How I take Notes: Mastering the Basics
A Practical Guide on How to Take Notes. In This First Part, We Will Explore the Basics of Note-taking.
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I'm honest, if I had to start this essay from a blank page, I'd probably spend hours looking at the blinking cursor without writing a single character. But luckily enough, I've been thinking about this post for weeks now, and guess what? I have all my notes about it, which made starting the piece much more straightforward.
When I was younger, precisely in school, I literally hated taking notes. I know people who still love to show their school notebooks and diaries, full of notes, schemas, drawings, schedules, and writings. I also still have mine at my parents' house, and you could probably sell them as new.
I was so arrogant as to pretend to record everything in my head. Well, I did that for a long time, and I was also good enough at it. But unfortunately, our brain's capacity is limited (approximately 2.5 Petabytes of storage according Scientific American), and so at one point, my brain started overflowing, losing information. This is when I started taking notes, and this is also where my life changed.
💰 Benefits of note-taking
Someone might think note-taking is just about recording informations, but it's not. I said note-taking literally changed my life, and it was not just a catchy phrase. If you ask yourself why you take notes, the first answers that will come to your mind would probably be "to not forget important things" or "to organize my knowledge". And for sure, these are good reasons to take notes, but there are also other aspects that probably are not so evident at first glance.
Some of the benefits of note-taking, especially if done the right way, include:
🧠 Increased memory efficiency. Writing is a very good way to impress things in your brain and exercise it.
✍️ Become better at writing. Taking notes means writing more, and the more you write, the better you become at it.
📖 Become better at reading. As for writing, reading is a huge part of note-taking.
🤓 Improved understanding. Writing notes means processing information (we will see after how) and processing information helps better understand concepts.
👮♂️ Increased discipline. As you may imagine, to be good at all the points I mentioned before, you need to be disciplined, and writing notes is a good way to become it!
Another common misconception is that taking structured notes is just for researchers or students. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Taking notes is simply for everyone. It's just a process, a habit that you establish in your everyday routine that helps process and keep track of any kind of information. It doesn't matter if you are tracking your research in neuroscience, your fitness progress, your mood, or your cooking recipes; it works the same way.
There's an input, you decide if this input is relevant for you, if it is you process it and then you store it in a note. Easy peasy.
📚 A Bit of Theory
When you start delving deep into note-taking, you will discover an entirely new world.
There are entire books about note-taking, methodologies to organize your notes, to grow them, and at one point, to make them yours. It would probably take many issues of this newsletter to go through them all. For the scope of this essay, which is to share the way I take notes and introduce you to this world, I will just go through some concepts that you will see used in the more practical part.
PKM vs PKD
Note-taking refers to the action of recording information in a place of your choice, such as a notebook, text file, dedicated software, database, etc. However, it is often put in relation to Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).
Personal Knowledge Management refers to the process of collecting, organizing, and managing one's own personal knowledge and information in a way that is useful and accessible.
Some people also make a further distinction between Personal Knowledge Management and Personal Knowledge Development (PKD). While the former involves collecting and organizing notes, the latter refers to the process of acquiring, organizing, and integrating new information and experiences into one's existing knowledge base. It involves actively seeking out new information, reflecting on one's experiences, and making connections between new and old knowledge.
The P.A.R.A. method is a note-taking and personal knowledge management system created by Tiago Forte, a productivity and organization expert.
P.A.R.A. stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives, and the main idea is to organize your notes based on their actionability.
📂 Projects - This section is designated for your ongoing projects. A project refers to a series of tasks that are linked to a specific objective and must be completed within a defined timeframe. These tasks represent the tangible actions you intend or must undertake.
📍Areas - This section contains ongoing activities that are still actionable but do not have a fixed deadline, such as work notes, writing, personal finance, and maintaining one's health. These are tasks that demand regular maintenance and attention. As these activities are consistently monitored, new projects may emerge from this section.
⛏️ Resources - This section serves as a repository for information on topics that pique your interest or prove valuable to you. As the title implies, these are nuggets of knowledge that you wish to retain and consult at a later time.
🗄️ Archives - This section is designated for storing items from the other three categories that have already been finished or are no longer relevant. This includes items such as completed projects, inactive areas, or resources that you no longer wish to actively manage.
According to Tiago Forte, these are the four folders you should have to organize your knowledge and where to put your notes.