On notes and learning

On effective note taking.

This blog is about things I have already deeply thought through over long periods of time. It's an exercise in self expression and presentation.

Knowledge, then notes

Note taking, as in preservation of concepts outside of the brain, is a poor substitute for knowledge. With deep understanding comes this dynamic ability to relate ideas, reflexively, not just retroactively. It happens spontaneously and comes naturally as opposed to being mechanical, allowing exploration, curiosity, and joy to emerge. With that comes depth and quality.

Creation over consumption

Schools encourage note taking, but for the wrong reasons, as rather than optimising for knowledge, they promote memorisation, which is easier, but significantly more volatile. The process of writing things down to explain them to a complete beginner however - it triggers active recall, repetition, and automatically filling in your knowledge gaps with further research. You can throw these away straight after. It doesn't have to be writing either; painting, speaking, animating, whatever works for you. 90% of value from note taking is the act of expressing your knowledge clearly.


Repetition (re-learning) helps solidify your understanding for longer periods of time, as well as make new connections and gain new perspectives. It must be done at the right intervals, long enough to process it subconsciously and distance yourself, short enough not to completely forget.

Feedback Loop

Putting yourself in the position of the audience allows better reflection about what worked and what to improve.


The brain, due to its beautiful ability to forget, is a sub-optimal tool for ensuring important things get done. List of soon-to-be-revisited tasks/ideas can be helpful.