Want to make notes that do not get lost with million others. Start to make smart notes. What is that? Learn all about note-taking for professionals. Opt for a strategy that works and builds a strong knowledge store.

Whether we are reading a book, an informational article, or having a client conversation, making notes is vital. It helps in breaking down our thinking process & puts down all the crucial details.

But what if we say that writing down is the thinking process?

Yes! If you are making your notes correctly, writing is not just a practice of penning down your thoughts. But it is the thinking process itself.

Notes are not just a source of writing thoughts or important reference material. If done right, they are the goldmine to endless ideas and knowledge.

So, How to take notes the right or the smart way?

We came across the book “How to Take Smart Notes” by Sönke Ahrens. This book has been gaining popularity for making the process of note-taking simpler yet efficient. So, We decided to give it a go and discovered:

Principles to remember while making notes

How to start note-making

Essential tips to remember

Using the Smart Notes

Sönke Ahrens is a writer and a researcher covering education and social science topics. He threw light on the Zettelkasten note-taking technique of Nikolas Luhmann. Zettelkasten means Slip Box in German, which was a crucial tool of Luhmann’s note-taking. 

This revolutionary method made Luhmann publish 400+ scholarly papers and 70+ books. So, let us see What made this technique a success.

Principles To Remember While Making Notes

The biggest reason for the success of the Zettelkasten is that they defy technological changes. Numerous applications, dairies, and other productivity tools imposter as the ultimate solution. However, what they actually do is break the task into smaller sections. As a result, extra steps of compilation and brainstorming defeat the purpose. 

Value generation through the notes takes all the way more time due to 100s of broken steps. What we need is a method that acts as a latticework of knowledge and records. 

The Slip box method works on several principles. They state some basic elements that modern tools tend to neglect. This ensures its relevance even in modern times and creates a latticework of theory. Moreover, this technique is a decentralized process. It makes connecting and using notes a limitless practice. 

Writing Is the Only Thing That Matters 

Writing reflects what we know and understand. Hence, the actual process of writing starts with prior research. This research can come from either podcasts, books, articles, videos, or any other. As we build our resource library, writing takes place. So, writing is the essential process of note-making. Because while writing, we think and break down many concepts in an understandable format. Only and only when we understand something, we create a latticework of knowledge.

Moreover, whatever we write needs to be backed by some reliable resource. This ensures our writing is apt for publication, if not via scholarly works, then as discussions and debates. Also, writing ideas changes the way you engage with the data. You raise questions, find gaps and actively work. This is why note-taking refers to active thinking. 

Another mistake that people make is doing independent research for studying/ writing. What they do not realize is that writing itself is researching. As a result, people study and ask limited questions from the given text. Contrarily, you need to have an existing question. As you read the text, you find gaps. This approach makes it more insightful.

Simplicity Is Paramount

Writing should be a continuous process. What people do is opt for a complex method. To ensure productive note-taking we need a standard scheme that represents all data in a decentralized manner. 

Writing involves

  1. inventing an idea
  2. researching
  3. deriving relevant data 
  4. writing
  5. proofreading

Nothing wrong with this, but this is just the anatomy of writing. If you follow the exact chronology, you will take a lot of time and lose productivity. 

Similarly, highlighting, underlining, adding comments do not actively engage your brain. You mark down something important with no connection to your existing concepts. Moreover, you end up with 10000 notes in 1000s of different places. 

Hence, the Zettelkasten system fills all the gaps of the traditional writing method. It acts as a standard simple technique to collaborate thinking, reflecting, writing, and brainstorming.

Moreover, what most people do wrong is incorrect labeling of notes. They would either index based upon resources or treat them as individual topics. What you want them to mark is based on your recognition. How do you recognize the concept based on existing ideas? How and when will you come back to it or need it? Hence, indexing is essential in this technique. 

Henceforth, note-making has to be a simple, precise method with zero technicalities. 

Nobody Ever Starts From Scratch

When an artist is drawing, s/he always has some emotion, some abstract in their mind. Even though the canvas seems empty, they have a picture in their brain. It is the best example to explain that no one ever starts from scratch. Especially with a creative process like writing, you always start with a former conception. 

As we mentioned above, the order that people follow to study is faulty. You never start by brainstorming ideas. You always begin with some query, doubt, or contradiction. And every thought that comes into our mind is connected to past research. 

For instance, you do not expect an analyst to have heard about abrasion resistance. So, no note-making process starts from scratch. 

So, all you do is follow your notes to dig deeper into a topic of interest and expand your notes library. You take your slip box, raise a query, a contradiction. As a result, you end up connecting more dots to either deepen understanding or knowledge. 

With this method, one never has to start from scratch at all!

Let the Work Carry You Forward

What would be better? If you have to sit daily and think of ideas to work upon or automatic ideas generation. 

We all like the second scenario. It is like exogenic and endogenic reactions. In the former one, you actively work to get some results. In the latter one, you work once, and then the reaction takes place itself. 

Hence, you do not want to take notes actively looking for topics. But taking notes should come naturally. This not only helps with research but understanding the process as well. 

Moreover, when you are reading, always keep a pen & paper (or note-taking tool) handy. It keeps you engaged with content for better comprehension. Here, selective writing is imperative. You only want crucial and relevant information. It helps in removing ambiguous concepts with no applicability. 

Apart from these principles, feedback is essential for note-making.

Feedbacks make your note-taking an active practice. Exposing your notes to other people’s opinions leads to debates, discussions. It helps you find gaps and connections. You could get feedback from peers, mentors, social media, or yourself as well. It results in practicing communication and thinking skills.

These principles govern the purpose of note-taking. Without them in action, it is just a practice to gather knowledge resulting in oblivion learning. You must have realized that these principles are something that you know already. Just that, we do not bring them into active conscience. 

So, now you know these principles. Let us bring them into exercise. We will break this down for you with three actionable steps. Moreover, in further sections, we will give some tips to get the maximum benefit.

How to Start Note-Making?

Note Making is a simple three-step procedure. You could use it for taking book notes, article notes, or notes during client conversations. The decentralized nature of note-making makes this technique efficient. 

Luhmann divided the process of note recording into three. In simpler terms, there were three categories of notes:

  1. Fleeting Notes
  2. Reference Notes
  3. Permanent Notes

Each of them served a different purpose. However, only the permanent and reference notes make it to the slip box. In practicality, you need not have a box per se, but you will need a place to store it all.

Fleeting Notes reflect the random thoughts and ideas that you get on the go. They are informal notes which need not be elaborate or organized.

Reference Notes, also known as literature notes. These notes come from some source of information- books or articles/ white papers. On one side, you record the crucial information. Another side includes the bibliographical details. 

For instance, if I read a theory in some book, my notes will contain this. The front side will have the theory itself. The backside will have the book name, content from the source to ensure understanding, and the page number. 

Now, the content on permanent notes needs to be in your word. Copying the exact source leads to zero understanding and fluffy content. You have to be selective, or you will end up writing unnecessary details. Keep the notes precise and concise. 

Additionally, you will want to maintain an index. However, do not mark the index with the actual topic name or source name. Instead, you name them in the context of your use. 

For Instance, If I am taking a course on SEO, I would not index them under the course name or mere SEO. I would name them with subcategories and depending upon my usage. Like notes on Email Outreach can be indexed as ways to get backlinks. 

Permanent notes are an amalgamation of fleeting and literature notes. They become the foundation for your knowledge storage. Here, you use fleeting and literature notes to create ideas, theories, contradictions, and discussions. 

After a day or two of making fleeting and literature notes, you analyze them to make meaningful, cohesive information. You need to examine if the new data adds, contradicts, supports, or corrects your existing database. Based on this, you combine these two and write concrete concepts on permanent notes. 

Make these notes extensive. Add comments, thoughts, ideas, queries, and write complete sentences. It ensures that they are ready to use in the future. However, Again try to make them brief but accurate. 

Once you gather these notes, you have to compile them all to make a knowledge box. 

Now, You would need some tools to support the whole process. Here, You can decide whether you want physical (hard copy; on-page) notes or digital notes. Paper notes help in better understanding and knowledge grasping. However, I like digital notes as searching and working with them is easy. Although digital note-taking does not tap well on the absorption of concepts, you could use any method, as per convenience. 

  1. Reference Storage System- It is a place to store all your fleeting and literature notes. 
  2. Slip Box- It is the place that becomes your knowledge center. Here you record all your permanent and literature notes with proper indexing. 

You could use apps like Notion, Evernote, Roam as slip boxes and storage systems. I use notion because it provides multiple templates, blocks, and databases. 

Now, let us move to the 3-simple steps to make a critical mass of ideas.

#1 Add Notes to The Slip Box

Once you make all the notes, you store permanent notes in the slip box. Keep permanent and relevant reference notes together one after another. Maintain proper index and contextual titles. 

#2 Develop Topics and Content Pieces from Slip Box

Now, use all your notes to find gaps and connecting ideas. You can re-read references for explanation or add more sources. You could additionally make overview notes to summarize a long chain of concepts. 

#3 Use Your Notes

Instead of brainstorming, go through the slip box to get ideas for writing. It ensures your expertise and prior knowledge instead of vague research. Using connected ideas and threads form the base for your theories, mental models, or something concrete like an article. It would help you come up with more insights and original thinking.

The whole thought behind the technique is to furnish more ideas, vision, conceptual clarity. Hence, it works like a charm for an entrepreneur, a thinker, or someone with original ideas. Personally, with these kinds of insights, you could land high-ticket clients. 

So, we would like you to leverage this note-taking technique. The subsequent section outlines some tactics for beginners. 

Essential Tips to Remember

As simple as this method is, there are some parts you do want to mess up. These tips would enable you to make notes that are useful perpetually. 

  1. Write your permanent notes on only one side if you make paper notes. It saves a considerable amount of time from flipping sides.  
  2. Make the notes simple to follow which break down complexity and allow flexible usage. 
  3. The note-making intention is to come up with new ideas and not create an encyclopedia. Hence, be selective with content.
  4. Take breaks while note-making for the brain to process and absorb information. 
  5. Create triggers while connecting ideas so that you can use your notes actively. 
  6. You should avoid copying any quote or reference text as it is. Always rephrase it in your words for better clarity. 
  7. Use this method to replace underlining text, writing content on margins, or adding sticky notes. As effective as they seem, they are not useful and only create clusters of all the ideas. 
  8. Especially during client conversations, write in large and spaced font to improve legibility. 

Ensure these tips to make enduring notes. These notes help in building connecting ideas. Connecting ideas are essential for information retention. 

This technique will enhance your thinking process, note-taking process and leave you with an abundance of content. Importantly, this content generated would not just lie around waiting to come to use. But will actively heighten your understanding and decision-making. 

Using the Smart Notes

Smart notes are not just the practice of recording important quotes or references. It is a method to enhance thinking ability and actively use the brain. 

All you need is a change in the way you deal with all your information. Instead of leaving it scattered, collect it, organize it and create your latticework of knowledge. And as complex as it sounds, the note-taking process and using them should be simple. Instead of doing 10 steps of note-making, following a comprehensive method will provide better results. 

You start by reading/ listening. Then, you process it, understand it, and build conceptual clarity. Lastly, you write it in your words to string all the ideas together. Just remember to be selective with the text you choose, and you will be good to go.

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