Notes on 'How To Take Notes'


I want to take better notes on things I am reading. I often find myself taking notes in a suboptimal way, so this is my attempt to take better notes.

The main idea is to separate out the act of reading / watching from note taking / thinking. It’s often useless to highlight things, as it just gives the illusion of understanding. If you read something first, close the book and then take notes, you are forced to recall. This makes you think about how the idea relates to other ideas you have, and it solidifies what you have in your head.

How much should you read before closing the book? It depends on the density. Perhaps it is a whole lecture or whole essay, or maybe it is just a paragraph in the case of math, say. That’s a variable. The key thing is to inhale a chunk of material and then make up your own mind of it. You can always add TODOs for specific references to look up.

This is expressed in the adage: “Close the book, recall, write it down”. The main missing ingredient for me is how much chunk to take in at any given time, but this is less important than it seems, I think. It just depends on the text, and you can titrate it. Start coarser, like a whole paper or chapter. Can do multiple passes. Just have the damn book closed. Like literally, don’t have it alttabble or in view. Physically close it.

Close the book, open your mind.

This is just a 2m video clip but it seems like an appropriate starting point.