How to Take Smart Notes

Sönke Ahrens

How to Take Smart Notes



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We shouldn’t only make a note of the things we are afraid we might forget; what we really ought to do, is take down anything that we think might be important, or of use to us in the future: every intellectual effort we make begins with a note. How to Take Smart Notesby Sönke Ahrens aims to teach us how to turn our knowledge into a rich and vast archive which is easy to consult whenever we need it. It all begins when we start taking efficient notes, so that everything we need to use them for is simple and highly effective.

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Analysis and key concepts


Having a structure in your mind is essential for you to be able to immerse yourself in your workflow and keep an open mind to new ideas


The slip box: the perfect instrument to help the flow of innovative ideas: it allows you to coordinate different topics and create quick connections between different types of skills


To make the most of Luhmann’s slip box, it is important to follow his note-categorising system, based on numbers and letters: in this way, every fragment of information can keep track of the connections between the notes


The first rule to create your own slip-box is to get used to constantly taking notes, every, single day


The most effective knowledge organisation system is free from any sophisticated tools and strategies. The brain needs as much free space as possible to think


Your notes should be organised using a simple system to allow your brain to make connections easily


Not only does writing support our learning, it also offers valid auto-feedback that helps to make sure we have really understood


Confirmation bias is more dangerous than we might think, and it puts us at risk of getting stuck in a “bubble” of fixed ideas


Forgetting in order to learn: it is important to allow our brain to “let go” of memories so that we can lighten our long term memory and create space for growth




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Learn as much as possible from everything you read.
  • Develop an archive of knowledge from which you can select new ideas to build on.
  • Create a virtuous cycle that nurtures your interest in studying.

Sönke Ahrens is a writer and researcher in the field of education and social science. He teaches philosophy of education at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Hamburg, Germany. Not only does he teach students, but also his academic colleagues and other working professionals. His strengths are in teaching time management techniques, the principles underlying decision-making processes, and personal growth practices. His books are international best-sellers and have also been translated into Chinese.

Publishing house:

Independently published