August 14

How To Take Smart Notes: A Comprehensive Guide

Have you ever felt like you’re drowning in information but can’t remember most of it? In the past 13 years, I’ve accumulated so much knowledge from experts, nonfiction book writers, and podcasts. Despite conducting 1000 interviews and writing four books, I often wondered how much information I was actually retaining. When I found the ‘How to Take Smart Notes’ system – a simple technique to boost writing, learning, and thinking, it changed my entire approach.

  • The How to Take Smart Notes book helps students understand how to learn instead of what to learn.

  • It empowers nonfiction book writers to craft intelligent texts, potentially award-winning books. The slip box offers a trove of insights for your debut and future career.

When I was working on my book,  Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best, I spent a month with my writing coach planning out every detail. When it was time to write, I hit a wall. The fear of returning the publisher’s advance payment loomed over me.The idea of writing an award winning book became an afterthought.

If I had known about this system, I would have saved myself a lot of headaches and time. In this comprehensive guide you’ll learn how to take smart notes, build a slip box, and use this simple technique to boost writing learning and thinking.

Broadening Your Creative Spectrum by Learning How to Take Smart Notes

how to take smar notes

Learning how to take smart notes is more than just a method for organizing information; it’s tested note taking technique to boost writing, a catalyst for innovative writing, learning, and thinking , and assists you with moving projects forward, writing intelligent texts, and producting groundbreaking new ideas. It facilitates external thinking, intelligent organisation, and independent thought, turning your collection into a dynamic intellectual web.

Here’s what this simple technique to boost writing entails:

  • Decomposing Complex Concepts: Smart Notes breaks down complex theories or multifaceted projects into manageable, relevant notes. Each note encapsulates a single idea, fostering deeper understanding and exploration. This approach transforms your collection into a powerful resource for navigating the modern digital world. It’s a game changer for students academics and nonfiction book writers.

  • Building an Intellectual Web: Your knowledge evolves into a network of interconnected ideas, where you can add links to related concepts. This web of information can spark new insights as you identify the connections between different pieces of information. It’s like having a conversation with your past thoughts, where different kinds of notes add a new perspective to the conversation. It’s a simple techinque and method of intelligent organisation that facilitates writing,learning, and thinking.

  • Encouraging Continuous Intellectual Growth: This approach advocates for ongoing learning and cognitive development. As you add more insights to your collection, your understanding of your areas of interest deepens. It encourages external and independent thinking, making it an enduring journey of discovery, with each note bringing you closer to mastery.

As you embark on the Smart Notes journey, you’ll reflect on your past methodologies related to writing learning and thinking and taking notes, and marvel at the transformation it brings to your digital life.

Learning How to Take Smart Notes Is Transformative for Nonfiction Book Writers

After publishing my first book, I stumbled upon a lecture by Sonkhe Ahrens regarding the ‘Smart Notes’ technique. This method to boost writing learning, inspired by 20th-century German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s innovative use of note cards in social science, known as the zettelkasten method, revolutionized my writing style and my approach to boost writing, learning, and thinking and handling information. And it this simple technique to boost writing can do the same for students academics and nonfiction book writers.

College often shocks students as high school methods fail. Concepts must be applied differently in midterms. Reflecting on my college grades, I see how this book helps students in understanding and retaining knowledge.

Luhmann’s analog version of the system emphasized the concept of ‘one idea per card,’ which has significantly enhanced his efficiency and comprehension. Now, in the digital age, we can apply this concept using digital note cards, further enhancing our ability to organize and retrieve information. When you combine this with the AI capabilities of Mem, it will feel like you have a compass in the vast ocean of data.

This method revolutionizes the way students, nonfiction writers, and scholars interact with information. It extends beyond recording random ideas or highlighting interesting facts. It’s a comprehensive system that alters how we process, retain, and create from various sources, like interviews and lectures. It enables you to write intelligent texts, convincing written pieces, and much more.

  • How does the Smart Notes method differ from traditional note-taking methods?

  • How does it facilitate external thinking and foster meaningful connections?

  • What kind of advantage does it give you over other knowledge workers?

  • How can Mem’s AI features enhance your learning and creative work?

In this comprehensive guide here, we’ll explore the intricacies of this method to boost writing learning and thinking. And we’ll go into the power of Mem’s AI. We’ll go over principles, benefits, and provide a detailed guide on fully leveraging this system.

At the the end of this guide you’ll haver a comprehensive understanding of how to take smart notes, how to use this simple technique to boost writing, and maximize your output. If you’re ready to transform your relationship with knowledge, continue reading.

Limitations of the Traditional Note Taking Process 

The traditional note-taking process, which involves copious note-taking and highlighting passages in books, is a familiar routine for student academics and nonfiction writers. This method often includes copying ideas verbatim from lectures or podcasts, or taking notes in isolation, devoid of their relevant contexts. However, collecting quotes leads to useless references that aren’t very useful.

The primary issue with this method lies in the fact tha copying text or book highlights from one location to another, requires minimal cognitive effort. It’s a well established psychological insight that you reinforce what you learn when you’re able to reconstruct it from memory.

  • With traditional note taking, you’re merely shifting data without truly understanding or internalizing it, without creating actual notes.

  • This passive engagement with content often leads to notes that are difficult to recall or apply in various scenarios, thereby diminishing their effectiveness as learning tools. You also waste a lot of time searching for information.

Conventionally, writing is perceived as a process that begins with a single idea, followed by the creation of an outline, and then the next task of filling in the details. This step-by-step procedure often leads to the dreaded ‘blank page, blank screen syndrome,’ a common instigator of writer’s block. Any hiccup in one stage can hamper the subsequent stages.

The widespread notion that writing starts a blank page is a misconception and a significant contributor to writer’s block. As Sonkhe Ahrens writeh in his book How to Take Smart Notes, “writing isn’t a task performed post research, or writing learning and thinking, or studying – it is the means through which these activities are undertaken. Thus, the work executed prior to writing, such as note-taking, is as critical mass crucial boost writing learning as the act of writing itself.”

Instead of starting with an idea and working step by step, taking smart notes lets you explore ideas in a more flexible and natural way.

This simple technique to boost writing learning and thinking lets your creativity lead the way, freeing you from the limits of a fixed outline. For students academics, nonfiction writers, and knowledge workers it gives them a simple technique to boost writing,learning and move projects foward at the speed of thought.

Let’s explore how to take smart notes, build your slip box and see why this simple technique to boost writing is so much better than other methods other knowledge workers’ and nonfiction book writers use.

The How to Take Smart Notes Workflow: The Key to Good and Efficient Writing

How to to Take Smart Notes

Embracing The How to Take Smart Notes method may feel unfamiliar initially, and at entry point you may find yourself missing your old type of simple technique of for note taking. However, if you stick to ifor a month, you’ll see a significant boost in your creativity and ability to write intelligent texts. And you’ll be able to use it whether you like prefer to read the hard cover or kindle edition of a book.

This time tested note taking technique is versatile and can be applied regardless of your information source – be it reading books, listening to podcasts, attending lectures, or taking online courses. It’s an effective strategy to boost writing and ensure you comprehend and retain what you’ve learned. The method involves a series of discrete steps, each individual step contributing to the formation of different kinds of notes. Let’s explore the the three main types of notes this one simple technique to boost writing learning and thinking requires.

Fleeting Notes

Fleeting notes, also known as informal notes, are the first step in the process. They act as temporary markers of captivating ideas or insights you come across while reading. They are usually noted in the form of underlines or highlights in your reading material, serving as memory aids for key points to be revisited later.

An instance of a fleeting note could look like “The book mentions Y on page X.” This helps in rewording the core idea when you transition to creating literature notes. Fleeting notes are temporary and discardable. It’s best to jot them down in a notebook or a simple text editor, rather than your main note-taking app.

Literature Notes

Literature notes are the foundation of the smart notes workflow. These are the notes from the second step. For each fleeting note, you’ll create one literature note, explaining the idea in your own words. This is a type of note that forms the backbone of your collection of notes and what becomes known as the slip box.

  • Creating a Good Title: A well-crafted title quickly clarifies the note’s content and facilitates its retrieval later. Moreover, a robust title helps you link other notes in your sentences, establishing connections between notes. Some notes will have shorter titles while others will have a slightly longer title. As long as you can incorporate the title into another sentence, then you are good to go.

  • Why Titles Matter: An impactful title extends beyond aesthetic appeal. It grants you the liberty to develop ideas when ready. Even an empty note with a good title can be linked to other notes and serve as containers for ideas.  I have numerous empty notes connected to other notes, all thanks to their titles.

  • One Idea Per Note: As Sonkhe Ahrens suggests, even when using digital notes that don’t have space limitations, it’s still beneficial to keep each note focused on one core idea.

    • Write these notes in full sentences so it could help any reader understand what the note is about. This makes your notes clear and concise. Plus, exactly one note per idea, makes it easier to add links to each note and embed them in sentences as you’ll see in the image below.

    • By limiting each note to a single idea, your notes become valuable knowledge assets. This gives you a simple external structure and simplifies the process of assembling these knowledge pieces to generate new ideas later on.

Optimizing Your Notes for Future Endeavors

It’s crucial to take smart notes with future use in mind, especially if you plan to use them in your writing projects. Here’s how you can make your notes more useful:

  • Ask Deeper Questions: Formulate questions that help you understand more details.

  • Make Connections: Link new information with what you already know, creating concrete links.

  • Change up the Information: Transform the information you read into your own original content.

Standardized notes become like puzzle pieces that can be moved around and connected in different ways to create new content for blogs or newsletters. This is the in-between step of turning your own writing, learning, and thinking about ideas into writing.

After you’ve rewritten the note in your own words, include the exact quote that inspired the note and provide a link to the original source. This becomes your reference note for related notes. The image below shows the difference between a poorly written note and a well-written, standardized literature note.

Permanent Notes 

Permanent notes are the third step in the process. Think of them as standalone insighst based on your reading and literature notes. Remember that our ideas are interconnected. As you write literature take smart notes principle, new ideas might emerge.

  • Say that you write a literature note on an established psychological insight and it sparks another idea.

  • By turning that line of thought into a real insight into a link, you’re able to capture ideas in writing as they come up and develop them into related notes when you’re ready.

  • This way, your permanent notes become a rich source of unique thoughts and insights you can use to overcome creative blocks.

  • Additionally, connecting ideas to others in your slip box helps you to avoid confirmation bias. It forces you to consider different perspectives, and observer how they conflict with each other.

One final thing to keep in mind is that your ideas in the slip box are not static. You’ll make constant adjustments to them as you acquire more knowledge.

Reference Notes

These notes contain the exact quotes you’ve highlightedwhile reading a book, or the full text of a podcast episode. You can think of reference notes as a storage box for these quotes and transcripts. They’re directly linked to your literature notes, creating a complete system for keeping track of your knowledge. This connected setup makes it easy to find the information you need without any hassle time searching through your slip box.

Organizing Your Notes

Organizing smart notes is more than just storing information. You need to think like a writer, not like someone who just stores stuff. This means you take smart notes that can be used in different ways, move projects forward and not just stored for the sake of it. The great thing about this approach is that it lets you tag and see how to take smart notes based on their context, making them more useful and easy to work with. This system of tagging based on context helps you find and link ideas quickly, enhancing your creativity and learning process.

Harnessing Permanent Notes for Everyday Writing through Connections Between Notes in Additional Contexts

Transitioning your permanent notes into daily writing through connections between notes requires three integral steps: Selection, Sequencing, and Production. These steps help you navigate the process in an organized manner, even in additional contexts beyond the immediate project at hand. Let’s explore each one:

  • Selection: Efficient writing lies in your ability to distill information you want ot use. The first step is to decide on the relevant permanent notes you want to convert into content. Compile a list of pertinent notes from your slipbox that directly relate to your writing topic. This stage aids in separating the tasks of selection and arrangement, making content creation more efficient. The process of selection is not just confined to direct context but also extends to additional contexts related to your topic.

  • Sequencing: Once you’ve selected the right permanent notes, the next step is to arrange them in a logical sequence. This isn’t a linear process, but one that allows you to identify connections and patterns, thus forming a network of ideas. It’s similar to creating an outline, but with much of the groundwork already done thanks to your note-taking style. This step plays a crucial role in establishing connections between notes, leading to insightful writing in both direct and additional contexts.

  • Production: The final vital stage is editing, which significantly contributes to producing high-quality content. As Greg Mckeown highlighted in his book “Essentialism,” many top-rated movies also receive accolades for best editing. Similarly, renowned author James Clear attributes careful editing as a major factor in his writing success. With permanent notes, you’re not starting from scratch. You’re starting with a collection of carefully selected, standardized notes. The subsequent steps involve refining your notes into a draft, ensuring coherence, adjusting your ideas, and adding your unique style. This approach simplifies the often daunting task of content creation in various contexts, making it more straightforward, efficient, and enjoyable.

With this system, everything from your life experiences to the content you consume turns into a valuable asset you  can use to transform the amorphous task of writing into something that becomes a lot more enjoyable.   

Success Stories with Smart Notes

Nicholas Luhman, the brain behind this note-taking system, achieved a PhD in a year, authored 58 books, and wrote hundreds of papers on social sciences, establishing his reputation as a respected social scientist. On one occasion, while preparing to draft the first edition of a blog about the book “Little Bets” in a café, my extensive, contextual permanent notes allowed me to complete the first draft in just 45 minutes, a task I had expected to take a week.

In the attached video, I share how I utilize the permanent notes method in my daily writing. Initially, it might seem like a lot of work. But once you’ve gathered a sufficient number of interconnected notes, you’ll start to reap the benefits. I like to call this the “Compound Interest of Taking Permanent Notes.”

To provide an understanding of what I mean, let’s consider some calculations from Mem chat about the different combinations you can make with permanent notes:

  • If you take 2 notes every day for a year, you’ll have 730 notes. With these, you can make 265,365 unique combinations.

  • If you take 5 notes every day, you’ll have 1,835 notes in a year. This can lead to 1,682,595 unique combinations.

  • If you keep this up for five years, you’ll end up with over 9,000 notes. The possible combinations then skyrocket to an astounding 40,500,500.

In other words, by taking 5 notes a day, having 1,835 permanent notes can help you create over a million different written pieces of content. Some people believe that permanent notes simplify writing. But what they actually do is make everything else easier, making good and efficient writing the whole task seem less challenging. This is a game changer for students academics and nonfiction book writers.

The secret to good and efficient writing lies in the two notes, one simple technique, and practice of using permanent notes in your everyday writing, creating connections between ideas and turning them into repositories for ideas. Whether you prefer to write down ideas or type them, the challenge of writing becomes significantly less daunting with this approach to insightful writing.

How to take smart notes With Mem.AI

Smart notes aren’t just brief, smart and interconnected notes; they’re a potent tool akin to a collection of links for managing knowledge. Their power extends beyond merely capturing information to emphasizing comprehension and facilitating the connection between ideas. This is where Mem’s AI can truly shine.

  • Understanding AI: Mem’s AI is engineered to comprehend your smart notes, much like understanding the context of book highlights. Unlike classic note-taking apps, it can amalgamate and distill your notes while preserving your unique voice and perspective. This implies that the more smart notes you create, the more proficient the AI becomes.

  • Tailored Research & Idea Creation: Mem’s AI can analyze your smart notes and propose new topics or themes that align with your interests and competencies. This can result in more engaging and insightful content, whether you’re crafting a blog post, an article, or a book.

  • Streamlined Process: Mem’s AI can assist you in organizing your writing by generating outlines based on your smart notes. It can help you arrange your ideas, primary points, and sub-points in a logical order, steering your writing process.

  • Personalized Knowledge Search: Need to find something in your smart notes? Mem’s AI can rapidly search your notes and locate the most pertinent information, just like quickly finding the right link in a collection of links. This saves you the time and effort of sifting through your notes manually.

  • Continuous Improvement & Reflection: By consistently reviewing and updating your smart notes, you can ensure your knowledge remains accurate, current, and relevant. Mem’s AI can assist you in identifying gaps in your understanding or areas where further research is required.

In summary, coupling smart notes with Mem’s AI not only enhances your productivity and the quality of your work but also amplifies your creativity. This combination enables you to create at the speed of thought and bolsters your continuous learning and growth.

Take Action and Transform Your Note-Taking Skills

You’ve read the guide, now it’s time to put theory into practice. Elevate your note-taking skills with our free course, “How to Take Smart Notes.” Dive into hands-on exercises, gain practical experience, and receive expert guidance on how to take smart notes, revolutionize your note-taking process, and boost writing learning and thinking to a whole new level. Don’t let this opportunity to enhance your learning and productivity slip away. Click Here to Sign Up


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