How to Take Smart Notes


Sönke Ahrens

My rating:
Read in March, 2020


This is the number one book I wished I had read ten years ago, ideally before I started university. Describes a system for the managing of ones own thoughts and ideas, and does it in plain English. Turned me onto the importance of understanding metalearning/metacognition.

My Notes


'Notes on paper, or on a computer screen ... do. not make contemporary physics or other kinds of intellectual endeavour easier, they make it possible ... no matter. how internal processes are implemented [you] need to understand the extent to which the mind is reliant upon external scaffolding' Levy 2011

'Every individual endeavour starts with a note' p1

'They [writers] struggle because they believe, as they are made to believe, that writing starts with a blank page' p3

'It is no so important who you are, but what you do. Doing the work required and doing it in a smart way leads, somehow unsurprisingly, to success.' p4

'Having a clear structure to work in is completely different from making plans about something. If you make a plan, you impose a structure on yourself; it makes you inflexible. To keep going according to plan, you have to push yourself and employ willpower.' p6

'How do you plan for insight, which, by definition, cannot be anticipated?' p6

'Only if we know that everything is taken care of, from the important to the trivial, can we let go and focus on what is right in front of us.' p10

'My project: theory of society. Duration: 30 years. Costs: zero.' -Luhmann p14

'Most people do not expect much from simple ideas. They rather assume that impressive results must have equally impressively complicated means.' p18

'We need a reliable and simple external structure to think in that compensates for the limitations of our brains.' p20

'The more you become interested in something, the more you will read and think about it, the more notes you will read and think about it, the more notes you will collect and the more likely it is that you will generate questions from it. It might be exactly what you were interested in from the beginning, but it is more likely that your interests will have changed - that is what insight does.' p25

'Imagine if we went through life learning only what we planned to learn or being explicitly taught. I doubt we would have learned to speak. ... The best ideas are the ones we haven't anticipated anyway.' p27

'An idea kept private is as good as one you never had'. p36

'We tend to call extremely slow writers, who always try to write as if for print, perfectionists. Even though it sounds like praise for extreme professionalism, it is not: a real professional would wait until it was time for proofreading, so he or she can focus on one thing at a time.' p62

'You should never ask the teachers of paramedics for help if you find yourself in the admittedly unlikely situation where you can choose who should perform CPR on you.' p65

'Nonage [immaturity] is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere Aude.)' Kant 1784, p83

'If you can't say it clearly, you don't understand it yourself.' John Searle. p85

'The gift of being able to remember everything is a serious liability.' p100

'Learned right, which means understanding, which means connecting in a meaningful way to previous knowledge, information almost cannot be forgotten anymore and will be reliably retrieved if triggered by the right cues. ... If you focus your time and energy on understanding, you cannot help but learn.' p105

'Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they just feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something.' Steve Jobs. p121

'Creative people are better at recognising relationships, making associations and connections and seeing things in an original way - seeing things that others cannot see.' Andreason 2014

'Writing itself makes you realise where there are holes in things. I'm never sure what I think until I see what I write. And so I believe that, even though you're an optimist, the analysis part of you kicks in when you sit down to construct a story or paragraph or sentence. You think, 'oh, that can't be right.' and you have to go back, and you have to rethink it all.' Carol Loomis. p132.

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