Learning How to Make Notes
3 min read

Learning How to Make Notes

Learning How to Make Notes

With my new daily writing challenge, my rate of creative output has increased significantly. With this I am having to discover new ways to be efficient in my creative process.

I'm learning how to streamline my workflow of ingesting outside content from various sources and digesting it in a way that inspires my own fresh ideas, all while being fun and low stress.

A fundamental part of this is note taking.

I never took notes in school. Ok, maybe rarely, but even when I did I was just copying down a few formulas or other reference material. I didn't really study so I didn't see the point. I don't say this to brag, I actually think this put me at a disadvantage relative to my studying peers.

As I've gotten older, and further removed from a formal school setting, I started to realize that I REALLY LOVE learning and researching. Just the idea that I could learn pretty much anything at the tip of my fingers and apply it to my actual life, changed the game. That was something I had control over.

Since then I've been a voracious "collector" of materials. I would call myself a note "taker" versus a note "maker" as Nick Milo would say.

I'm great at finding things on the web and dumping them into Evernote. I'm a heavy consumer of YouTube tutorials, E-books, web courses, articles, rss feeds, podcasts, etc etc. Curiosity seeps out of my pores and I can't help but want to know everything.  

I've gained an incredible amount of knowledge from these mediums, but I know I'm only taking advantage of a fraction of the note making process.

You see I still never learned how to use these outside sources to create my own unique ideas and turn my consumption into creative output.

Which is silly.

In his Ultimate Guide to Writing Online, David Perell says:

"When you publish ideas, you create your own “Serendipity Vehicle” – a magnet for ideas and people and opportunities from potentially every corner of the globe. If your ideas resonate with people, people will discover you and bring you unexpected opportunities. They’ll open doors you never knew existed."

Why would I just waste that opportunity?

I always thought it was some distant idea. That writing was very difficult and to do it correctly you had to have "the gift".

Sönke Ahrens says it well:

"If we take notes unsystematically, inefficiently or simply wrong, we might not even realise it until we are in the midst of a deadline panic and wonder why there always seem to be a few who get a lot of good writing done and still have time for a coffee every time we ask them."1

and

"They struggle because they believe, as they are made to believe, that writing starts with a blank page."2

I just didn't realize that I wasn't preparing myself well because I was missing a few simple note making principles.

When you have a system of note taking that links together like your own brain and provides a fertile ground for the serendipitous collision and spark of new ideas, writing or any other output is seamless and easy.

Ahrens describes how Niklas Luhmann, the creator of the Zettlekasten method was able to create prolifically this way:

"He not only stressed that he never forced himself to do something he didn’t feel like, he even said: “I only do what is easy. I only write when I immediately know how to do it. If I falter for a moment, I put the matter aside and do something else.”3

It's funny how the best systems always seem to be the simplest. And they don't need to be perfect.

I just never knew.

But now that I do I know I can leverage all of the time I spend consuming and start to create my own foundation of knowledge and ideas.

I'm relearning how to be a note maker instead of just a note taker.


  1. Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (p. 3). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.
  2. Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (p. 3). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.
  3. Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (p. 15). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

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