2 Strategies To Help You Remember What You Read

Published: 2022-03-29

For a few years now, I've been a voracious reader. I love understanding how we got to where we are today and how that might forecast where we're going in the future. I kept getting frustrated that I was reading things, but couldn't remember what I read nor make connections to historical events. It took a lot of hypothesizing, experimenting, and tweaking my system, but this is what I've found works best:

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  1. The Blank Sheet Method

Whenever you start a new book, podcast, article, etc., grab a blank piece of paper and write the title at the top. In one color, write down everything you know or you think you know about the topic before consuming the content. It's okay if that's nothing.

Then, write down anything you learn while consuming the content in a different color. Things that surprised you, things that made you go, "Huh, that's surprising."

When you're done, write a two-sentence summary of the content on the page and file it with the rest of your sheets. If you want, you can add tags to the top right and file it under a certain category.

2. Have a place to throw things and throw everything there.

For me, this is my Obsidian Daily Notes page. I have a 'Scratchpad' template that I write down any thought that I have, article I want to read, quote I heard, or task I want to get done. Then I add relevant tags to discover them later.

I also use Siri all the time when driving. If I'm listening to a podcast or audio book and they say something I want to come back to, I'll say, "Hey Siri, remind me about this idea at 23:45 in Indie Hackers Podcast." Things3, my task app, integrates with iPhone reminders and they show up in my inbox, so then I sort those out into each area.

If you want something easier, you can use the native reminders app as a widget on your phone to quickly add things. You can also email yourself links and ideas you see on your phone, want to revisit while at your desk. Mem, a note taking app, is integrated with Twilio and lets you text a number and those notes go to your Mem Inbox. It's a neat idea, but Mem is still in Beta and a bit buggy.

The key here is to create something with the least amount of friction as possible. For example in online marketing, the more times a user has to click to checkout or look at your product, the more customers you'll lose. Similarly, the more times you have to click to capture and idea, the more ideas you'll lose. This idea comes from _Atomic Habits_in that when you're trying to build a new habit, make it frictionless. If you're trying to break a bad habit, create as much friction as possible.

To Recap Those may or may not work for you. But whatever you choose, remember, it's going to take work! I make a lot of note taking videos on YouTube and a lot of people ask for a better system and honestly, their system is just fine. It just takes time to go through your notes each week and re-discover what you wrote. But that's how you get genuine insights. I've found most people want their tool to rediscover the insights and notes for them. While that's ideal (and some apps do a good job of this), the best ideas will come through doing the work of sorting through your notes and thinking critically about what you wrote.

Every Saturday morning, I go through my Obsidian and see what I wrote about. Making relevant tags that I see necessary, reviewing book notes, and so on.

Each note taking system has to...

  • Capture
  • Organize
  • Distill
  • Create

Figure out the best way to do these for you and you'll be set!