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Notes on book notes

Three years and 36 books later, here is the process for taking book notes that I ended up with, and why.

Let’s explain the process of taking book notes before looking at the why.

The process

Step one: buy a book, or even better, pick up one from your towering unread book pile.

As you read, take notes in an old-fashioned notebook. Pen and paper.

Once you finish the book, leave it aside for a few weeks.

Next, prune the handwritten notes while moving them to electronic form. Leave it aside for a few weeks.

Last, summarize the notes into key learning and publish in your blog.

The benefits

1. More focus, more learning

Taking notes by hand has two benefits:

  1. Handwriting notes forces me to focus on what I am reading, improving my understanding and retention of the material.
  2. As writing the notes is laborious, I tend to write fewer notes, which means trying to understand the key points, which in turn means learning more.
    • This is in contrast with highlighting text in an ebook.

Retain more due to repetition

Repetition. I “read” a book at least four times:

  1. The actual reading.
  2. Writing the notes to the notebook.
  3. Reading the notes and writing them back notes to electronic form.
  4. Summarizing the electronic forms.

As several weeks have passed, for both steps 3 and 4 I have to go back to the book to understand what some notes mean.

Step 3 will be especially effective if your handwriting is as crappy as mine:

Book notes

This will require you to go back to the book to figure out what you wrote and why it was important.

No book left behind

If you have abandoned a book for a few weeks, it can be a struggle to pick up where you left off.

With notes in hand, however, you can quickly refresh your memory and get back into the flow of the book.

I have found that my abandon rate has dropped significantly since I started taking notes.

my abandon rate of ebooks is significantly higher than paper books, hence I avoid ebooks as much as possible.

Fast refresh, future reminder

Key learnings take two minutes to read, and the full notes five. This means that it is effortless to re-read them from time to time, reinforcing your memory.

And, obviously, being in electronic form makes them searchable.

Doing two things at once

In Becoming a Technical Leader, Weinberg recommends trying to do two things at once, but not in the sense of multitasking but in the sense of killing two birds with one stone.

In my case, taking notes means that I am both reading a book, having a quick reference for my future self, and at the same time generating content for my blog.


Absolutely none.

Oooooookkk, maybe all this process takes significantly more time, but I wish I had started with my very first book:

All books


Some geekery about what do I use:

  1. Oxford Notepad:
    • A5 is THE right size.
    • Spiral because:
      1. holds the pen.
      2. It can be folded entirely over.
    • 80gms: no ink in the other side
  2. Pilot V5: writes in every position/surface, but I find it dirty.
    • Happy to learn about alternatives.
  3. Neck light: a surprisingly useful present.

And the most important of all, a bookmark for each book handcrafted by my lovely daughter:

book mark

They will become a very good reason to revisit all the books … and it keeps her busy for at least one hour each .

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Tagged in : book notes