If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered. – Edgar Allan Poe
I have a list of book projects somewhere as the purpose of this blog is to develop my ability to write book-length non-fiction pieces that are worth reading. I’ve decided that the next project is going to be on the art of note-taking, with the working title “Take Note”.
This sounds like a prosaic, pedestrian, perhaps boring topic. Is there material out there to fill a book on note taking? Will people even read it?
I suppose if I were looking at this from a real product and business point of view I would ask questions like “Who is this product for?” and “Will it sell?” But I’m not doing that because a good enough reason for writing any book is to “scratch your own itch”, because you’re interested in the subject and want to find out more about it. This is the material that I wished I had known when I was first starting out studying for exams at school, and later in the workplace.
The bigger answer to the question is that note taking is really about the art of paying attention. There is too much in our lives to remember and manage and the volume and velocity of material increases all the time. Being able to take good notes is only possible if you can allocate your attention effectively.
It’s possible that one’s ability to take good notes is correlated with later success, especially in knowledge work fields. It helps you learn better, pass exams more easily, understand what is needed from you in the workplace and help you be more creative, focused and innovative. Most of us aren’t in a position where we can delegate the job of note taking, but if you’re the one person in the room that can take good notes, remember what’s been talked about, what needs to get done and what’s the best course of action you’re in a good position to get ahead.
I’m hoping that my approach to the topic will be unique for a number of reasons. First, I can draw on research on how the brain works and copes with information to inform the ways in which we can design note taking methods. Second, the practice of note taking is something I have done for two decades and is effectively a form of action research. Rather than being a collection of stories I can draw on practical experience from a career of learning, working and now doing research. And finally I can draw on systems thinking and model-based approaches to make sense of the key points and arguments that relate to the field.
What this means for blog posts is that the next 80 or so posts will be the first draft of the book. The blog itself is a form of action research and an experiment in literate content creation – a set time each day for practice and reflection on the process of practice – and I will use the posts to talk about the process of designing and thinking about the book in addition to working on the content.
The one problem this approach creates for readers is that each post is related to the ones that come before and after rather than being self-contained pieces. Also it’s a long set of posts on a specific subject. Apologies in advance.
2 Replies to “New Year, New Book Project – Take Note”
in my work life, mindmapping and note-taking very much overlap – and the use of 2 colours of pen identify action steps (in the absence of coloured pen, I use stars & thick lines/circles). This approach is not based on research, just doing. I like the idea that there could be a theory – but as everyone is different, can we accept that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to ‘note taking’?
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Thanks for the comment – I think we can definitely accept that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach to note taking. However, probably accept that using mindmapping and colour is going to result in a different level of recall and engagement than using linear notes and a single pen. Too much colour and too many pictures, on the other hand, might mean that not enough information is taken down and the resulting note is pretty but not very useful. The reason I think the subject is interesting is because there are so many options and methods out there, and it’s something many people have strong views on and have developed their own methods to do. Perhaps what I really need to do is carry out some interviews and see if people are willing to share examples of their approach!