Smart Note-Taking for Productive Work

We all write on some level. We write research papers, articles, blog posts, essays, books, memos, reports and the daily, basic stuff. Students, academic researchers, lawyers and content creators, for example, write a lot. Even if you don’t consider writing a part of your profession or vocation, your ability to take notes on what you learn will carry you forward.

The main goal of smart note-taking is not to stay informed. It’s to increase understanding and build your knowledge base, which you can apply to your creative projects and productive work. 

You learn best when you connect ideas and evaluate the information. Does this confirm, contradict, or add to your existing knowledge? Have you mastered the subject enough to explain it or teach it to others through a presentation, an article, or a paper? How will your knowledge hold up in a test or in a real-world situation?

In episode 17 of The Incrementalist podcast, you will learn:

1) The difference between being familiar with a subject and actually knowing it

2) Why writing is a core part of the thinking process, i.e. the medium in which you think and not the outcome of your thinking

3) The Zettelkasten slip box method for smart note-taking, which was invented by Niklas Lumaan -- a German sociologist who published at least 58 books and nearly 400 scholarly articles on various topics

4) The three types of notes to make - 
  • Fleeting notes, e.g. highlighting and underlining text; jotting down quick notes
  • Literature notes, e.g. writing notes in your own words for future projects
  • Permanent notes, e.g. storing notes in the Zettlekasten for long-term knowledge
5) The "reference slip box" is for source citations and brief notes while the "main slip box" is for permanent notes

6) The profound benefits of having an external system for note-taking and managing knowledge
  • you have a standardized, process-oriented method for organizing ideas and retrieving them
  • you create bottom-up work so you're not starting from scratch or with a blank slate
  • you avoid the linear path to writing and instead pull from existing notes and ideas
  • you learn more and apply more from your reading
  • you become a more critical and original thinker
Resources cited: 
  • Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing Learning and Thinking - for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers
Music by:
  • Sebastian Brian Mehr



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© 2021 Dyan Williams