For a long time I read a lot of books and never actually did anything useful with the notes I took.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried a lot of note-taking methods. Highlighting, writing in margins, collecting quotes, filing it away in digital filing systems.
And while I accumulated a lot of information. None of it actually stuck with me. Maybe the odd idea here and there. But nothing compared to the amount of time I spent reading.
But three years ago I started doing something different after reading the book How To Take Smart Notes and it’s revolutionised my reading/note-taking workflow.
I exclusively read books on my Kindle. I love the in built highlighting & note-taking features which make it easy to get my notes into my note-taking system.
Plus I can take a library of books anywhere I go on my phone. So instead of opening my phone to scroll social media, I open it to read.
As I read I look out for ‘sparks.’ You know those moments that an idea stands out to you on a page — that’s a spark.
Once I find a spark I highlight it & then leave myself a quick breadcrumb note.
The breadcrumb note is my insurance that my future self will know why that particular idea sparked me. It takes less than a minute and saves a world of pain later.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. I simply ask myself Why Did This Spark? What’s Interesting? What do I want to do with this?
Anything to give your future self a signpost as to what you were thinking at the time.
One of the reasons I choose to read exclusively on Kindle is because I can get my notes & highlights effortlessly into my note-taking system using Readwise.
All of the hard work happens in the background without me having to do anything. So I can just focus on being fully immersed in the process of reading knowing my notes will show up later in Tana when I need them.
It’s the perfect conduit to get your digital notes into your note-taking system.
For years all I did was file these highlights away into categories and topics in a big Notion database. I thought that was building knowledge.
The problem was I never looked at those notes again. They didn’t make one different to my life. They weren’t integrated into my knowledge. It’s like I had never ever read the book.
The problem was I had mistaken information for knowledge.
So I started collecting all these highlights & notes into what I know call my Spark Journal. And each morning I sit down for 30 minutes to an hour and choose one or a few ideas to think & write about.
I take each note and start to think about it further. I start with a few questions and then let my curiosity guide me:
All of this thinking and writing eventually becomes an atomic note — a packet of my knowledge on the topic. And that is when I find an appropriate place for it to live in my knowledge library. Usually connected to a bigger idea or topic. Read more about how I organise my notes here.
Some of these atomic notes end up being things I write about. Others I’ll take action on in personal growth, work & life experiments. And others just remain a part of my knowledge library.
The most important thing is I’ve been able to bridge the grab between collecting information and building knowledge. And that has changed everything for me.