Distilling Your Notes Is Critical
Here’s where the true value can be found
Make your notes usable. You can do this by distilling them- stripping them of everything except the essential message.
I recently took Tiago Forte’s cohort-based course titled “Building a Second Brain.” It was a great course that resulted in many lightbulb moments for me. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned was that distilling notes is a critical part you should not skip.
When I consume media, sometimes I’ll take notes. Taking notes while consuming media seems productive especially in the moment. But that is deceiving. In the moment, you have context. You can afford to write shorthand. You can afford to write in codes and symbols. This is important as the biggest objective is to capture the ideas as they come. You don’t have the luxury of time. Capture an idea then move on to the next one.
However, there is a downside to this shorthand quick capture. There is no context on its own. The note does not stand on its own. As the gap between note creation and note review widens, you lose that necessary context. And when you lose that context, the note can be useless. It is nothing more than a captured thought that has no application.
Without a distillation of notes, your future self cannot use the contents. Your goal as a note-taker is to make your notes usable for your future self.
Here are some things to consider as you incorporate “distillation” into your note-taking:
- Progressively improve notes in your system as you read them. One rule Tiago mentions is to never come across an existing note without improving it. Make it more digestible for your future self who has zero context about this note.
- Limit the note’s key messages. If everything is highlighted, nothing is. Be selective about what parts of the note you want your future self to look at. You are curating his experience because you want him to do something of value with the information housed in the note.
- Place key takeaways on the top of the note. This ensures that your future self reads this curated summary first. If he needs context, the remainder of the note serves that purpose.
Note-taking is a means to a higher end. Let your notes serve that purpose. The goal isn’t to become the best note-taker. I oftentimes confuse that as an end in itself. The goal, rather, is to produce content of value. This takes several forms.
Two specific forms for me are: the written word (publishing) and the spoken word (notes serving as material from which I can speak).