If you take notes while you read, you may improve your retention, clear your mind, and more easily translate your reading into your life. It works for me.
Underline important passages (that’s right, abuse your books), take notes into one notebook, and keep track of things you’d like to try or learn more about in another notebook. When you finish a book, you’ll have a better memory of it, an index of thought-provoking or informative bits, and a list of take-aways that will help you explore the world.
Why I Starting Taking Notes Again
The book “Boundless Energy: The Complete Mind/Body Program for Overcoming Chronic Fatigue” by Deepak Chopra was five books ago, and I gained an unexpected benefit from it.
Deepak wrote, just 8 pages into chapter one:
We will call these rules Primary Energy Principles, or PEPs, and in each chapter of this book new ones will be introduced. As you read, I suggest you keep a pen and paper handy in order to write down the PEPs as you encounter them. This will focus your attention and help you commit the PEPs to memory.
And he was right! I have much clearer recollection of that book, and the books since, than I usually keep as I surf madly through widely different genres. On top of that, my daily routine is evolving more rapidly as the new explorations and practices take root. In other words, I’m reading as much as before but now I’m remembering and taking action – changing from an armchair whatever-the-book-was-about to an apprentice.
And if you’re curious, that sort of reflects the first PEP:
PEP 1: Knowledge has organizing power. Through the mind/body connection, knowledge affects the body and creates health.
It’s probably too soon to say with assuredness that I’ve gained better health from the PEPs and new practices from that book, but I started taking notes for the first time since college… because a book about health told me to.
Taking Notes Clears Mental Flotsam
Another benefit I’ve seen is that, with all the material chronicled into a notebook, it doesn’t come up as random thoughts during meditation nearly as much. I’m able to have a much cleaner baseline early in meditation (and presumably at all times). It’s the same sort of cleaning we get by making todo lists. When we don’t have to struggle to remember something, we have much more tranquility – even though, weirdly, the act of writing makes us remember it better.
With notes on books, though, I’ve found it works for more than just action items. Even the insights and striking thoughts from my recent reading used to surface more frequently. It’s as though, by pausing the moment to take the note, I am now mentally digesting the material better. All because I took notes without (much) doodling.
Read Multiple Books Concurrently to Find Weird Synchronicity in Notes
If I’m buying specific books, I almost always go Amazon. Most of my reading comes from thrift stores, though; I just take anything that seems of interest, in any topic and by any author. When reading, I don’t always finish a book – if a book bores me or I sense a lack of truthfulness in the writing, it goes right back to the thrift stores (or to the trash in the worst cases). The thrift-store approach gives me a lot of reading range without heavy expense – the last three “found” books included one on meditation, one on lucid dreaming, and one on marketing. Perhaps that’s not a lot of range by itself, but I’ve loved many science books, biographies, philosophic works, and fiction I’ve found on those dusty shelves.
I read more than one book at a time (meaning I start one before finishing another, not that I sit with two books propped open), so my recent notes have a mix of Ayurveda, meditation, lucid dreaming, and marketing notes. Random in theme, yet weirdly synchronized; thoughts on setting up a marketing calendar alongside notes about how the mind-body energies change with the seasons. Notes about taking reality checks (“hey, is this the real world?”) alongside the dangers of too much meditation. Some sort of larger pattern emerges, or at least connections in different subjects seem to be more clearly evident.
Now’s a Good Time, Here’s Your First Note
Don’t say you’ll try it later if you have the time now. That’s the reason a lot of our reading hasn’t helped us progress. Go get an empty notebook or piece of paper, write this first note:
Programming Life: As I read, I take general notes to help me remember. I also keep a separate clean list of things to try that I get from reading, so that the inspirations I get from books aren’t lost into the general flow of daily concerns.
Now go get a book you’ve put off reading, hit play on the video below, and have at it. When the video’s done, I bet you’ll feel a bigger sense of satisfaction and clarity than you normally get from reading.
Keep on keeping on,