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How to Take Notes

I think seeing how people actually take notes is a great way to pick up on little tips you can use in your own process. Sometimes you even get some excellent insights on the topic their taking notes on.

Do Note-Taking Apps Improve our Thinking?

Casey Newton wrote about note-taking apps not making us smarter or helping us think. Newton says that there is way more data than before, and taking notes on everything puts us into analysis paralysis because we have so much to look at. His process was to take a bunch of notes and then wait for “insights” to hit him in the head from his notes, which is a common place that any of the note-takers I coach hit.

They’re taking their notes with distractions all around them. Newton even says he got a 38″ monitor so he could glance at things to the sides of his main workspace.

Luckily Newton also notes the issues he has at the end of the article. Writing and thinking needs to take place when you can spend time just thinking, without distractions. Cal Newport has written about this in Deep Work and then talked about how to adjust your work/life so you have more time to think in Digital Minimalism.

As I’ve said many times, you won’t just take notes and have insights jump out to you in the midst of a steady stream of collecting crap, you’ll simply be falling into The Collector’s Fallacy. We want a no maintenance research system but it doesn’t exist.

If you want to make progress with thinking better and having good insights, work your notes without distractions. I use the random note plugin for Obsidian and schedule time in my week to work through my notes and think about them.

Some new tool will never suddenly make you a better writer. Even Ai can only summarize the inputs, you will still need to do your own thinking once you’ve got that summary, and you’ll need to spend a bunch of time making sure that the Ai isn’t making shit up.


Are you reading less books than you want to read? Annabelle had a great video about some of the things that are holding you back. Then there is a great older video from Cal Newport on his reading habits in a month.

I think that at least one trap people fall into is a measurement game. They look at Goodreads goals and then feel guilty if they don’t hit that goal. For many years I’ve read 52+ books in a year, but this year I’ve now finished 16 books. I could get down on myself for this, but it’s been a busy year.

The first full year in my new home means lots of home projects that have taken my time. I’ve been riding my bicycle lots and getting faster and enjoying long days out in the gravel roads around Prince George.

I’m also spending much more time being critical of the non-fiction I read. I’m finding studies and looking up critical reviews which adds at least an hour of time doing research on top of any book I read. That doesn’t even account for any of the notes I take in my PKM tool.

So, if you want to read set time aside for reading, but don’t sweat the number of books. I’d rather see people read 5 books in a year well than 85 books in a year where they barely had any time to dig into the ideas.

Something Interesting

As an interesting video this week, check out How the Myth of a Barter System Harms Us.

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