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How to Take Smart Notes

The core principle is getting compound interest on past thinking - never having to think through the same idea more than once.

Shamay Agaron
Shamay Agaron
. 2 min read

The primary use-case of Roam for me is to take notes on books, articles, and podcasts.

I used to passively read books only to forget their contents a couple of days later. That’s until I read Sönke Ahrens’ How To Take Smart Notes, which completely revolutionized the way I consume information.

Amazon.com: How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost ...

The system described in this book is inspired by that of the 20th-century German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who published 70 books and 400 articles in his lifetime. The book promises to help you build

“a reliable and simple external structure to think in that compensates for the limitations of our brains.”

Luhmann’s core insight was that a note was only as valuable as its context, or connections to other information. It’s not enough to simply make highlights in a book you’re reading because you won’t remember the idea that the highlight gave you.

Instead, Luhmann paraphrased the ideas that he was reading about in his notes. This forces you to actively engage with the ideas rather than just passively reading them. It also pushes you to immediately capture any ideas that the reading may have inspired.

Another mistake that many people fall into is thinking “Under which topic do I store this note?”. Instead, you should be thinking “Under which context do I want to stumble upon this note in the future?”. You want to store your notes in the context that you want to re-discover them in rather than the original context of the book/article.

The core principle is getting compound interest on past thinking - never having to think through the same idea more than once. This can only be done if you have a robust system for capturing and organizing your notes and thinking.

For a quick guide on how to implement this system in Roam, check out this article.

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