Too often, we convince ourselves that massive results require massive action.
But that's not true. If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you'll end up 37 times better by the end of the year. Show me your habits, and you show me your future.
And one of the most powerful habits you can build is consistent notetaking.
The question is:
- Why should you ingrain a notetaking habit?
- What are the best habits to level up your notetaking?
- How can you build lifelong habits?
That's what we are going to tackle in this article!
🏗️Why Build A Notetaking Habit?
Many people associate notetaking with the tedious practice of writing things down for school.
But notetaking is so much more. Notetaking is simply writing down sensations, feelings, and thoughts that are noteworthy from the information you consume. Everything is information. The music you listen to, the people you interact with throughout the day, the books you read, the YouTube videos you watch, etc.
It's all information.
And in the digital age, there is more information than ever before, thus making notetaking more critical than ever.
There are three main reasons you should take notes:
- Notetaking helps you learn better
- Notetaking helps you remember more
- Notetaking helps you create more
And one more bonus: the better you take notes, the more time you have to spend with family, friends, or other activities.
Firstly, notetaking helps you learn better.
Writing things down in your own words fosters understanding. Notetaking also frees valuable working memory for learning more material. In effect, you have more room for new information.
Secondly, notetaking helps you remember more.
When we note a sensation, feeling, or thought, we create a physical record of it we can come back to. In effect, we can remember more by studying our notes (like through flashcards) or returning to them to remind us of something we forgot. We expand our memories.
Thirdly, notetaking helps you create more.
Many times, when I sit down to write something, I'm already 80% done. I leverage past notes to create new knowledge. I can only do this because I took notes.
It's clear notetaking isn't a skill useful only for school but for everyone.
But if you want to experience these benefits, you have to make notetaking a habit.
Now let's dive into the 3 highest leverage habits to level up your notetaking.
Level Up Your Notetaking Skills With These 3 Habits
You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems. - James Clear
✍️Habit 1: Get In The Habit Of Noting Things Down
A few months ago, I was sitting in my living room enjoying a nice hot cup of chamomile tea while reading Make It Stick. My mom walked in to say hi.
"What are you reading?"
"Make it Stick by Mortimer J. Adler. It's a book about how to retain things in memory. Spaced repetition, active recall, the testing effect. All that jazz."
My mom put her finger on her chin and began thinking for five seconds.
"What's the matter?"
"I'm trying to remember if I read that book or not."
I'm trying to remember if I read that book or not...
If you're reading this, Mom (which I know you are cause you read all my newsletters, LOL), I'm sorry. Your embarrassment is the required sacrifice for benefiting all of humankind. The point is my mom is not alone. Most people don't note things down or apply learnings after they consume information.
So most people don't learn, remember, or create out of anything they consume.
Thoughts and ideas are transient.
They will fall through the cracks if you don't collect the important ones. This means collecting must become a habit. So the first powerful habit you can build to level up your notetaking skill is noting things down when you consume information.
Make these questions a reflex while consuming something:
- What is this about as a whole? (Who's the author, what type of information is it?)
- What is being said in detail, and how?
- Is it true, in whole or in part?
- What of it? (Why does it matter?)
- Can I apply this to any project I'm working on?
Note the answers to these questions.
Write them down on a piece of paper, in Obsidian, on some toilet paper if you are in your bathroom, for crying out loud! These are valuable insights that you don't want to forget. Getting in the habit of noting these questions will help you learn, remember, and create more.
Bonus points to people who write down not only the answers to the questions above but then actually apply the information to a project they are working on.
If there is a secret to learning and remembering more of what you consume, it's this: applying it.
So get in the habit of notetaking from what you consume.
If you want to learn more about how to take effective notes while consuming information, check out my video You Have Been Reading Wrong Your Entire Life - How to Read a Book.
🪚Habit 2: Schedule Time To Process Notes
All the work you spend notetaking is pointless if you don't return to it.
This doesn't mean you have to come back to every note. Some notes aren't valuable. That's okay. But the second most powerful habit you can build to level up your notetaking is to schedule time to process the valuable notes.
For me, this happens when I write YouTube scripts, Twitter threads and tweets, and the newsletter you're reading right now!
I also process notes during my daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly reviews.
During these reviews, I go through my communication mediums and journal entries. I time block my next week and task list using the learnings I found from my journal entries. This allows me to do lifestyle design, the art of creating and adapting the best possible life for you.
You should find your own time for processing notes:
- If you're a student, perhaps in between classes
- First thing in the morning
- During your lunch break
In your lucid dreams! Just kidding. It would be sick if you could do that, though. I still haven't lucid dreamed once, and I'm a little salty.
What do you do while processing notes?
I try to crystalize my thinking, add new thoughts, find ways to incorporate the ideas into projects I'm working on, etc. However, one of the most powerful things I do is create concept notes. Concept notes are notes worded in your own words that focus on one idea and can be linked out to other notes.
Creating concept notes allows you to compound your learning over time by creating new connections and insights.
Learn how to create concept notes by checking out my article, 6 Simple Methods For Creating And Growing Your Concept Notes In Obsidian.
📝Habit 3: Outline A Learning Endeavor Beforehand
When you outline something, you leverage your subconscious to work for you.
Your subconscious can process vastly more information than your conscious mind. By outlining something, you tell your subconscious: "This is important; work on this, pal." This is why you often get leaps of insight while walking around the supermarket or showering.
Your subconscious mind is working.
So the third most powerful habit you can build to level up your notetaking is to outline a learning endeavor beforehand.
Every night before going to bed, I do a daily meeze. I review my communication mediums, time block the next day, and format my task list. But I also spend 3 minutes outlining what I'm going to write in the morning. When I sit down to write, my brain explodes with ideas.
You can do the same.
If you want to create something, outline what you're going to do the day beforehand or before starting. If you're beginning a learning endeavor, map out what you will learn before you start. Prime your brain.
Leverage your subconscious mind.
✨BONUS META HABIT: Scale Up Your Time Horizon
If you ingrain all three notetaking habits mentioned beforehand, you are well on your path to becoming a notetaking magician.
But one more bonus meta habit ties everything together: scaling up your time horizon. Habits, challenging ones like notetaking, take a long time to compound. You must have patience. So, scale up your time horizon.
Realize it might take a few months to see the fruits of your labor.
Life is an infinite game.
Learning to take better notes will aid you for the rest of your life. The world likes seeing results. But if you can learn to delay gratification, you will be unstoppable. Try and get 1% better each day.
You will be astounded at how far you come in a few months or years.
🧬How Can You Build Lifelong Habits?
How should you go about building the three habits mentioned beforehand?
I will teach you three of the highest leverage tricks I wish I'd known earlier.
Firstly, adopt the identity of a notetaker.
Every action you take is a vote for your identity. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, "Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits." You must see yourself as someone who values learning, remembering, and creating. In other words, someone who values taking notes.
Secondly, create an environment in which it's easy to take notes.
Surround yourself with people and objects that cue you to have the habits you want, and it will be easier to have those habits. So often, we try and build good habits and break bad ones through brute force. But changing your environment is often way easier.
Thirdly, go through the four laws of behavior change to build good habits and break bad ones:
James Clear discusses the four laws in his fantastic book Atomic Habits. According to him, every behavior we do in life has four parts to it:
- Cue: A cue is a trigger that initiates a habit, such as a specific time, location, or emotional state.
- Craving: Craving is the intense desire or urge that prompts you to satisfy a need or desire based on the cue.
- Response: The response is the actual behavior or action you take in response to the craving and cue, forming the habit.
- Reward: A reward is the positive outcome or benefit you gain from completing the habit, reinforcing the connection between the cue and the response.
You can use this for literally every behavior in your life.
To build a good habit:
- Cue: Make the cue more obvious
- Craving: Make the craving more intensive
- Response: Make it easier to respond
- Reward: Give yourself a reward for succeeding
To break a bad habit:
- Cue: Make it less obvious
- Craving: Make the craving less intense
- Response: Make it harder to respond
- Reward: make the reward less good
I suggest you apply this to the three notetaking habits discussed above. Take out a piece of paper RIGHT NOW. Go through one of the three habits discussed above and write out how you can influence the four laws of behavior change to ingrain the habit.
Do it right now...
I know only a tiny fraction of you reading this will do it, which saddens me deeply. But if you're one of the ones that does. Congratulations.
You have no idea the habit-compounding effect you are starting.
After you have done that action item, you can move on to what I would like to share this week.
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✨Quote Of The Week - "You don't rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems." - James Clear Atomic Habits