Converting Information to Action
& How to take notes like a nerd
I take notes like some people take drugs. — Tim Ferriss
With endless amounts of information being accessible in 1 click (or less), the pace at which we consume has exploded. Platforms like medium have paved a way into the thought processes and ideas of creatives, teams, politicians, etc. We can listen to dozens of podcasts or skim through hundreds of articles, hoping to absorb a few high-level concepts through osmosis (and there is nothing wrong with that approach) but if we want to and digest any of it, we need a strategy.
Actionable learning requires us to be intentional about how we consume information.
Creating a system for intentional consumption
A few years ago I made conscious effort to move from passively collecting information to actively digesting and retaining insights after reading How to Take Notes Like an Alpha Geek, by Tim Ferriss.
Note taking is … one of the most important skills for converting excessive information into precise action and follow-up. — Tim Ferriss
Take (handwritten) notes
The more information we consume, the more important it is to take notes. Whenever I read an article, blog post, book or take a class, I take all notes by hand, which helps me best absorb the information.
I would argue this method is most effective for a vast majority of people. One study of the correlation of handwritten notes and long-term comprehension argues that in addition to the benefits of physically writing the notes, taking longhand notes is more effective because it forces you to process and summarize the information in order to translate it to paper.
Create an indexing system
Find a style that works for you. I’ve used Tim’s framework, almost verbatim, which works great for me.
- Leave the first 1–2 pages of your notebook blank — this will be your index.
- Number the pages on the top right, a handful at a time.
- When completing a page of notes, record that page number in your index with relevant keywords, author names, etc. The pages in your index can be grouped however is best for you, and the numbers don’t need to be in order.
I primarily use two types of notebooks for everything I need
- I use standard 1 subject notebooks for most things. Since I keep them around as my own personal references, I try to stay somewhat consistent.
- I keep Field Notes or similar notebooks in my bag for whenever I need to write something down or for quick sketches — I also keep these in my gym bag, as I use them for programming my training and workouts.
Putting the system to use
The most important part of the system is to actually take notes, but if it’s worth writing down, don’t let it go to waste. A good system allows us to easily recall, share insights and thoughtfully digest information to create actionable learning patterns.