On the Power of Notetaking

I'm quite certain I don't have hypergraphia, but I am a religious note-taker. Ideas, quotes, concepts, lyrics, lists, phrasings, outlines — any sort of note you can imagine, I take it. I haven't always been a good note-taker... scratch that. I haven't always been a note-taker... period. It's really been something I've developed over the past five years or so after I realized a very important fact that is perfectly articulated by none other than the master note-taker, Tim Ferriss:

Information is useful only to the extent that you can find it when you need it.
— Tim Ferriss

Strengthened Recall

Even the very process of writing something down helps you remember it — this is why taking notes in class, even if you don't plan to study them later, is advantageous. If you're a visual learner, this is especially true as you see the concepts that you are hearing or reading being translated into your own words on the page.


Simplified Complexities

When a concept or idea is complex, it often needs to be written down. Why? Because as you express yourself through words, you're no longer thinking in the abstract but are forced to articulate what you're thinking or feeling. This very practice helps you understand the interworkings of the idea better than you can if you're trying to juggle every connection in your head.

Once it's on paper, you're mind isn't required to keep all of the balls in the air at the same time. You can set the rest down while you focus on one or two and flesh out the idea.


Unburdened Mind

You know that moment when you hear, see or think of something that you don't want to forget but it's obscure enough that you'll forget it in five minutes? Happens to me all the time. Most people try to keep thinking about the idea over and over and over again to try to get it stuck in their head permanently. Note-takers simply make a short note of it and let it go.


Compounded Ideas

I was listening to one of my favorite photographers, Jeremy Cowart, speak on creativity. He mentioned that growing up, he never thought of himself as an idea person — he never felt like his ideas were bold enough to make a difference. I've often had the same feeling, but once I began writing my ideas down, I understood the rest of Jeremy's talk. He said that as he began to write down every scrap of an idea he had, he began to finally see connections between ideas he had two years ago and the idea he just wrote down. As the web of ideas grew, one piece of this idea would meld in his mind with a piece of another idea and a new, better idea was formed.

In my own experience, I've noticed the same happening for me. I take notes in Evernote and am able to filter notes by keywords, tags, notebooks and, of course, their powerful search feature. This allows me to group otherwise unrelated notes and discover new connections.


Unhindered Access

I understand that you could take notes and then lose them and that would do you very little good so, for the sake of this point, let's just assume you keep your notes in a place where you can refer back to them (I suggest looking into Evernote). If your notes are accessible, you're never using up valuable brainpower or causing unnecessary frustration for yourself by trying to remember obscure passwords, running out to your car for your license plate number, or butchering a passage from a book you're trying to reference. It's all right there at your fingertips. To me, this has been a game changer. Anything I think I might need to go back to later down the road, whether a day or a decade, I write it down. Evernote is free, so your investment is the minute and a half it takes to jot it down and hit save — absolutely worth it.


If you're interested in how I use Evernote in my life, see:


The importance of note-taking isn't to be underestimated. It may seem like a strange practice to try to master, but once you do you decrease your frustrations, increase your put-together-ness, have better ideas, remember more clearly and can lift a burden from your mind.