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Ask HN: How to take notes?
101 points by varbhat 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments
What are the effective ways of taking Notes?

I am learning programming (/languages) , new things and I think that I should take notes so that i can quickly revise/remember things if i forget.

Are cheatsheets helpful? How should i do it? Any suggestions?




I try very hard not to get caught in bikeshedding the perfect note system over actually writing things down. This is very much in the “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of doing literally anything at all” territory.

Features i find are actually helpful:

- keep a link to the source where you found the information summarized in the note. A url, a DOI and an equation number, whatever.

- when you can, physically recopy the data in the note. Retype the code, write ideas out long-form.

- ELI5 (explain it like i’m five) or up-goer [0] the contents of a collection of notes. Or at least write summaries or abstracts about a collection of them. Recapitulating information instead of blindly saving it makes you digest it better.

- Rubber ducking works. Go pester your partner, your pet, the potted plant, whatever.

[0]: https://www.splasho.com/upgoer5/


I had to look up rubber ducking, appreciate it. It seems to be related to debugging but it sure seems to be applicable to other items like writing out an email or before starting a task.


In this case, the MO is "take some notes and then explain what they are to your rubber duck". Just like debugging, you'll stop at least once halfway through when you say "waaaait that's not right at all!"


ELI5 : I did not know about this acronym. For those who don't know, it means "Explain me Like I'm 5 years old". https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/


> it means "Explain me Like I'm 5 years old".

Note that it does not actually mean this. It usually means something more like "Explain like I'm 15 years old"

"Fun" fact: ASAP does not mean "As soon as possible" but instead refers to a wide range of urgency levels from "sometime in the next two weeks" to "as soon as you are humanly capable of doing while keeping your risk of major injury below 2% and cost below $300.


"Up goer" is a reference to an XKCD comic written in basic English: https://xkcd.com/1133/


I second the practice of transcribing notes.

This "two-pass" process aids my retention substantially (maybe from 30% retention to 70%).


I have a bind (3+n) to open notes.md file in Sublime Text I can drop things into. Although I don't use it much as often I can write notes directly under some topic in my wiki. It usually fits under some of the 840+ topics I have

https://github.com/nikitavoloboev/knowledge/blob/master/SUMM...

On mobile, I take quick notes with Telegram's Saved Messages.

This kind of question has been asked many times before on HN and elsewhere. Here are some links I collected around note/wiki management.

https://wiki.nikitavoloboev.xyz/other/wiki-workflow#links

Oh and for effortless sharing of notes, I use my tool gitupdate to automatically push changes made to my folder of notes. i.e. here is a commit where I add this very thread to my wiki under `wiki-workflow.md` topic. To do it, I pressed two buttons (`+v) (https://github.com/nikitavoloboev/dotfiles/blob/194d8453b2af...) which runs a KM macro (https://i.imgur.com/fmXgUYv.png).

https://github.com/nikitavoloboev/knowledge/commit/cfaab75dd...


> On mobile, I take quick notes with Telegram's Saved Messages.

This is a great idea. I use it all the time. I use the Histre integration to push these Telegram notes automatically to https://histre.com/ (disclaimer: mine) for a full proper notes with tags, searchability, sharing etc: https://histre.com/blog/take-notes-with-telegram/


I’ve been marveling over your repo all day (and night). So great!

Do you auto generate the SUMMARY.md files, if so how? A script doing a simple recursive directory walk?


It uses Manage Notes workflow I made (https://github.com/nikitavoloboev/small-workflows#personal-w...).

The workflow also lets me create hyperlinks between documents within the wiki.


If you are already an Emacs user, try org-roam. It encourages to divide the note writing into short chunks that can be easily linked together (as in Roam), but you get all the goodies of the org-mode ecosystem, including:

- For programming, you can use org-babel to write short snippets that you can then run directly in your note (a la IPython notebook, but for pretty much any language). Super-useful if you are learning a new programming language. Alternatively, you can add an org link to specific files/functions inside a code base.

- To promote recall by generating flashcards directly from your notes, add anki-editor to sync with Anki, or org-drill. With Anki you can do reviews from your phone.

- To quickly incorporate a screenshots, use M-x org-download-screenshot (useful while taking notes off an online video or presentation)

- To refer to sources: file links (e.g., PDFs) and web links work out of the box; for academic papers, use org-ref and BibTeX files; if you are on macOS, you can also link to emails (useful to keep track of projects); I am still figuring out the synchronizations with PDF annotations.

- If you need math equations, use LaTeX snippets inside your org file and org-fragtog to automatically render them inside your notes (without having to export/compile the entire file as LaTeX).

- Use ag or pt to search through all your notes using fuzzy searching.

Notes are just text files all in the same directory, so you can use git/Dropbox/Google Drive to sync. If you use Dropbox and have an Android phone you can use Orgzly to edit your notes. The most useful feature is that from any app you can "Share" with Orgzly, and add it to one of your notes (I use it to add notes related to podcasts).

I concur with other commenters about making your note taking as frictionless as possible (I have Emacs opened all the time, so org-roam was an easy choice for me)


There are 4 effective methods for taking notes:

1. The Cornell note-taking system

First, divide the page into three parts: one narrow column on the left side, one wide column on the right side, and one section at the bottom part of the page.

Write your notes in the right column of the page. That’s your note-taking column.

As soon as possible after the lecture is over, use the left column to create questions for every part of the notes. That’s your cue column.

When this task is completed, write a short summary in the bottom section of each page.

That’s it! Congratulations!

2. T-notes method

Just divide a page into 2 parts. One part is for writing down terms, equations, formulas and theories. The other part is for definitions, examples, evidence and proof.

3. Mind map method

Write down the main idea in the center of the page. Then draw “branches” every time you need to add a sub-topic or a detail to your scheme. At the end of the lecture you’ll have a detailed flow chart of the content you listened to.

4. Flow note-taking method

A flow-based note-taking method is the most effective way to take notes if you are a fast learner.

The principle of the flow note-taking technique is to represent the ideas you hear using textual and visual information recorded on the page.

The flow note-taking method includes a lot of tables, schemes, arrows, points, offshoots – anything that helps you to represent your “mental model.”

More details and examples are here https://ivypanda.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-...


While not exactly a note taking method, Flash cards a la Anki come to mind.


It's a truth that teaching is the best way to learn; even if you never "teach" the course you're learning it's useful write down key points as questions (along with their answers in your notes) and compose an exam from the material you just learned as though you're going to use it to test someone else's knowledge. Then take the exam you created, first right after you're done with your learning session and then again the next day before you start with your next session. The act of recalling from memory what you've learned is key to locking in information for long-term retrieval. (And your collection of practice exams make for a great way to cumulatively test that you're recalling everything you've learned.)

This and many more tricks were learned by reading "Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning" -- https://www.amazon.com/Make-Stick-Science-Successful-Learnin...


I've heard of Serge Lang [0] that, when he wanted to learn something, he would write a book about it.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serge_Lang


I made it a point to take detailed notes for all of my lectures in college, and I did pretty well in my courses as a result! So here's some advice.

Consider taking notes by hand instead of using a computer. I found one study from some time ago that suggested handwritten notes are better: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095679761452458... I personally find taking notes by hand better for me. Since I can't find any studies replicating the result of the one I cited, I suggest trying it out and see if it helps!

When I was taking notes for class lectures, I would split sections of notes by date, titling subsections in a given day as appropriate. This sort of chunking will help you remember the notes better, rather than writing in one continuous stream. If you're taking online courses to learn some programming languages, I think this method will work! If not, I would suggest keeping a notebook per programming language and just organize your notes by day.

When taking notes, you do NOT want to copy what's on screen or what's being talked about verbatim. You want to capture just the highlights, so that they'll jog your memory later. I generally write tons of bullet points instead of complete sentences, and I end up with more of an outline at the end than paragraphs of information. If you need the finer details, it's better to go back and review the source material itself.

Once you have your notes, you can review them by going day-by-day. For your case, if you need to refer to previous sections quickly, consider bookmarking them with sticky notes. (Not sure how you would do this digitally.) You might be surprised to find that the act of writing down the notes was enough to keep them in your head, and you may not actually need to review your notes often.

Hope this helps!


Taking notes for study, I have to use pen & paper. I just don't retain anything I don't write down. (I have a very terrible shorthand, basically illegible to anyone else.)

Taking minutes for meetings, I have to use a computer. I'm able to kind of get into a stenographer flow state. I capture a lot but remember Little.

I have no idea how or why these strategies work.


The system I have personally settled on is tracking todo/task related information in a paper notebook, copying the relevant info for each day to a new section each morning. For personal knowledge, lab notebooks, etc I keep them in dated markdown files in a single notes directory, which makes them easily searchable. If you want a good markdown editor, checkout Remarkable (https://remarkableapp.github.io/).

As other commenters have pointed out, don't worry too much about sticking obsessively to one system. Just try one out, and if it works well (enough) for you stick to it.

There are several old threads that are pretty helpful covering this topic as well:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20101911

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21419478

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22473209

https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...


Since 2012, I've used a single folder of text files organized by date. The titles follow this format:

[Creation date] [Subject]

So if I'm taking notes on, for example, Regex use in Python, the text file is titled:

2020-07-15 Python Regex

The notes themselves are loosely formatted with markdown, including code blocks for code.

I have about 3k of these files at this point, all in one folder and easily searchable.

I've found this is the best way to take short notes, for me at least. Even if you can't remember what you would have titled a note, it's always pretty easy to remember about how long ago you took it.

There are a variety of text editors with interfaces that designed for this style of note taking, displaying the text files in a searchable list with syntax highlighting for Markdown and the internal code blocks in the notes. Here are some (on Mac, but there are others):

- Notational Velocity (ancient and outdated)

- nvAlt (old)

- nvUltra (in eternal closed beta)

- Ulysses

Currently I use Ulysses and it works pretty well. The syntax highlighting for Markdown and internal code blocks is decent, with a great UI. It does tend to get bogged down with super long files, so you need to break those up.

Before this system I tried many alternatives over many years. But eventually every program becomes outdated, and then you are dealing with incompatible file formats etc. The good thing about this system is that in the end it's just a folder of text files, and there will probably always be good text editors.


That's a great system.

I will often remember when I was thinking about something. Using your system, I'd be able to better retrieve stuff.

I will also remember where. In a future perfect world where you and I create the ultimate notes app, we'll have to also add geolocation to each note's metadata.


Try my https://histre.com/ to take notes on things you read online. I use it extensively of course.

- It suggests appropriate tags you. #python etc. This lets you review things by topic.

- Tags are inlined in your notes. You don't have to create them first

- If you want to publish some of these notes, you just add #pub

- You can also publish notebooks (collections of notes). You can think of it as lightweight super fast blogging. This will help you get a following on a subject, without having to spend a lot of time doing it.

Examples: SaaS Pricing https://histre.com/notebooks/03lt8gml/saas-pricing/ ; New Project https://histre.com/pub/notebooks/x6rfhtd5/links-for-starting...

- Highlight sections in the web page you like to review later


A paper notebook is severely underrated.

I tried replacing it with onenote, chery tree and others. It's just not the same.

Things I write down by hand seem to be burned in my brain much easier than when I mindlessly type them on the keyboard.


You could, kind of, combine the benefits of both by using something like Rocketbook.

It's a re-usable (original version can be wiped with microwaving it) paper notebook designed to be OCRed into Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox and others.


I feel the same. But,i think taking notes in software is faster.


And you can't "grep dead trees" (search paper notes).


Ted Nelson disagrees with you. No hyperlinks, no real connections, no networks. Too many limitations.


Cheatsheets are a very helpful resource and you need to have a tool to keep, interlink, retrieve and organize them. A physical notebook is not the optimal choice because of some limitations like fast retrieval of topics and almost impossible filtered searching etc. Organize your "new things" and resources to cheatsheets in a Zettelkasten like tool. You can use a simple text editor or there are applications and plug-ins available to get a Zettelkasten-like app. I personally use Passfindr (https://passfindr.com), a freemium Personal Information Manager with powerful and fast search capabilities.

Learn what a Zettelkasten (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettelkasten) is, how it can help you and make yourself familiar with its concept.


Apple Notes for long-running projects or anything I want to come back to and expand upon in the future. Since I expect to read these notes more than write them, I optimize for searchability and access.

If you're into apple ecosystem, nothing beats Apple Notes - seamless access right from the spotlight search, you can paste images or files right into notes (surprisingly few apps have that feature - it's a must for me), to-do lists that just work, cloud-sync, so on. And it all comes built-in, for free. I've tried all major alternatives and I always come back.

Paper notebook for daily plans and short-term notes. I don't expect to refer back to those notes in the distant future, so I choose to optimize for writing experience, and nothing I've tried beats paper.

A personal blog for anything worth sharing. In my case it's a bunch of markdown files in a static site generator.


If learning is the goal, I highly recommend taking notes into a flash card system (I use and recommend Anki). Then review your flash cards daily.

You can always refer to the flash cards like regular notes, but by memorizing the information instead of just jotting it down you greatly increase the speed at which you learn new things.


I make photocopies of all my notes: the original gets filed by title, and the copy goes into a Leitner box after having key details redacted.


I surveyed 50 engineers a little while ago on how they take notes. This is what I learned.

Most people's notes have two phases [0]:

1) Jot-down

2) Organize

In the jot-down phase, you write down thoughts and gather any raw resources that are useful to you (code snippets, links, etc.). These notes are messy.

In the organize phase, you pull notes from your jot-down that are worth keeping and refine/categorize them. These become your reference notes.

Usually people use two different tools - one for jot-down and one for organize. This leads to lots of copy-paste and things being more difficult to find later. Working on a tool [1] for fast jot-down and organize in one place,

--

[0] over 90% of people surveyed used Apple Notes, Google Keep, or raw text files for their notes.

[1] https://bytebase.io


this sounds like zettelkasten method.


Just my opinions:

Try to avoid getting into rote learning. I learned that way as a kid, I'll find myself writing squiggly notes just because somehow it makes me remember stuff the act of writing something.

For coding stuff I don't really have notes about "coding" more on random neat tricks/concepts(like about Git/Systemd), which means store them somewhere eg. an app that has a global search like OneNote/Evernote/Notes(Mac).

For general fast learning I recommend crash courses on YouTube eg. by Traversy Media/others.

Also using sandboxes where some code is already setup so you can have something to work from.

Generally though I think practice is what will make it stick and personal desire to achieve/build something that you want.


You should try http://roamresearch.com/ and follow #RoamCult on Twitter - they are way ahead on note taking.


Looks nice but that is paid service. Unfortunately i can't afford.


If you use macOS and/or iOS check FSNotes out: https://fsnot.es/

It's really powerful if you go through all of it's capabilities, but can be used quite simply too.



It’s down to whatever works for you.

I find I memorise concepts well when there’s some kind of physicality to them, and I’ve therefore repeatedly gone for the “serial killer wall” method of note taking - in my case, it tends to be multiple A4 sheets with handwritten notes or printed reference sheets plastered on every visible surface around my workspace, using cork pinboards for more space, with an arrangement of information that makes sense to me - I like a four coloured biro for splitting out either dimensions or topics of information, and sharpie or string to link disconnected areas together. This translates well for digital applications, like coding and electronic engineering, physical applications, and more abstract learning efforts, like cramming a masters in physics, or learning a language.

Yes, you can replicate this with a wiki or hyperlinked whatever, and I sometimes do for pocket guides, but being able to fetch information at a glance is key to making that recall just happen without looking, for me.

The structuring of the notes takes an effort in understanding, in creating a landscape of interconnected information - and the structure of the notes becomes the physical representation of the structure of the information framework. I then, later, when referring to some part of some knowledge acquired this way, find my mind’s eye using that same structure to identify the relevant information.

Anyway. It really is whatever works for you, and trial and error will get you there - for me, it’s paper, pen, and somewhere to put it all.


I have been thinking on these lines myself and here is what i have settled on for studying of non-trivial subjects/ideas/concepts etc. (NOT for Todo/Task list/Journals etc.);

1) Use paper and pencil/pen to write down everything. You can use a computer based tool later for transcribing it into electronic form(weekly/monthly). Studies have shown that writing by hand engages the whole mind/body and helps in retention.

2) Use a simple system like the "Cornell Note-taking System"(http://lsc.cornell.edu/study-skills/cornell-note-taking-syst...) or anything else of your choice. It should not be too complex so as not to unnecessarily distract from the object of the study.

3) As you take the notes mix both textual and graphical methods to express and amplify the idea/concept as required. The key is to use whatever feels natural to express clarity and facilitate understanding. Use precise mathematical notation/graphs as much as possible eg; Venn diagrams, Tree diagrams, X-Y co-ordinates, Statistical graphs etc (the book Mathematical Notation: A Guide for Engineers and Scientists is helpful to gain fluency in mathematical notation). I suggest writing text on the vertical left half-side of the page and pictures/graphs on the other half similar to how some Maths texts show their graphs on the margin next to the text (think also "Literate Programming"). Take a look also at Leonardo da vinci's notebooks for inspiration.


A strategy that's helped me: After you've decided what topic you want learn follow these steps. 1. Quickly familiarize yourself with the topic. I usually watch a quick video on the topic (<10min). This helps you familiarize yourself with terminology, concepts, and why it's important to learn. 2. Next find a cheatsheet. Print it out if you can or grab a notebook. You want something that's already done some of the leg work for you. If you can't find a cheatsheet, go back through the tutorial video and in a notebook, write out concepts they mention, leave some space between them, you'll fill in details later. 3. Follow along to more in depth guide. Be it a tutorial video, course, written document. When going through your course, in your cheatsheet or notebook fill in concepts that you've missed and add short notes to your cheatsheet. This will help you learn more because you'll memorize concepts as you write notes along with it. Don't rush and after you've written something out, close your eyes and actively try to recall what you've written. Active recall is one of the best methods for memorization. Also, these cheatsheets can sit on your desk and you can reference them when you begin to code something in the language you've just learned.


I've researched the several ways to do this and found that a combination of the following usually works for me:

- Samsung Note device using an S-Pen to either draw diagrams, rough sketches, or jot notes and then later convert them to saved image files.

- Fountain pens and individual notebooks for meeting notes, book excerpts, quotes, etc. I find that writing down things and having no structure just leads to confusion and a mess of notes that's more time consuming to find when needed. Having sections or just dedicated pages for topics makes it manageable.

- Jotlin app for extensive note taking on a particular topic/interest that wouldn't fit neatly into a couple of handwritten pages.

- Apple Notes/Google Keep rarely but it does serve its purpose if there's nothing else available.

- I type faster than I write and when taking notes or highlighting captures from a book, Google Books has a very useful way of creating a doc file from everything highlighted: book page, page number, relevant highlighted section.

I've tried the whole Bullet Journal techniques and found that it's just an obsessive methodology of note taking with a steep learning curve, it didn't serve my purposes though and I don't knock it if others find it valuable.


I dump my notes in three categories:

- Links that I find interesting which I'd like to archive: https://bollu.github.io/todo.html

- Short pieces that are accessible to folks with background. This goes on the blog: https://bollu.github.io/. Visualizations of theorems, which are far scarcer than I like on the internet, also go up on the blog.

- Long form notes from books and courses goes into a notes repo where I write up stuff in latex: https://github.com/bollu/notes/blob/master/algebra/main.pdf [This is an example of the notes I've been taking while attending AGITTOC: Algebraic geometry in the time of covid]. The latex file: https://github.com/bollu/notes/blob/master/algebra/main.tex

- The blog and links are powered by latex-enabled markdown. (i) blog https://github.com/bollu/bollu.github.io/blob/master/README.... (ii) todo: https://github.com/bollu/bollu.github.io/blob/master/todo.md

All of these tools are motivated by a principle of being fast and easy to edit; Otherwise, I literally can't take notes because it doesn't feel as fluid. So I have symlinks to README.md and todo.md in my home folder, and similarly for whatever course I am attending currently. I edit very little, I write down the idea I am interested in and then git push.

I feel this system works well for me. I'm able to go back and review ideas that I had seen before and polish them up. It's fast, easy to write, upload, and share.

I've tried using other elaborate methods [org-mode, evernote, ...] but none of them had the simplicity of:

1. Open a plaintext file, wherever you are [I am always in a position to open a plaintext file, whether from my IDE or from the command line]. 2. Start writing 3. $$$

So I strongly recommend some system that is as simple as "open a file and start writing".

Hope this hepls.


Check out 'The psychology of effective studying' by Paul Penn. Thought it was going to be dry but actually pretty helpful.

He goes through study techniques and backs up their effectiveness by discussing research experiments conducted around them.

Chapter 3 is on academic reading and note taking. It's very good.

Penn recommends the read, recite, review method. @Yvonne_McQ comment gave you some really cool ways to do this like The Cornell note-taking system.

Penn's main point is your memory doesn’t work like a camera, so stop studying as if it did. He says you don’t reproduce information with your memory, you reconstruct it.

Penn also argues that repetition is not the most effective means of committing information to memory. Thinking is the key to memory so he says if you want to remember something, work on explaining it.

He cautions the reader with how we summarise. Not all summaries are equal. He gives an example by asking you to try summarise the story of batman the dark night. You could talk about Harvey Dent and the Joker being the pillars of good and evil and how Harvey becomes two face or you can summarise the film as 'Wealthy man assaults the mentally ill'.

Finally he says to treat everything your trying to learn like 50 shades of grey.

As in people picked up the book with an idea of what they want to get out if it before they started. They skiped over the content that didn't match what they were looking for. They extracted the good bits. When they put the book down it's the good bits they remembered.

Read, recite, review. Check out the Cornell note-taking system mentioned by Yvonne_McQ and Check out 'The psychology of effective studying' by Paul Penn.


I’ve tried everything, and my latest iteration is a single textfile in markdown for everything (topical notes, personal TODOs, work TODOs, random paste snippets etc) which then gets turned into HTML for easy viewing (I may style it in the future). It’s also in git, and on the hour, cron commits the changes themselves as the git message itself so changes are searchable via git log.


I use 2 systems. For online note writing the key thing is low friction, so use a real editor you're very familiar with and make the system as simple as possible. I personally use neovim with vimwiki and a plugin called notational-fzf-vim. This makes it very fast to search and very fast to start new notes. A lot of people have a similar system using org-mode in emacs. The main thing is that it works well for you and doesn't introduce friction and slow you down.

The vast majority of my note-taking is in paper notebooks. I personally use a leuchterm notebook, zebra sarasta pens and a system of my own design that is similar to the "bullet journal" system but modified a bit to suit my needs a little better. I personally find if I'm attending a meeting, taking notes in a paper journal makes me more 'present' and able to concentrate than using a laptop (even though I've been using computers for ever, can touchtype fluently etc). I also find a paper system helps me with recall compared with typing. Obviously a lot of people prefer a digital format. I use a completely standard pen and notebook so all my notes and notebooks look exactly the same, and put every note on a separate page (eg if I have several meetings the notes each start on a separate page). I have also find this combination works well for ocr when I need to, so it's very easy for me to just take a snapshot of a page in my notebook if I need to send it to someone, put it in something like evernote or OneNote or whatever.

I second the comments a few people have made around retyping/rewriting notes etc. I find "curation" activities of this kind incredibly helpful as they are a forcing function to think again about things, helping me with recall and conceptual clarity. So would strongly recommend you try this.

//Couple of updates about process


Depends partly on how you learn, generally a better approach to learning a programming language (from my perspective) would be to work on a project or some problems that way you will have runnable code in that language that you can reference back to at any point. If you do take programming notes it is also useful to capture edge cases or syntax comparisons either against two languages or different approaches you can take in a single language rather than just noting down syntax.

Having said that I have in the past captured a Syntax file for a programming language I was learning e.g: https://github.com/harveytoro/TIL/blob/master/go/syntax.md

But more recently if I just want to refresh my knowledge on the syntax of a language I use: https://learnxinyminutes.com which has syntax cheatsheets for a lot of languages


When I was in college I more or less tried a different note-taking system every semester.

I tried just writing things down free-form, making flashcards while I was in the lecture, drawing mind maps, drawing one continuous mind map that would be compressed over the weeks of the class.

They all had benefits and draw backs. Flash cards were kind of fiddly and distracting to make. Freeform notes were slightly disorganised.

Whatever I did, I found it helps. For note taking, the act of taking notes is more important than what remains at the end. Be honest, how often do you really go over your notes?

For things you absolutely have to know, I really do recommend flashcards. That said, I think they are quite difficult to produce when you are are learning something new. Flashcards aren't really for learning, they are for not forgetting.


There is no right answer. For what I do, I use a paper bound notebook, and take notes using mindmaps with annotations as necessary on the right margin.

Writing things down doesn’t aid my recall and distracts me from whatever is going on.

My goal is to memorialize important items and provide anchor points so that I can reconstruct memory or effectively use a reference source. It’s a system that works for me, but I’m not an attorney or someone who is pulling information from a person or some source that is gone forever once the conversation is over.

I would recommend not futzing around with apps. Come up with something that works on paper with pencil. Then if you need to, find an app. Productivity porn is a huge time suck.


I take notes by finding common concepts among different topics and constructing a hierarchical mental model of the domain i'm taking notes on. for example, for programming languages, while there might be many dozens of languages, they all share similar components:

- data structures

    - boolean
    - array
    - hash
    - ...
- control flow

    - for
    - if
    - ...
- io

    - read/write
    - ...
I use https://dendron.so to actually take my notes. Its a markdown based, hierarchical note-taking application built on top of VSCode (disclaimer - i'm the author)


I take notes in Markdown as [gists](https://gist.github.com/) on GitHub. The web editor for GitHub is pretty good, does excellent code formatting, and has some other web niceties. Plus all my stuff stays in one place.

I'm a little biased with this workflow because I wrote an iOS client that lets you manage notes as GitHub gists. If this flow sounds attractive you can check OctoNote out here: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/octonote/id1433164731


joplin is similar.


Cheatsheets are helpful when you already studied the thing, but not as your only source of info. The way I used to take notes at uni for example was to do it in layers. First, take a lot of notes, including your own impresions about what you're reading/writing/listening, be very verbose. Then start going through your notes and generate a summary of them. And then a summary of the summary over and over again until you get to something that is as short as a cheatsheet. This is indeed time-consuming but when you do have time it's very effective, at least it worked pretty well for me.


I have terminal bound to "<super>+<enter>". From there I run "cat > title.txt" or "cat >> title.txt" and type whatever I want to save. It's as frictionless as it can be.


I've been using Foam for VSCode for taking notes for some time now. After trying a bunch of different apps this one really struck a chord with me. Just a simple way to take notes easily with plain markdown files and links.

- It's helpful to quickly get something out of your brain

- You can easily link related files together or use VScode search to find something. No need for a bunch of categories and nested folders.

[0]: https://foambubble.github.io/foam/


Since you want to quickly revise topics in a new complicated subject, I'd suggest simply slowing down and writing really thoughtful notes on the subject. Use elements of recall to really get a picture of where your understanding is at, itll help you build the lattice of your knowledge and that lattice will be strengthened when you review your notes.

I dont think cheatsheets are helpful personally. Unless you are just talking about syntax.

Also specific methods might be worth a look down the line, but initially I dont think it makes sense.


I suggest two systems.

1. Long term notes - in your website - non blog - just a website, keep them small, cheatsheet but long term.

2. Short term notes - where you dump your stuff into - for this you can use tiddlywiki.


If you need to search a personal wiki can help. I run one in a docker container. No real organisation just a few good keywords and I can normally search for the thing I wanted.


You might want to give Org mode (in emacs) a try. It was actually created to quickly take notes in a structured way. Emacs can seem intimidating but you will need very less time to learn the basics, especially if your goal is to just use org mode for note-taking. Link: orgmode.org

Quick tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzZ09dAbLEE


Let's face it, most notes are actually ephemeral. For me these go on paper or in a random Sublime text window which I never save to disk.

Everything else goes into Notion.


Start with whatever feels intuitive to you. Whenever you feel your current note-taking method isn't good enough, improve on that.

Maybe your notes will suck and you'll never read them, but it will still help to have written them.

Maybe you'll read your notes and think they suck, and you'll know what you wish you'd written.

I don't think you can "remember everything in notes" in a one-shot process, though.


It’s very easy to let notetaking overwhelm the real goal— learning. I’ve had good luck putting my full attention into whatever reading material or exercise I’m working on.

I don’t take any notes until the end of the session, when I do an informal debriefing to summarize what I learned, which isn’t necessarily what I set out to learn.


Everything that you take notes on, explain it out loud to someone (or something) as if they know nothing about the subject.

Or, to abuse language horribly, rubber duck like they're five.

This forces you to not only remember, but understand, what you're trying to learn.


This question comes up quite often and I tend to believe a lot of people focus more on the tool rather than on goal.

It's the reason plain pencil and sheet of paper may be much more beneficial if we focus on the goal but not on the path.


If you want to go nuts you can take a look at the Zettelkasten method: https://zettelkasten.de/posts/overview/


I recently started using this script in a dedicated directory in my home folder: /home/user/daily_logs/

----

#!/bin/bash

## create personal log file for tracking tasks

vi logfile_$(date +%m%d%y_%j)

---------

This creates a logfile date stamped so I can reference what I was doing that day.


You can use your prepared detailed cheatsheet notes books for programming languages from

Link: https://books.goalkicker.com


I used to take notes on a pad, old school. Then I realized I never looked at them again. If it's important, I send myself an email. Or keep a draft around for a few days.


https://orgmode.org/

It's just incredible how much can be done with it.


Just use a single google doc sheet, everything goes in there and you can access from almost anywhere.


how many pages do you have in that single doc?


I have a collection of org files hosted in a private github repository.


Cheatsheets and blog posts are what helped me most.


Did you use some physical medium like paper to take notes? Or did you go software way of taking notes?


I haven't used a physical medium to take notes in over a decade. You can't copy and paste from a paper notebook.

I'd add that I use markdown


I don’t.




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