Sep 5, 2015
The value of having notes. Why do I make notes.
At one point in my life I had a memory crash. Which is to say once upon a time I could remember a whole lot more than I was presently remembering. I recall thinking, "what did I have for breakfast last Monday? Oh no! Why can't I remember!". I was terrified. It took a while but eventually I realised that remembering what I had for breakfast last Monday was:
not crucial to the rest of my life
not crucial to being a function human being
I was not sure if I usually remember what I ate last Monday; or if this was the first time I tried to recall it with such stubbornness to notice that I had no idea.
After surviving my first teen-life crisis I went on to realise a few things about life and about memory:
I will not be remembering everything forever.
Sometimes I forget things that I said I would do. Especially when the number of things I think I will do increases past 2-3 and upwards to 20-30.
Don't worry! There is a solution!
As someone at the age of mid-20s who is already forgetting things; a friendly mid-30 year old mentioned that in 10 years I will have 1/3rd more life to be trying to remember as well. Which should also serve as a really good reason why you should always comment your code as you go; and why you should definitely write notes. "Past me thought future me knew exactly what I meant even though past me actually had no idea what they were going on about".
The foundation of science.
There are many things that could be considered the foundations of science. I believe that one of the earliest foundations you can possibly engage in is observation.
In a more-than-goldfish form; observation means holding information. It means keeping things for review till later in your life; either at the end of this week; month or year. Observation is only the start. Writing it down makes it evidence. Biased, personal, scrawl, (bad) evidence all the same. If you want to be more effective at changing your mind; you need to know what your mind says.
It's great to make notes. That's exactly what I am saying. It goes further though. Take notes and then review them. Weekly; monthly; yearly. Unsure about where you are going? Know where you have come from. With that you can move forward with better purpose.
My note taking process:
1. get a notebook.
This picture includes some types of notebooks that I have tried.
A4 lined paper cardboard front and back. Becomes difficult to carry because it was big. And hard to open it up and use it as well. side-bound is also something I didn't like because I am left handed and it seemed to get in my way.
bad photo but its a pad of grid-paper. I found a stack of these on the middle of the ground late at night as if they fell off a truck or something. I really liked them except for them being stuck together by essentially nothing and falling to pieces by the time I got to the bottom of the pad.
lined note paper. I will never go back to a book that doesn't hold together. The risk of losing paper is terrible. I don't mind occasionally ripping out some paper but to lose a page when I didn't want to; has never worked safely for me.
Top spiral bound; 100 pages. This did not have enough pages; I bought it after a 200pager ran out of paper and I needed a quick replacement, well it was quick – I used it up in half the time the last book lasted.
Top spiral bound 200 pages notepad, plastic cover; these are the type of book I currently use. 8 is my book that I am writing in right now.
300 pages top spiral bound – as you can see by the tape – it started falling apart by the time I got to the end of it.
small notebook. I got these because they were 48c each, they never worked for me. I would bend them, forget them, leave them in the wrong places, and generally not have them around when I wanted them.
I am about half way through my current book; the first page of my book says 23/7/15, today it is 1/9/15. Estimate a book every 2 months. Although it really depends on how you use it.
a future book I will try, It holds a pen so I will probably find that useful.
also a future one, I expect it to be too small to be useful for me.
A gift from a more organised person than I. It is a moleskin grid-paper book and I plan to also try it soon.
The important take-aways from this is – try several, they might work in different ways and for different reasons. Has your life change substantially i.e. you don't sit much at a desk any more? Is the book not working; maybe another type of book would work better.
I only write on the bottom of the flip-page, and occasionally scrawl diagrams on the other side of the page. But only when they relevant. This way I can always flip through easy, and not worry about the other side of the paper.
2. carry a notebook. Everywhere. Find a way to make it a habit. Don't carry a bag? You could. Then you can carry your notepad everywhere with you in a bag. Consider a pocket-sized book as a solution to not wanting to carry a bag.
3. when you stop moving; turn the notebook to the correct page and write the date.
Writing the date is almost entirely useless. I really never care what the date is. I sometimes care that when I look back over the book I can see the timeline around which the events happened, but really – the date means nothing to me.
What writing the date helps to do:
make sure you have a writing implement
make sure it works
make sure you are on the right page
make sure you can see the pad
make sure you can write in this position
make you start a page
make you consider writing more things
make it look to others like you know what you are doing (signalling that you are a note-taker, is super important to help people get used to you as a note-taker and encourage that persona onto you)
This is the reason why I write the date; I can't specify enough why I don't care about what date it is, but why I do it anyway.
4. Other things I write:
Names of people I meet. Congratulations; you are one step closer to never forgetting the name of anyone ever. Also when you want to think; "When did I last see bob", you can kinda look it up in a dumb - date-sorted list. (to be covered in my post about names – but its a lot easier to look it up 5 minutes later when you have it written down)
Where I am/What event I am at. (nice to know what you go to sometimes)
What time I got here or what time it started (if its a meeting)
What time it ended (or what time I stopped writing things)
It's at this point that the rest of the things you write are kinda personal choices some of mine are:
Interesting thoughts I have had
Interesting quotes people say
Action points that I want to do if I can't do them immediately.
diagrams of what you are trying to say.
Graphs you see.
the general topic of conversation as it changes. (so far this is enough for me to remember the entire conversation and who was there and what they had to say about the matter)
That's right. I said it. Its sexy. There are occasional discussion events near to where I live; that I go to with a notepad. Am I better than the average dude who shows up to chat? no. But everyone knows me. The guy who takes notes. And damn they know I know what I am talking about. And damn they all wish they were me. You know how glasses became a geek-culture signal? Well this is too. Like no other. Want to signal being a sharp human who knows what's going down? Carry a notebook, and show it off to people.
The coordinators have said to me; "It makes me so happy to see someone taking notes, it really makes me feel like I am saying something useful". The least I can do is take notes.
Other notes about notebooks
The number of brilliant people I know who carry a book of some kind will far outweighs the number of people who don't. I don't usually trust the common opinion; but sometimes you just gotta go with what's right.
If it stops working; at least you tried it. If it works; you have evidence and can change the world in the future.
"I write in my phone". (sounds a lot like, "I could write notes in my phone") I hear this a lot. Especially in person while I am writing notes. Indeed you do. Which is why I am the one with a notebook out and at the end of talking to you I will actually have notes and you will not. If you are genuinely the kind of person with notes in their phone I commend you for doing something with technology that I cannot seem to have sorted out; but if you are like me; and a lot of other people who could always say they could take notes in their phone; but never do; or never look at those notes... Its time to fix this.
a quote from a friend - “I realized in my mid twenties that I would look like a complete badass in a decade, if I could point people to a shelf of my notebooks.” And I love this too.
A friend has suggested that flashcards are his brain; and notepads are not. I agree that flashcards have benefits. namely to do with organising things around, shuffling etc. It really depends on what notes you are taking. I quite like having a default chronology to things, but that might not work for you.
In our local Rationality Dojo’s we give away notebooks. For the marginal costs of a book of paper; we are making people’s lives better.
The big take away
Get a notebook; make notes; add value to your life.
This post took 3 hours to write over a week
Please add your experiences if you work differently surrounding note taking.
Please fill out the survey of if you found this post helpful.