How I will Write Notes

By Maxi |

This is a extremely dumb review about "How to take smart notes" by Sonke Ahrens.

TL;DR: 3.6/5 stars

While going through the pages of the book I was constantly asking myself why? That doesn't really tell you anything about the book itself, but about how confused I was to some of the statements it has.

The method doesn't even have a memorable name. It does have a memorable subject around where "smart" notes are created: A slip-box.

That's all we need: A box

The slip-box is the one place where you put all the notes about everything you want to use in the future. Sort of a second brain. Whatever you decide to include in the slip-box will have your take on things, Your voice, your filter, it's an element to think with.

The book has 150 pages on exactly how to go around this box: How to make sure you use the box and you fill it with "smart" notes rather than fleeting ones.

What are smart notes?

At any point the book gives you a definition of smart notes. It repeats itself over what are all the considerations you need to have to write what the author consider good notes.

A few things I remember are that smart notes should be:

  • Simple
  • Extracted from its context
  • Connected to other notes in the slip-box

It's not about the notes itself

My dissapointed came early when I saw that the author said the method was super effective and the only reason why not everyone is using this is because there is some lack of knowledge around implementing this method.

The notes are just a mean. The book expects you to learn this "simple" method about taking notes and more than that, how to think about the writing process in 150 words. I didn't convince me.

This method is NOT for everyone. It worked for the creator of it because it was probably tailor made to the personality of that scientist. I can see it won't work for me without even trying.

It's about priciples. The pillars the method is built on don't apply with mine:

These are the pillars of the book (my interpretation):

  • Avoid fleeting notes
  • Put everything in one place
  • Avoid highlighting text
  • It's almost never about you as a person (no emotion, just system and work)
  • It's about quantity (of notes, of books, of publications, etc etc)
  • No read things twice
  • Don't copy authors.

Some questions I still have

  • If multitasking is so bad? Why does the method force you to work on different publications at the same time?
  • Getting familiar with the content is dangerous because it can make you believe you understand something. At some point the books says it's bad to re-read stuff: Are you saying I should take the gist of everything on my first read? Doesn't that add so much pressure to get everything on the first try?
  • The book itself was done with the slip-box method. How come the quality of it is not really supreme like how the method suggests outcomes are with this?
  • The book has some biases well-explained and brought at good times but the way they are used in the context of "taking smart notes" is just doesn't work. How?

My top 3 takeaways

  • The book was not good but having so many differences with my own opinions forced me to think A LOT.
  • I'll filter a little bit more how and what I write in notes. It's more about the goal of the notes than any other thing. If they way I write notes fulfill my needs, I'm on a good track
  • It is a lot more likely to remember and evoke some knowledge the more connections you have with that. Those connections can be streghtens by actively forcing it: Repetition, Questioning, Trying to mix context (Taking out an idea from X and seeing how would that play in Y)

This is how I will write notes

  • I'll copy paste what the author said.
  • I'll add my take on it.

    • Maybe ask a question.
  • I'll look for connections within the book.
  • I'll try to find a way to connect it to current knowledge I got from personal experience or other books.

And I think the most important learning: - I'll share more. Talking about what you learn and how you interpret things helps me immesively.

A fleeting post

This post is the proof I'm writing a long fleeting note. The more filters I applied, the more I'll worry about all the mistakes: grammar horrors, semantic errors, contradictions and judgements that this post might cause to my persona. It is good to have filters, thinking in public can be scary. Writing things that might harm your career or your reputation are scary things. Today I can make public my fleeting post and it's ok. This post have achieved it's goal: It helped me think.

I'm embracing my lack of popularity: Low Profile vs High Profile


The book is ok. I gave it 3.6 out of 5 because It did make me think a lot. It's also very much about expectations. I did start the book without much expectations but the author set that this method work with for non-fiction writers and that gave me hopes.

If you are scientist maybe, just maybe you might find this method more aligned with you.

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