How to Take Smart Notes

Last edited 25th August 2020


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Sönke Ahrens


  • Every intellectual endeavour starts with a note.
    • Page: 1
  • We don’t experience any immediate negative feedback if we do it badly.
    • Page: 2
  • He did not just copy ideas or quotes from the texts he read, but made a transition from one context to another.
    • Page: 19
  • We need a reliable and simple external structure to think in that compensates for the limitations of our brains.
    • Page: 20
  • Be extra selective with quotes – don’t copy them to skip the step of really understanding what they mean.
    • Page: 24
  • Truth does not belong to anyone; it is the outcome of the scientific exchange of written ideas.
    • Page: 36
  • You will not waste your time with the attempt to figure out what you “should” learn.
    • Page: 37
  • Focused attention is different from “sustained attention,” which we need to stay focused on one task for a longer period and is necessary to learn, understand or get something done.
    • Page: 60
  • Don’t make plans. Become an expert.
    • Page: 64
  • Even something seemingly unrelated like being the victim of prejudices can have a significant effect (Inzlicht, ~McKay, and Aronson, 2006) as “controlling the influence of stereotypes (… may rely on the same…) limited-strength resource on which people draw for self-regulation”
    • Page: 72
  • the idea is not to copy, but to have a meaningful dialogue with the texts we read.
    • Page: 75
  • always have a slip of paper at hand, on which I note down the ideas of certain pages. On the backside I write down the bibliographic details. After finishing the book I go through my notes and think how these notes might be relevant for already written notes in the slip-box. It means that I always read with an eye towards possible connections in the slip-box.”
    • Page: 76
  • And more often than not, reading is not accompanied by taking notes, which is, in terms of writing, almost as valuable as not having read at
    • Page: 77
  • Note: Note taking and synthesis = understanding
  • The only thing that matters is that it connects or is open to connections.
    • Page: 81
  • The only difference is that the audience here consists of our future selves,
    • Page: 85
  • The brain, as Kahneman writes, is “a machine for jumping to conclusions”
    • Page: 95
  • A few wisely chosen notes are sufficient for each entry point.
    • Page: 109
  • In which circumstances will I want to stumble upon this note, even if I forget about it? It is a crucial difference.
    • Page: 110
  • What we think is relevant for a topic and what is not depends on our current understanding and should be taken quite seriously:
    • Page: 113
  • We always perceive something as something – our interpretation is instantaneous.
    • Page: 125
  • Being intimately familiar with something enables us to be playful with it, to modify it, to spot new and different ideas without running the risk of merely repeating old ideas believing they are new.
    • Page: 136
  • but it makes a big difference if they imagine all the training that is necessary to be able to win.
    • Page: 142
  • According to the famous law of Parkinson, every kind of work tends to fill the time we set aside for it, like air fills every corner of a room
    • Page: 143