Why Note-Taking Is Better Than Memorising

And how to start decluttering your mind by outsourcing your ideas.

Martin Verbic
Oct 29 · 5 min read
Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

You know, that great idea for your next article, tweet or present for a friend you thought of the other day and then forgot about it? How many times has it happened to you?

If you’re lucky, it comes back to you, but usually not in the right moment. For example, this happened to me in the process of writing this article. I was driving and had the idea that I could write something along the lines of what you’re reading now.

Ironically, I said to myself that I’ll remember when I come home. This was a rare occasion when I just couldn’t reach for my Bullet Journal and start writing since I was in a car.

But guess what? I couldn’t remember, and I started regretting not making a voice note about it. Luckily, it came back to me later on and so you’re reading it right now. (And I also installed a voice note taker on my phone).

And it’s not just ideas, it’s also everything we accidentally find out on the internet. This article will explore why note-taking is brilliant and storing in memory sometimes isn’t.

Why is it Helpful to Know Things by Heart?

Three reasons: impression, decisions and a body of knowledge.

Knowing facts by heart instantly makes an impression on the people you’re talking to. Okay, sometimes it makes you look like a nerd, but in general, it’s impressive. Especially with people who value knowledge. It shows you’re confident in what you do and learn, while also making it pleasing to yourself.

This, in turn, allows you to make quicker decisions. The information is stored in your long-term memory and is usually quickly accessible. Imagine a doctor having to review CPR while you’re lying unconscious in the street.

But you need a body of knowledge for that. And the body of knowledge serves as a place where new ideas are formed from old ones. And this is exactly why it’s so awesome to write stuff down.

Why is it a Better Idea to Write Things Down?

Our memory is usually not reliable. Our brains reconstruct everything we do and try to remember — not to mention how much of a difference emotions make.

Even though knowing things by heart is awesome and sometimes even necessary, it’s pointless to try to remember everything you have to do or did. Whatever you can outsource from your brain and you don’t need to remember should be outsourced.

Firstly, it prevents new ideas from being forgotten. When we compare, we spend so much time building our knowledge and so little time generating ideas. It makes it so much more productive and smart to write them down when they appear.

Forgetting new ideas happens to all of us because they appear in a specific moment and circumstances. Not writing them down makes it easier to forget. Yet writing them down makes them so easy to remember — you don’t have to.

Secondly, it clears your head for new pieces of information. Imagine having to store hundreds of such ideas, sometimes generated from unrelated areas of your knowledge. Now imagine also having to remember reminders and events. A similar case could be made for phone numbers.

Why should we store everything and outsource nothing? We shouldn’t. It makes it so much easier for us to think differently, think better and generate new things. (Which again have to be written down.)

You might think that not remembering every single thing makes us dumber, but I think it can make us smarter. We make space for new, more useful things to be stored when needed.

Thirdly, also connected to clearing your head, is focus. When you’re supposed to be doing stuff like studying, you’re usually full of ideas, thoughts and tasks. That’s when it’s time to write all of what’s going on in your head down.

To make them available to you later, without having to think about them. To focus on what matters at the moment.

How Can You Outsource Your Ideas?

Bullet Journal

This is a fantastic way to organise the past, present and future without using a mobile device. It’s awesome for thinking more clearly, keeping track of everything you do and staying focused. I use my bullet journal every day and take it everywhere with me. The best thing about it is that it’s simple and you can use any notebook you want.

Notion

This is an app for note-taking and collaboration. You can do pretty much anything with it. I use it for personal projects, storing what I read, writing new articles, emails and organising them. This serves as a database of knowledge outside my brain.

This usually means that I would store a whole article and write a summary about it in the same place. That summary is meant for me to remember because it’s the essence of the article. But to get to that point, it’s necessary to have it stored, reading it a few times, and extracting what the most useful things.

It’s a kind of filter that removes the clutter and makes space for the most important ideas.

Calendar

Having a calendar is essential. My Bullet Journal is great for not being distracted by the phone, but eventually, whatever I have to do goes into my calendar.

My school timetable is there, my workouts, exams, events and reminders. Just as with the Bullet Journal, any app will do. But I especially love Outlook. When an event that’s due in weeks or months from now, I religiously put it in my calendar and set a reminder for it. Why? Because I don’t want to think about it when, where and what it is — at least not until I’m reminded of it.

Remember what’s important and make room for it by taking notes. Because your brain is a lot better at thinking than at storing everyday information. And if you happen to be driving, record your thoughts when you stop at a red light, as I will in the future.

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Originally published at https://martinverbic.com on October 29, 2019.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Martin Verbic

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I'm a medical student writing about medicine, learning, thinking and success. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter at https://newsletter.martinverbic.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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