> But most people who write about note-taking don’t seem particularly accomplished in their own fields, whatever those may be. In fact, most such writers aren’t applying their notes to some exogenous creative problem: their primary creative work is writing about productivity. These writers offer advice on note-taking to help scientists and executives with the challenges of their work, but the advice was developed in a context disconnected from those external realities.
Essentially, be wary of taking advice about reading, research, writing, or anything else from people whose primary contribution to the world is telling people how to read, research, and write. Instead, listen to people who have used these techniques to make a substantial contribution to a field of knowledge.
The problem is that those people are far more interested in doing research and writing than teaching other people how to do it.
Edwards is an academic historian of science who write incredibly long and dense books drawing on hundreds of sources. If anyone knows how to read, its him, and his advice was truly useful for my own reading.
This person, however, seems worthy of consideration.
Indeed many a bookshelf is littered with such babble, but to group Nobel laureate, Danny Khaneman into that group would be a gross overestimation.
Even though all real learning is at least 80% internal and must be owned-and-operated by the student... maybe there's a role for spoonfed knowledge. Certainly there's a role for teachers (disagreeing with "good students learn alone"), even if morale-management and goal-setting is a surprisingly large fraction of it. But even spoonfed knowledge is helpful. For example, as far as I can tell, most good mathematicians have a lot of spoonfed knowledge as part of their learning history (but they also have even more self-guided exploration, and even the spoonfed stuff you gotta chew on it and digest it).
Agreed, though, that a lot of articles like this are clickbaity and, like sugar, give you a sensation of learning rather than what you really need. This particular article, I think, contains a mish-mash of good advice and, uh, pureed pap. It's certainly not worst-of-breed.
I'm guilty of this myself. My interests and struggle become topic of suggestions to others even though it's half good ideas half fluff.
This is a wonderfully honest observation.
I suspect we all have this experience; I certainly do. Of course the suggestions come from an honest place, but often the verbalized outputs do not live up to the epistemic standards we would like to hold ourselves to.
I think perhaps I should less say "do this" and instead more say "here is my experience, and my current theory about that experience, and what I'm trying to do to improve". Or perhaps even "I wonder if...".
It turns out that I had to re-write this comment to follow my own advice, and I think in this case it was in fact helpful, at least for me. That's pleasing.
As someone who has many opportunities to give advice to people 20 years younger than me, I'm doing a lot of "well, I used to think X, and now I don't, so a similar evolution may happen to you". Maybe that's also relevant. Maybe it's just a bad old-man habit.
Indeed that's what I did for a few years. My ideas have shifted now, I stopped discussing much (life is short) instead you do stuff. And suddenly mediocre companies feel a lot more valuable because instead of talking theories they do stuff.
I guess I'm just rediscovering life... know how to gather a bunch of people and make something useful and enjoyable for many.
Looking at the more substantial link that you provided now, thanks for sharing!
The intersection of "great at X" and "great at explaining" is often very small. In practice, you end up having to make trade-offs like wading through poor exposition because the author is the real deal. Another common failure mode is what we see here: People that are so good at explaining, hustling, and branding, that they become popular despite likely having very little expertise at X.
His method may work for him but it doesn't mean he has a complete understanding of how to learn it general. He can learn, but he may not know how he does it or how others should do it.
basically go back and forth between trying to ELI5 the thing, and reading source material.
But he's a great demonstration of Matuschak's point. Luhmnam wrote dozens of books about a wide range of topics, enabled by Zettelkasten, and then wrote a couple of essays towards the end of his career about how he did it.
Did he? I though we have his archive and we know how he used it (from some interview, I think). Didn't thought he wrote about it directly in his system. Do you have source on that?
Almost by definition, truly top athletes are unlikely to be able to have coaches more accomplished than them, especially when you consider the overall trend-line in sports performance is upward. So clearly "more accomplished than you" is not a strict requirement. But it might still be the optimum for everyone else.
I think my personal model is this: First of all, the most-important asset for a coach is that they have a correct model of improvement in the field. That doesn't strictly require them to be any good at all. However, they're much more likely to develop a correct model if they put a bunch of time into trying to be good. And also, if they were never good, they're much more in danger of having a subtly-totally-wrong model of how improvement would work. So although it's not strictly necessary that they be any good at the activity itself, it markedly improves both upside risk and downside risk.
The best way to read this, or most of the internet really, in my opinion, is as if he were a friend, a colleague, family or an acquaintance, not as an authority; you listen politely, nod and smile, and reflect/research on your own on what it seems useful.
At the end of the day, the web enabled anyone to write, and this guy should not self censor just because that advice could be given elsewhere by a more authoritative role. It is his personal blog that we are visiting! If you were talking to a friend over coffee/beer about an idea that seems important to you that he hears, wouldn’t you be energetic, perhaps taking an “authoritative” tone? Not far-fetched!
This is the world we live in now. Self-promotion and public relations are the controlling factors in most large decisions I see in my profession (higher education) that it's just, well, sickening.
It seems like, across most fields, public relations and how we are perceived is far more important than the work actually getting done.
If you can wrap up a shit sandwich in a pretty bow and sell it, why worry about the quality of what you're selling?
It's depressing. Honestly, it drags me down on a daily basis to see people who plainly have no function except to be self-promoting and who can play the PR game get ahead consistently.
And the best part is, it's an impotent rage. What is there even to do about this? I have no idea.
My intention was to become create a system for myself, and I decided to share that on my personal blog with friends and people who know me. So the original intention was to share something that I'm using myself, and something that I've spent 10+ hours researching.
Would love to hear your opinion
(Kidding, not kidding... I'm more annoyed by "founder" specialness/pithy comments on Twitter than productivity hacks, though, I haven't seen a Roam submission in a few days; And yes, I know where I am).
So, yeah, I wish people applied some self-restraint when posting these things. As much as we can develop a bullshit detector, there is only so much time we can spend calling out BS vendors in our lives.
It's the people that got some kind of success in one field (whether by luck, talent, hard work or a combination of it) and start thinking that they have authority to talk about anything else. The bad part is when the masses start actually giving credit to them without any further scrutiny.
Actors/celebrities and their fan bases are the best example of this effect.
I cannot take such people very seriously either and feel all these "life coaching 101" courses/events are no different to new programmers getting stuck in a never ending spiral of tutorials. You're constantly reminded how everything is _just_ out of reach although another course will help get there...
90% of her content is about ARM exploitation (which I'm personally not interested in). However, she has a couple of posts on how she learns and works, that are believable to me thanks to the rest of her content.
She's also not selling coaching, she's selling her technical skills.
The entire idea of “optimizing” the way you read or take notes is itself a farce built on the same desperate need for easy life hacks over just doing the damn work. If you enjoy reading, it won’t feel like work either!
I can't count how many "techniques" I came up with myself over the years. Enthusiastic, convinced and most importantly, of course, not successful. Motivated, getting-things-done people don't have some secret methodology, they have enough dopamine to take a risk in energy expenditure. You know which totally secret behavior will increase productivity? Taking a pill of amphetamine every morning.
Not saying y'all got ADHD, but there is a spectrum and it's not bullshit. If you constantly feel the need to explode tasks and compulsively need to get to the "root" of the problem, thoroughly prepare each new project, but got a hard time actually starting (or finishing) anything... Another guide is not your solution.
You need to learn to endure the unfair pain of extra boredom and the feeling (self)stimulatory deprivation; help your brain to dopamine with diet, with timing sugar and frequently exercise. Or get ADHD diagnostic, if things were like this since childhood and you always struggled. <3
> help your brain to dopamine with diet, with timing sugar
Could you expand?
I have been on a strict diet the past few weeks and exercising every day, I do think it's helped but I am still stuck.
There are a ton of other things, which overlap with ADHD symptoms. Bipolar PD, depression, hidden sleep problems (like apnea), anxiety, nutritional deficiencies, ... . Many of these things also come comorbid, unfortunately. Either way it's not an easy diagnosis and takes time to untangle.
Wish you all the best <3
It's like I could have a hobby now that wasn't an addiction, that I can enjoy an activity that isn't a compulsion.
Anyhow, thanks for your help.
I still have a long way to go to learn time management and be better self directed, but this time I feel like I have a chance.
I do want a sincere diagnosis but I am worried I won't be able to make progress if the doc is only with me for 15 minutes, as it has been in the past. Maybe that's just the medical culture in America.
The ADHD symptoms speak strongly to me, especially about focus and motivation. Anyhow I read all your replies, will give it a shot. Much appreciated.
Think Facebook notifications. The excitement is not knowing what the notification is telling you about.
Dopamine manages how long you can do a task before you evaluate its success; the risk of energy expenditure. Think of how long a path finding algorithm goes into one direction before aborting; with the evolutionary twist of a survival restraints on overall energy expenditure, which means there is a feedback loop modifying the risk capacity on success or failure.
Normal people start with more and overfill with completed tasks (if rewarding), so they got more for the next plan. That is, you got a bit of dopamine for putting on your pants in the morning. In ADHD you _constantly fight the lack of (non-abstract) motivation for such simple things, because you got a chronic deficit. Daily life already costs you a lot of "will power".
Yo. And check out /r/adhd! You won't learn how to cope there, since everybody just shares their "successful" techniques that they got going for a week ;)
But it's super helpful to see how other people are like you, that it's actually not your fucking fault (pretty much saved my life...), that you're not lazy, and so on. ADHD also comes with a burden on your social life, from coming late, being impulsive and too easily aborting friendships (the radicalism on alleged principles, which I mentioned at the learning part) and so on, so it's good to untangle all that in the stories of others. Also that sub doesn't try to sell you ADHD as a blessing, which is good. You may "benefit" from divergent thinking and creativity at times, which come with the loose and jumpy focus, but ultimately it's a heavy burden, which has a toll on your life and health.
Daily exercise lifts your dopamine "base level".
However, if you really got ADHD you wanna try Ritalin, or Vyvanse. These stimulants work differently in ADHD brains than normal ones. To give you an idea: Some people take a small dose Ritalin right before bed, to calm their thoughts. I was skeptical about meds, but then I read in ADHD these stimulants actually "normalize" the brain as a long term "side effect". How often do you read that about psycho-pharmaca? They come at cost tho, of course, first medication I got with "sudden death" as a side effect... I also have trouble holding my weight (going too low), which started to scare me a little.
People who talk as experts about areas their experience and accomplishments haven't aligned with always raise this. In this case, don't tell me how to learn when I question how much learning you've done.
The opposite of this is Adrian Colyer's the morning paper , where I'd love to learn Adrian's process of ingesting so much technical information.
As an aside, there are folks with expertise in certain areas that dip into a wide ranging set of topic. I try to remind myself of their expertise and discount heavily their opinion on other things:
Elon Musk talking about anything not related to launching a car or space company. Elon's opinions about Covid-19 testing the latest example.
Sam Atman talking about anything not related to VC investing.
 - https://blog.acolyer.org/
Just another blog post telling people how to live by a person whose whole existence revolves around that process.
And yet, inexplicably, this drivel is somehow popular. I guess clueless people feel like they could learn something while not realizing that author himself doesn't know what he's talking about.
It's fascinating to me as a Briton because we don't have such a culture.
I was always surprised in lectures watching people divide their attention between actually listening and trying to write structured notes. Most of the time there's a book which was structured by a pro. Rather than re-reading your own notes which reify misunderstandings from the 1st encounter.
Meanwhile, sites like Paul's Math Notes and Khan academy are easier to digest, clearer explained, and much more available.
It would be great if you add your feedback and ideas about the topic. I'd be happy to learn from you on how you read books and what works.
Have a great day.
The top comment at the link above says it all.
Organization and motivation are important, though.
This is just flat out wrong for non-fiction. This is not a good way to use books or any research material, except perhaps meta-analysis’ but even then with caution.
It doesn’t matter how many 5 star reviews it has, or who wrote it. You will be far better served by reading many writers on the topic and using your learning from each to compare and contrast between the materials and arrive at a deeper understanding.
For example, there are thousands of books with a theme that could be written as “how i got rich”. Every single one of these books tells the version of the story the author would like you to believe rather than the actual truth because the simple fact is the author themselves, despite living that life, may not actually know the truth of the matter themselves. Plus some actively seek to deceive.
Plus the author doesn't even seem to do this himself, his reading list is roughly 30 books on the same topic of pop "productivity" and selling the dream of having a successful business career.
There are certainly singular books that have changed me, but I never went into them knowing the impact they'd have ahead of time -- how could I? In my reading habits I always try to be curious, open, and meandering. "Productivity" is for boring people.
No matter how you spin it, it's a feel good line. It's a line that cannot even work in theory, as you cannot know the book changes your life prior to reading it.
That said, I agree with you that having more sources of information reduces the risk of falling to the misconceptions of one or a few authors.
Book reviews and ratings saves you time by helping you avoid the bad ones to begin with. In that case good star reviews does matter. The reviews helps you avoid those books that you mention in your example.
Though I agree that reading widely does help, it makes sense to focus your limited time to read and use sources that have been thoroughly reviewed by other people
- If I find the book is very daunting but also very valuable, I read it multiple times from start till end. First time without stopping for reading references, then another pass for researching topics, references, etc. and then finally once more to read everything again with the newly acquired knowledge to find some things that I may have missed, things that I might have understood incorrectly and to improve retention.
- I always keep notebook close by to note anything that comes to my mind. Some things are triggered by reading the book and some things are completely unrelated. I write them down so that they don't distract me from reading.
- I have special place in my office where I put a book so that it is visible to me whatever I do. It serves as a constant reminder to get it finished.
- When I was young I learned to speed read. When I grew up little more I unlearned. It impairs comprehension.
It did take a while to get over the feeling of sacrilege of the book, but it has been useful.
First, I am far more likely to remember what I have written than what I read. So it's a great device for helping to cement the material in your mind.
Second, it helps overcome a sort of inertia I have where if I'm not reading a book, there's a hurdle to picking it back up. If there's a note in the book sort of summarizing where I'm at, it not only removes that hurdle, but I have the subjective feeling that I'm back into it with a running start, rather than having to turn back a few pages to get back up to speed.
> It did take a while to get over the feeling of sacrilege of the book, but it has been useful.
I believe there's a section in Adler about this, and reading that passage was enough for me. I won't quote or paraphrase, because I'm not sure I'll represent their statements correctly, but I think that's the source of where I'm at with this now. And the change in my perspective was very rapid.
My new perspective on this wasn't to see books as less sacred, but to understand that in order to honor that sacredness, I had to consume this book in a deeper, more meaningful way, and form a real relationship with the book in a way that's probably impossible without writing in the book.
Not to be too cheesy, but there was also a bit of an "Aha!" moment for me watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. With regard to spoilers, the "half-blood prince" (HBP) had a real relationship with that book. It's positively scribbled in, and it made the book better presumably for HBP, but also for Potter who ends up possessing the book.
Tangential but I do this with everything. I like very high levels of organization (blame my aspergers) and thus I found that my motivation to hide unnecessary things from view is pretty high. High enough that I place things in view as a reminder to get them done. An extra laptop on my desk -> I need to transfer the remaining files into my new laptop so that I can finally remove it from view. Book on my desk? Needs to be finished. Sticky note on my island? need to order groceries before I can remove it. I'd turned minimalism into a lifestyle/todo list. Same with the digital world.
You can't know whether book will change your life or not until you read it. If you treat every book too seriously you just waste your time and kill the pleasure of reading.
Everyone should master skimming and their ability to regulate "depth of understanding" based on perceived value.
I gave up on reading non-fiction seriously as I realized that I started to skew non-fiction books due to taking them too seriously.
I, now, learn at lot less from each book but I do take pleasure in reading so it's an overall win.
Furthermore, I can always look deeper into a book if I get really interested into
- Read the book from start till end
- From time to time, I lay the book aside and think about what I just read
People learn differently and I personally don't need notes nor fancy color maps like the author.
Having an external brain like the author has the downside that you can't set things in context (same as wikipedia).
For me the key to learning is this "aha" moment. Once I understand something I remember it for a very long time.
On the other hand it's pointless to reflect on something you already know, understand or simply agree with...
There are plenty of useful things to learn from others to expand and supplement your approach to reading, but for a total understanding of having a relationship with a book/author, Adler can’t be beat.
Reading a bunch of popular bestseller self help books doesn't actually teach you anything, even if you read 5000 of them.
So no advice were given and you don't have to take it. But I'm also always happy to learn from others.
Agree. Your time in life is finite, so one should read only the good stuff (and yes, objectively, some books are better than others).
Wow, what a way to look at things... if life is finite why waste all of your time reading books someone else deems to be be "objectively" better than others? Just read whatever the hell appeals to you and forget about the official "deemed worthy" cannon.
However, you could also try, yourself, to make an educated guess or research what you might read to decide, for yourself, whether you consider it 'worthwhile' to spend your time on. You are setting up a false choice between 'read whatever you feel like without thinking about it at all' and 'only read what they tell you is worth reading', which aren't even choices among the same set of alternatives!
I feel trying to make a perfect summary of a topic is something that is not really useful to a single person from a learning perspective. Yea you can not easily turn your notes into a blog post, but you train your brain and that is more rewarding in the long run, I think.
Also, yeah, Zettelkasten.
Is that meant ironically? It leaves a bad taste if not.
Interestingly, the author mentions he's reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. In a talk, Daniel says "This is not really a self-help book. And of course it's very easy for me to say because I've been studying it. Not only I've read the book, I wrote it. Didn't improve my thinking at all."
For example, I want to become a better manager and leader, and so I research which books might help me. And "Radical Candor" was the book I picked, and it did change the way I manage my team, improved my relationships, etc.
However, letting go of why and structure is important too, and I can see how "searching" works for you.
Thanks for the comment
Maybe that explains the rise in companies that will summarize long books in 15min, or the rise of the small single rotating idea books.
There are numerous times where I've read a lot of material quickly, not really mastering it but making a mental note of where to find that later. It's easy enough to go back and look up facts, reference material, or techniques for solving a particular kind of problem later, you don't need that to change your life.
Another other problem is: it's hard to know what books will change your life. For me, Fermat's Enigma (https://www.amazon.com/Fermats-Enigma-Greatest-Mathematical-...) and The Last Lecture (https://www.amazon.com/Last-Lecture-Randy-Pausch/dp/14013232...) were both life changers, but it would have been hard to know that going in to reading them.
Still another problem is that there are multiple ways at getting repetition. One approach is to read one book really intently. Another approach though is to consume similar related media over a period of time. If you listen to a weekly podcast (like EconTalk, for one example), very often similar themes come up over and over again. Or you can read several books by one author, or a group of related authors.
Finally, and maybe this is a more minor point, the post's author mentions taking down great quotes. One thing I've realized from my reading is that great quotes sometimes help summarize and understand the flow, but pretty often they don't. One of the nice thing about reading on the Kindle app on a phone is that there are multiple colors for highlighting, and I find it helps to highlight differently for "this is an awesome quote" vs. "this sentence is important in following the structure of the argument."
After reading said book, I read a few other books and some of them actually cited 'Thinking, Fast and Slow' and applied some of the concepts in new contexts and sometimes I thought 'Wow, I didn't realize the implications when I read the original book'.
So I think it is actually a book that is well worth to be actively read, but currently I still find myself struggling to keep integrating the lessons from 'How to make friends and influence people' into my everyday actions.
I also go through all notes on a subject [from other books I've read] when reading a new book to see how my new view of the whole subject might change given the new information.
Just the exercise of doing something regarding the text. Keeping notes in the margin, discussing it with someone, writing a review of the material in long form or in bullet points, keeping track of questions you have, etc. all enhances what you get out of a book. You might resent it as a chore, so you just figure out what works best for you, maybe it's nothing, but trying something different from time to time can't hurt.
My advice is to keep a pencil at hand when you're reading to take a note, underline a passage, or if you don't like writing in the margins, a notebook to the side to highlight things you think are important, things you think are questionable, questions it raises in you, etc.
After that, share it. When you read a section, explain it to your partner, your cat, an internet stranger, to yourself in your notebook, etc.
Most books are highly overrated. They usually take some useful ideas, usually what author perceived was useful to them, and add things to them to make it sound useful to their target readers, which may or may not make sense... enough to fill the length of a book.
Are some books life changing? Sure! But some can change how you think to your detriment because the information in books is not optimized to your life situation.
So, overall, if you're not reading any, you're not missing out.
The problem is you won't believe it until you actually do go ahead and read them. How the books are marketed and sold, it makes you feel that you are missing some vital information that will change your life... you purchase it and think one day you'll read it and conquer all obstacles (or realize that "the obstacle is the way" by reading Ryan Holiday). Well, nothing like that will happen. But again, to actually know that for yourself, you'll have to read them.
So, I can explain how I did it. If you are obsessive-compulsive like me and are single without kids and without much of a social life like I was, you may be able to do it too. This is what I did:
- Create a goal in Goodreads and obsessively track progress (which page are you in) every time you read a part of the book
- If some book is easily distracting, find the audiobook... and listen to the audiobook at high speed while reading the physical or digital copy. If audiobook version doesn't exist, find a drm-free digital copy (Library Genesis is your friend) and let Google Books or PocketBook read it at high speed for you
- Buy good quality noise-cancelling headphones and listen to books all the time... commuting, driving, working out, cleaning, cooking, whenever you can do it.
- If you get stuck with a book, start another one. Keep doing that. Don't set goals to read specific books. That will halt you. Just move on to the next one. You can always come back and continue.
- It's OK to read 3 whole books cover to cover on a Sunday.
- It's OK to read at night when you can't sleep. It might help you sleep. I managed to fall sleep in a micro bus in Thailand when I was reading 48 Laws of Power (yes, it is that boring).
Again, it's not worth it... but if you feel like you're missing something, do it and find out for yourself.
It may be OK but wonder if it’s possible to do this, unless one is skimming through them heavily
I do this, but with the same book series. Have read them for what must be 10 times in a row now. They put me to sleep in minutes. I never stare at the ceiling for this single reason. One unfortunate side effect is that if I start reading in a bus or train, I get sleepy now.
I've come to a similar conclusion (Sturgeon's law) consuming CS/SE-books, and want to minimize repeating myself pursuing other non-fiction subjects.
Having said that, I found the following, in no particular order, worth it to have read than not:
The Richest Man in Babylon
It simplified how I think about personal finance for me. I was irresponsible with my finances. This provided some basic rules of economics and personal finance that have stuck with me.
The Simple Path to Wealth
I read this one only recently but it simplified things even more for me when it comes to investing. I had been doing sort of the same thing but it gave it much more perspective on how simple things can be.
How I found Freedom in an Unfree World
I think this one has empowered me to look for things I can control rather than getting stuck up on things I can't.
The Sovereign Individual
I have a different and richer view of politics than I did before I read this book.
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Gives a different perspective of scientists. I think I believed "science" much more before I got to know personal stories of scientists.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Good read just because it's popular and referenced in other places... and is interesting if you're into "history" of humans. It's fictional (in that, it's his take on what happened) obviously but he makes it look like that is actually what happened.
All books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
He has the same kind of hatred of the academics that I do, which I think I resonate with. And the ideas are interesting.
Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy
Simplified (sometimes oversimplified) economics which is a good read for American conservative view on economics.
Propaganda by Edward Bernays
This was written when the meaning of propaganda was changing to something nefarious (previously, it has a positive neutral or positive meaning to it, in that it meant "propagation of information" - implied to be for public good). Edward Bernays is the father of what is now known as Public Relations.
Related to the same book:
* http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html (this one is among the most shared links on HN)
* Tim Wu's books: The Master Switch and The Attention Merchants
The Complete Guide to Fasting
Even though I met people who were fasting, I needed to read this before I would start doing it myself so that I felt I understood what I was getting into.
High Output Management
I was a follower of "management is unnecessary" meme which pervades the dev community. This gives a first principle view of what's happening in management.
The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (and the newer edition of the same)
It's just an insider view on international organizations. I had second hand knowledge of how corrupt these organizations are... but it is just one more confirmation. Do I think the author is biased? Yes. It's only his view and I'm sure other people many have a more positive outlook and intentions in these organizations... but at least I'm familiar with this one.
Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat
Again, it's one view of how food science works, and it confirms my personal experience with information I get from science, whether on the internet or from the doctors (who basically say the same thing that ends up in WebMD).
These are not all of them but it covers a lot of them that I consider have enriched me in one way or other.