How to take smart notes - one simple technique to boost writing, learning and thinking

How much do I want to read more? 8/10

A very nice book about a powerful concept to power up your intelectual flowering: note taking.
That is, preparing. Doing it ahead of time, so when you have to produce, you already have a tremendeous asset. You don't start from nothing.
It can combine different topics, fields. Therefore ideas and insights can sparkle.

The book contains lots of references from other books and research. Which make its content solid. And trustful. Yet, it remains nice to read, not like an accademic text.

“One cannot think without writing.” (Luhmann 1992, 53)


Everybody writes.
Every intellectual endeavour starts with a note.
Writing plays such a central role in learning, studying and research that it is surprising how little we think about it.

This book aims at showing you how to efficiently turn your thoughts and discoveries into convincing written pieces and build up a treasure of smart and interconnected notes along the way.

Like breathing, it is vital to what we do, but because we do it constantly, it escapes our attention.
those who take smart notes will never have the problem of a blank screen again.
Getting something that is already written into another written piece is incomparably easier than assembling everything in your mind and then trying to retrieve it from there.

To sum it up: The quality of a paper and the ease with which it is written depends more than anything on what you have done in writing before you even made a decision on the topic.

self-control and self-discipline have much more to do with our environment than with ourselves; and the environment can be changed.
Nobody needs willpower not to eat a chocolate bar when there isn’t one around.
Every task that is interesting, meaningful and well-defined will be done.
Having a meaningful and well-defined task beats willpower every time.

it is usually the best students who struggle the most.
a system is needed to keep track of the ever-increasing pool of information, which allows one to combine different ideas in an intelligent way with the aim of generating new ideas.

poor students often feel more successful (until they are tested), because they don’t experience much self-doubt. In psychology, this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Poor students lack insight into their own limitations.
That means that those who are not very good at something tend to be overly confident.

1 Everything You Need to Know

A good structure is something you can trust. It relieves you from the burden of remembering and keeping track of everything.
If you can trust the system, you can let go of the attempt to hold everything together in your head and you can start focusing on what is important.

1.1 Good Solutions are Simple – and Unexpected

You can start working and developing ideas immediately by taking smart notes.
The best way to deal with complexity is to keep things as simple as possible.
The simplicity of the structure allows complexity to build up where we want it.

The first idea lies at the heart of this book and is the technique of the simple slip-box.
The second idea is equally important. Routines require simple, repeatable tasks that can become automatic and fit together seamlessly.

The principle of GTD is to collect everything that needs to be taken care of in one place and process it in a standardised way.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we actually do everything we once intended to do, but it forces us to make clear choices and regularly check if our tasks still fit into the bigger picture.
Only if nothing else is lingering in our working memory and taking up valuable mental resources can we experience what Allen calls a “mind like water” - the state where we can focus on the work right in front of us without getting distracted by competing thoughts.
most distractions do not come so much from our environment, but our own minds.

Writing is not a linear process. We constantly have to jump back and forth between different tasks.
Only if you can trust your system, only if you really know that everything will be taken care of, will your brain let go and let you focus on the task at hand.

1.2 The Slip-box