Here’s the problem:
There’s so much to learn and so little time. And even if you consume information, you inevitably forget most of it.
So, how do you stay focused and take notes effectively so that you retain what you learn? I’ll show you.
Identify Priority Topics
Zero in on the main topic and subtopics to group into chunks so that you can relate them to broad categories you can easily recall. These “mental models” will help you organize information into groupings.
Prioritizing also has to do with topic selection. Don’t take advice from someone who hasn’t done what you want or has helped others do what you want. When selecting a book or resource to learn from, use these three tips:
- Look at the author or primary source. See how successful he is in the area he’s talking about. If it’s business, nowadays, I put much more weight on a billionaire, as their thought process and advice is often completely different. You can still get bad advice from a millionaire, especially if he’s only made one million. However, there are a few millionaires I pay exceptional attention to because of point 2.
- Extensive scientific data and studies to back up what is said. Decades of research can really be even better. The scientific process is exceptionally rigorous and makes sure to control for every variable. This is useful. Just make sure they’re not cherry picking only the studies that support their view.
- How many people have they helped with what has been taught. Are there a lot of reviews and positive comments? I prefer something in the hundreds or thousands
Of course, there’s always exceptions to the rules. But this is to avoid the red-flag’s.
Red flag’s are articles and books that seem innocent enough, but are really bad advice disguised to look useful. The crazy part is it’s wrapped in what appears to be good advice and social proof.
Here are some key examples:
- A viral article that has a lot of shares or comments and is on a popular website, but has no basis or reference for what they’re saying. Such as a Top 10 Reasons Habits Are Formed or Top 10 Reasons Happy People Are Happy. No reference to science or anything. Just a random guy on Forbes or Inc or BusinessInsider or Yahoo made it up.
- A popular guy on a respected personal blog or on Youtube using non-related fields to teach something. A great example is when people use The Art of War by Sun Tzu to be better at business, forming habits, and everything else in life. This book was written centuries ago to teach about war. Yet it’s preposterous how people love to take it so far and make it their go-to book on business or sales. There’s hundreds of thousands of business advice books actually ON business from people with experience. It’s like someone reading a book about art in order to learn how to play tennis.
What makes it appear alright is the fact that it’s disguised in social proof:
- Art of War is a highly acclaimed war book that has affected even modern day battle
- a popular website with thousands of Facebook shares looks trustworthy
But you don’t want to take these too far because that’s far from the case sometimes.
Summarize and Outline
Were you expecting me to write a long essay on how to take notes?
If it was a 10,000 word essay, would you have read it? Likely not. Similarly, if you wrote notes that was nearly as long as the book or lecture you consumed, it’d be near-useless. How are you going to relate page 31 with page 3? It’s essentially another book you have to keep track of.
To take notes effectively, create a outline with phrases rather than full sentences, summarizing each point and how they relate. Your goal is to boil down the outline to one page, no more. It may take a couple iterations of the outline to do so, but it’s a great way of organizing your thoughts without overwhelming yourself and a great resource to immediately remind you of the most important points.
Revisit and Revisit Again
The real secret to squeezing the value out of your notes is to go back to it and read it over and over.
People are different, so they have different strategies they prefer to organize their notes in a way that’s most appealing. Your goal should be to make the notes to at least 90% of how clear as possible for you.
For visual thinkers, it may be to turn the concepts you wrote into word clouds with sticky notes or flash cards or white boards. For logical thinkers, they may prefer turning it into a spreadsheet or keeping it as an outline. If you convert it, pay attention to the last point…
Reduce and Simplify One Last Time
Take that outline and simplify the concepts down even further. For every sentence or phrase you wrote, see if you can summarize those concepts into two or three words, if not one.
By doing so, your notes have been reduced to a small area and simply by looking at the information, you can recall a large array of data.
Identify Connections Like A Family Tree
As Josh Waitzkin mentions in the Art of Learning, as you become more of a master at your craft, you start to chunk the chunks. By bucketing information into groups and bucketing those groups into groups, you can create a vast, accessible mental map of how principles relate to each other.
When you get even more advanced, Josh says you can form chunks of chunks of chunks — three levels.
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