Why is it important to take notes?
When we have a sensory experience we are consciously over confident about our ability to recall it. But subconsciously the experience might not be as important to remember.
That’s why taking notes has to be one of the most important productivity tools ever invented. Our ability to document our experiences & thoughts when they happen as compared to just keeping them at the top of our mind have different consequences on our ability to recall them. Taking notes is like physically extending the reach of our memory. When these notes are repeatedly accessed at a later date they seem to cement the information and make it more readily available for application.
Apart from the practical applications of taking notes, it is important to understand the behavioural adjustments that come along with it. Note taking is an activity of cataloging & reflection. Cataloging is the easy part - or so it seems. It involves three very innocuous steps:
- We record what we find relevant and worth remembering.
- We keep it accessible so that it can be retrieved at a moments notice.
- We go back to it in order to reinforce those ideas so they become part of our thought process.
These generally work for a week. It is easy to start a regime to take notes but it is very difficult to sustain it. Most of the time it involves carrying a note book or a device to record our thoughts on the go. Most people use modern tools like smartphones or even old school tools like notebooks & voice recorders. Carrying them around has to become a lifestyle choice rather than just a necessity.
Mostly all productivity tools face the same problem. They become inconsistent & unusable in some situations. The point is to have tools that are usable in most social & personal situations. No one expects us to take notes while we are in the shower. (Although some of the most potent ideas have occurred to me in the shower & I wish I had ways to remember them exactly as they were. I forgot some chunks after I came out of the shower to note them down).
This so far addresses the How of taking notes but we still need to reinforce the Why. Notes have a peculiar advantage over our memory. They are linear. Linearity is easy to understand. We can see the chronology of our thoughts & piece together a narrative. Narratives become easy to remember & therefore are easy to access while thinking. Narratives lead us to act with more conviction. One word of caution though, we must not use the process in reverse. We must never create notes out of our narratives, instead we must create narratives out of our notes. How exactly the process of recall of ideas & stored knowledge works is a mystery to me but it shouldn’t inhibit us from making full use of this natural feature we are built with.
The human brain is the ultimate productivity tool ever evolved. But a machine can replicate this function pretty easily. All it needs is a human to provide context. More on this later.
Another reason for taking notes - knowledge that has been acquired in the past, if not put to use is as good as wasted. If we don’t have a system to learn from what we already know then we have wasted time in learning it & we are wasting time in working without it. We are wasting time because we are looking at the current information with less perspective which will most definitely result into half baked decisions.
Prof. Sanjay Bakshi of MDI, Gurgaon illustrates the power of metaphors to reinforce & connect ideas.
For a more technical view on the value of narratives you can refer to Prof. Hayden White’s paper on narrativity.
In the next post I’ll discuss a technique of taking notes which for me has significantly improved my ability to recall specific ideas.