Michael West
Dec 30, 2015 · 2 min read

For young people, your rate of learning is one dominant factor in enabling greater impact over time. Internalising important lessons and operationalising them in your day-to-day can make a real difference to how you work.

Yet I often find that after finishing an interesting book, I try and fail to recall its most important “takeaway” points. So I probably can’t really say I’ve internalised them, such that they can help me work more effectively – which is disappointing and partly undermines the time spent reading.

After reading about the “commonplace books” that many people kept in the 19th century to store clippings and passages of interest, I decided to do something similar. I capture “takeaways” from media and experience in a web app, and then remind myself via “flashcard” push notifications.

  • Takeaways from media: I wrote a simple web app to accept text entries (summaries or quotes from books, articles, and web pages), as well as images (usually charts) and files (PDF reports). I try to briefly summarise any interesting non-fiction book, report or web article I come across, and include a link back to the source. You could think of this as a blog but it’s private rather than public by design – I have no expectation that anyone else will read them.
  • Takeaways from experience: There is a simple form in the app designed to easily capture reflections on a week’s work. I use IFTTT and Pushover to remind me to fill this out every Friday. This provides a checkpoint for deliberately reflecting on experience, which is vital for learning from it.
  • Flashcards daily: I use IFTTT and Pushover to send me a random entry each day as a push notification, as a kind of digital flashcard. Over time, this helps me remember the entries and think about whether I’m applying them day-to-day.
  • Flashcards on demand: I use the IFTTT Do Button app to trigger sending a flashcard with one tap. This is handy to grab some interesting reading material when waiting around.
    Michael West

    Written by

    I live in Sydney. I’m interested in how effective use of technology and data can help people to deliver social good.