Jethro's Braindump

How To Take Smart Notes

Sonke Ahrens
Writing, Note-taking, Books, Productivity
recommended by
Conor White-Sullivan


  • There’s a ton of books covering the art of writing, and very little on note-taking.
  • These books don’t cover the connections between note-taking and writing well.

Notes aren’t a record of my thinking process. They are my thinking process. – Richard Feynman

The mind is extremely reliant of external scaffolding:

Notes on paper, or on a computer screen … do not make contemporary physics or other kinds of intellectual endeavour easier, they make it possible – Neil Levy (Neuroethics and the Extended Mind)

Hence, use the Zettelkasten method. To get around this idea of note-taking, it is important to understand that:

  1. Note sequences are meant for developing ideas, not storing them
  2. Links and indices are helpful, but not central features
  3. The workflow is streamlined to writing

In Zettelkasten, the most time-consuming portion is determining the order for the notes in which to write about.

Concrete Changes

  1. Instead of highlighting passages, manually create notes of the ideas you get as you read. These notes should be relevant to the contexts important to you, not just related to the book you read. (Nat Eliason, 2020)
  2. Always reference the source. Cite, or indicate the page number.
  3. When copying notes over, try to make the ideas standalone.
  4. When filing notes, think instead about: in which context will I want to stumble on it again? Use tags for this.



Eliason, N. (2020). How to take smart notes: a step-by-step guide - nat eliason. Retrieved from Online; accessed 14 February 2020.

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