxes for your notes. The fleeting note box is for keeping facts and ideas that you need to make clear. The permanent box is where you store all the notes you have reviewed. And all project-related notes should go to the project box.

The slip-box is not a collection of notes. Working with it is less about retrieving specific notes and more about being pointed to relevant facts and generating insight by letting ideas mingle.(p. 55)

2. Writing matters.

By writing you learn better.

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 words. By doing this, we not only get a better sense of our ability to understand, but also increase our ability to clearly and concisely express our understanding — which in return helps to grasp ideas more quickly. If we try to fool ourselves here and write incomprehensible words, we will detect it in the next step when we try to turn our literature notes into permanent notes and try to connect them with others.(p. 54)

And that is how we share knowledge and how we evolve as humanity. The more people write, the better chance we get for the truth we seek in academia. And even if you don’t plan to publish your writing, it will improve your thinking and other intellectual skills.

3. Writing does not have to start from scratch.

Writing does not have to be too much of a struggle.

If you take good notes and organize them effectively, that’s where you start. The facts and ideas from those notes can guide your writing. The slip-box done right is capable of presenting you with ideas you have already forgotten, allowing your brain to focus on creative thinking instead of remembering.

4. From smart notes to successful writing require six steps.

The first step is to prepare yourself and your working environment for writing. The goal is to get you engaged and focused on your tasks at hand. Then, the book suggests that you read and take notes using the Zettelkasten Method. The fourth step is to develop your ideas from the well-nested web of facts and ideas. Thereafter, just start writing.

The moment we stop making plans is the moment we start to learn. It is a matter of practice to become good at generating insight and write good texts by choosing and moving flexibly between the most important and promising tasks, judged by nothing else than the circumstances of the given situation. (p. 64)

The final step to successful writing is to make note-taking and writing a habit. If you get used the Zettelkasten Method, writing will become less effortful.

Actionable Advice

Here is actionable advice from the How to Take Smart Notes Book Summary:

Review your temporary notes regularly and revise them so that you can still understand what they mean 3 years later.

Temporary notes are ones that come in unexpected moments or that you take when listening to a lecture or speech. It is important to review and rewrite those notes in your words. That will verify that you truly understand what the notes mean.

Make it a habit to review your notes at the end of the day before you call it a day.

Learn the Zettelkasten Method to organize and get the best out of your notes for better learning and thinking.

Like Confucius once said: “The mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.” I have hand-picked good resources to learn the slip-box method.

Check out the Zettelkasten Resources here!

That’s it. Thanks for reading.

Until next Sunday,

P.S. If you haven’t already done it, go ahead and subscribe to my Fearless Productivity Newsletter now! Talk soon.

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