How to take notes effectively
When you constantly have to consume lots of learning materials, it is tough to learn it effectively and in a way that your brain can retain it for longer. Suppose you want to master any given topic. It is good to write notes as you’re learning, especially in a digital format that you can easily query and reminisce yourself about the material. If you write practical notes, your brain is forced to think about the subject and hand and more easily synthesizes the ideas and learnings.
Content retention is also heightened when you take good notes since your recollection of a subject is better when focusing on the essential parts of any given learning material.
A great book to improve at notetaking is:
How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers
by Sönke Ahrens
The book is inspired by the german notetaking method zettelkasten.
Core principles of How to Take Smart Notes:
- Writing is not the outcome of thinking; it is the medium in which thinking takes place
- Do your work as if writing is the only thing that matters
- Nobody ever starts from scratch
- Our tools and techniques are only as valuable as the workflow
- Standardization enables creativity
- Our work only gets better when exposed to high-quality feedback
- Work on multiple, simultaneous projects
- Organize your notes by context, not by topic
- Always follow the most interesting path
- Save contradictory ideas
If you don’t want to read the book, you can read a summary of it and try to apply its principles to your personal notetaking approach. - Link
Next, let’s explore different notetaking applications and what they are suitable for.
Notion is a great notetaking tool for all sorts of things. Whether it is taking notes on a topic that you are trying to master, managing complex projects with your team, creating a knowledge base, managing your daily tasks, and much more.
How to use Notion
Here are some external resources to learn how to use Notion. Feel free to submit a pull request to the guide or the devpill.me site with suggestions on more resources.
- 10X your Productivity as a Developer with Notion - Clever Programmer
- Notion Mastery - Marie Poulin
- Keep productive - YouTube
- Civic’s unplugged Notion use cases
Self-Development use case:
Roam Research is a notetaking app that leverages the structure of graphs to synthesize and connect different notes and pieces of knowledge by referencing concepts across notes. You can link different ideas in both directions and create mind maps for anything you learn.
Roam research is a subscription-based paid application (
$ ‘15 per month or
$ 165 per year). You can also apply for a scholarship to use Roam for free if you are a researcher, under 22, or experiencing financial distress (link to apply).
It is a great way to create a structure for any learning material, whether it is about Solidity, MEV, DeFi, some protocol design, public goods, or anything else. It is a great way to reference concepts and check where else you have referenced them, and expand on each note you take.
How to use Roam Research
- Beginner’s Guide to Roam Research - Keep Productive
- This Note-Taking App is a Game Changer - Roam Research by Thomas Frank
- How to Take Better Notes With Roam Research - Lawson Blake
Obsidian is a free alternative to Roam research that hosts your graphs locally. Some add-on features or licenses can be paid for as a subscription or one-time payment for added functionality. They will also soon release hosted graphs.
How to use Obsidian
Inkdrop is a Markdown notetaking application that is highly extensible and focuses on developers. I use it to write all of my articles and the devpill.me guide and my article on L2s, and some other pieces.
I use the Vim extension for writing using Vim keybindings; I also use the LaTeX extension to occasionally write math equations and some other plugins for modifying how the application looks.
There is a 30-day free trial for the application. Otherwise, it costs
$ 50 per year or
$6 per month.
For more applications, check out this article from College Info Geek comparing different notetaking apps