How To Take And Organize Your “Smart Notes”

As a “recovering” journalist I’ve always been a note taker.  Prior to discovering Evernote, my notes were largely jammed into file folders that were unsearchable and largely unmanageable. In “How To Take Smart Notes”, Sonke Ahrens walks us through a comprehensive organizational system that works on paper as well as digitally.  I wish I had heard about this before I started College. 

It relies on a Zettelkasten, or the “slip-box” for storage.  It requires the user to keep a non-linear system of notes of what we observe or learn through texts.  These notes then connect with other facts, not through tags or through chronological order, but instead end up linked through sequences that tie them to other notes. It sounds complicated and it is more work than many people other than academics and book writers are likely to maintain.  But I can see how the system would help writers and those working on complex research projects.  It sounds complicated, but it makes sense. My only disappointment in the book is that the author doesn’t show us how actual notes are made, stores or bibliography references are stores.

One of the problems I used to have was finding the information I needed in the notes I took. This system solves that, much as Evernote does digitally.

I recommend this book to anyone who seeks better organizational skills at work and to help us remember all of the other things we seek to remember in our lives.

Here are some quotes from the book:

Most people try to reduce complexity by separating what they have into smaller stacks, piles or separate folders. They sort their notes by topics and sub-topics, which makes it look less complex, but quickly becomes very complicated. Plus, it reduces the likelihood of building and finding surprising connections between the notes themselves, which means a trade-off between its usability and usefulness.”

“The trick is that he did not organize his notes by topic, but in the rather abstract way of giving them fixed numbers. The numbers bore no meaning and were only there to identify each note permanently. If a new note was relevant or directly referred to an already existing note, such as a comment, correction or addition, he added it directly behind the previous note. If the existing note had the number 22, the new note would become note number 23. If 23 already existed, he named the new note 22a. Adding a note directly behind another note is only one way of doing this. Another way is by adding a link on this and/or the other note, which could be anywhere in the system. This very much resembles, of course, the way we use hyperlinks on the internet.”

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