How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

Reviewed on , book by Sönke Ahrens

Note-taking game-changer. Ahrens’ is a professor in systematic education at Hamburg University—and he really knows his shit. This book tells the story of the remarkable Luhmann note-taking system. Luhmann was a revered sociology professor who collected over 90,000 index cards over the course of his life to support his 30-year-project: “A Theory of Society.” The book goes over how Luhmann organized his note-taking in a scalable way that allowed him an unprecedented level of productivity with 30+ published books and 400+ published articles. In particular, how the author has implemented a similar system (with technology, in lieu of paper flashcards). To best summarize the ethos of this fantastic book:

To get a good paper written, you only have to rewrite a good draft; to get a good draft written, you only have to turn a series of notes into a continuous text. And as a series of notes is just the rearrangement of notes you already have in your slip-box, all you really have to do is have a pen in your hand when you read.
I can’t sum up the technique here in short (but luckily, the author did here), but needless to say, it thoroughly enriched my mental-model for note-taking and have caused me to implement dramatic changes to mine. I am stoked to see how it pans out in the long-term.

If you’re starting to feel weighed down by your note-taking, rather than pulled up—and if collecting 10,000s of ideas over your lifetime appeals to you, you absolutely need to read this. The book will earn its fifth star if I, a year or so from now, continue to use the system (which I have spent this weekend initiating the migration to).