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I definitely agree about the "filtering crap from gold" bit. Once you reach a certain level of skill it can become a hindrance: you develop an extremely low tolerance for anything that doesn't catch you as interesting within a few seconds, and you start speed-reading absolutely everything. This is good in that you aren't wasting time consuming something that's not really useful, but it's bad in that you end up continuously subjecting yourself to input in this way. You can spend a whole day processing a million inputs, throwing them all away and learning nothing, when the alternatives are to spend your time doing something more fun or productive, or slowing down a bit and maybe actually getting a tidbit or two out of the first few hundred inputs and leaving the rest for another time.

A while ago, when I was reading for the purpose of focused learning (technical books, scouring blogs for information about some framework/API, etc.), I began the habit of taking copious notes. My notes are very wordy; it's almost like I'm having a conversation with myself and rephrasing ideas so I can understand them better. OneNote is my weapon of choice - for me it reduces the "barrier to entry" of starting notetaking because it's easy write now and organize later.

Over time, I realized that when I took notes this way, I had a much higher retention rate and a much greater understanding of what I was reading. So much so that when I find myself sitting at my desk or on the couch and "infosnacking," I try to stop and ask myself, "is what I am reading right now worth taking notes on?" If it is, then I start writing. If it's not, I make the effort to tear myself away and either do something that's more productive or something that I really enjoy.

Crap. Right around sentence three I started skimming your post.

Thanks for waking me up

When I hit submit and saw the length of my post I realized the irony :)

I've also found that taking notes is extremely helpful when I'm trying to understand something. Especially when I'm reading on the computer, where it's so easy to open a new tab and do something different. However, every time I've tried to use something like OneNote or org-mode, or anything that I think will help me organize my notes, I get extremely frustrated. So, instead, I just keep a cheap spiral bound notebook next to my computer. Being forced to write on something other than the computer is great, and I've found I don't need to organize the notes really, they're in chronological order and easy to flip through.

I keep what is essentially a lab logbook next my work desk. The natural chronological order works mostly well: (1) notes on related topics are often close in time (the temporal locality, in a way) and (2) it helps to find "stuff I was working on two months ago", or "right after I finished that project in May".

Also, I noticed I prefer writing on separate sheets better than a notebook. This way I can take several sheets from different time periods and work with them as a single group. When I am done, sorting them back is easy as long as each sheet is marked with the day it was originally worked on.

One of the most positive changes I made to my programming / design was to start taking notes that looked like a stream of consciousness conversation with myself.

I was doing a fair bit of pair programming and I found that talking to my pair about whatever issue we were facing was helping me clarify the design in my head. When I started working on a few solo projects, I found that taking notes worked almost as well, despite lacking the other side of the conversation.

One of the biggest benefits was that I find it cathartic, where once I've written down all of the arguments for a particular design decision, I am able to move on without revisiting it in my head constantly.

A tried notes in HS and college but it they never seemed useful -- after all the content is in the book, and most books have a great index/table of content so I can find whatever piece of info I want.

My notes, on the other hand don't. And I may have gotten the details wrong or omitted that piece of info.

Notes aren't just for reference. The act of taking notes (even if you never directly reference them again in the future) improves recall and understanding of the material for most people.

This was primarily the reason I started taking notes - I really had no plans to use them as references.

However, three factors have changed my outlook on this: 1) full-text indexed search, 2) cloud storage, and 3) low barrier to entry (I have found an organizational style that makes it easy for me to start writing at a moment's notice, without worrying about how to store/organize until later).

Full-text indexing is a huge deal, because I will often remember a certain combination of words or a particular term used in reference to some concept. Cloud storage ensures that I am almost never without my notes.

Add in the fact that if you make it easy enough for yourself to start writing, you will naturally end up with a lot of content about concepts you find difficult, and you'll skip the stuff you know well. The end result is a fully-searchable set of textbooks written specifically for your brain that you can always refer back to.

Sometimes, even if I'm not looking for a particular note, I'll crawl through a few old notes on any random subject in my notebooks and it will give me a new perspective on a problem I'm trying to solve, or remind me of something I wanted to try/research but didn't get around to.

Hmm... interesting idea.. i haven't taken notes in a loooong time but will start now and see how it works out...

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