“When making notes on a new subject, you must avoid taking notes on what you already know”

This Note Taking skill might sound simple but it needs practice. Whether you are attending a lecture or studying a text book, the tendency to note down everything means that you have not learned to give relative importance to stuff. As a result, you are so busy writing that you miss the opportunity to pause and ponder over what you have learnt. It often happens in a lecture. In case of text book, you end up making a copy of the text book in your notes that makes them worthless.

Being a Software developer, I ended up reading lots of product manuals and software programming books. At first, I used to make notes on anything I read. They were still useful because I wrote them in my own words rather than copying the style of the author. But they were not concise. It’s only after reading scores of books that I realized the power of filtering out what I don’t want.

Here’s the important skill that I have learned over the years. Whenever I read something new from a text book, it falls into the following 5 categories:

  1. It’s something that I already know. Obviously, this is not to be noted down.
  2. It’s something that I know but is being presented in another way. The tendency is to note this down. This should be avoided. Spend some time pondering instead to reinforce what you already know.
  3. It’s something new that I’m learning for the first time but I’m not likely to forget this because it’s too simple and derives from my existing knowledge. Again, this is something not to be noted down but worth pondering then and there.
  4. It’s something new and I will forget it if I don’t note it down.
  5. It’s something new but I don’t think it’s relevant to the subject I’m studying. The author or the lecturer seems to be digressing.

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You see my point? The only thing worth noting is described in Point 4 above. It can easily be seen how concise your notes will become if you were to develop this skill to identify and note down only what matters.

There is another aspect to making effective and useful notes

Putting them in a sequence that is different from the author. But this is a subject of another post that I will write later.

If you are just using a Sticky Notes program or a Mind Map program to manage your notes, think twice. There is no way to classify or categorize notes in them.

Sticky Notes programs require you to visually organize notes. But the visual desktop space is limited.

It’s same as if you have a bunch of notes and you spread them out on your table top to organize them. Does that work? Not really. What you don’t do in real world also doesn’t work well in the computer. In the physical world, you use Folders to organize your notes. Likewise, in a computer, you should use programs that allow you to use a list, or better still, a hierarchical list to organize your notes.

Abstract thoughts and ideas can not be organized visually. Pictures can’t represent them but only words can. They are best managed in a “hierarchical list.”

Use a category of programs called “Outliners” to organize your notes, thoughts and ideas and you will see your productivity soar.

See why a List is a better device to organize your notes because it gives you a quick overview of all your notes even if there are hundreds of them. Get our Program WhizFolders from WhizFolders.com.

Organize your notes easily in a hierarchical list

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