You are currently viewing Just a few phrases on taking notes

Just a few phrases on taking notes

Illustration of taking notes

As we’re about to begin the planning conferences for 2024 at AWS, I’ve been pondering rather a lot about how I take notes. In the identical vein, the method of placing collectively a re: Invent keynote takes months, and it implies that I’m assembly with lots of sensible people doing analysis and constructing wonderful merchandise. And at each assembly I’m taking notes — a number of them.

The earliest reminiscences I’ve of taking notes are in major college. I’d copy word-for-word what the instructor would say or write on the board. Issues like definitions and multiplication tables. Then I’d go house, research what I’d copied, and ultimately take a check. In observe, I used to be studying to encode, retailer, and recall info. When you consider it, it’s a bit like S3.

However this was memorisation, not synthesis.

As I continued alongside my instructional journey, and the subject material turned more and more extra advanced, it pressured me to rethink be aware taking. It was much less about being a scribe, and extra about listening, observing, and comprehending what was being taught. For instance, the youthful me might have copied the next definition verbatim: “The basic position of mitochondria is oxidative phosphorylation, which generates ATP by utilising the vitality launched through the oxidation of the meals we eat.” And when finding out, I’d have dedicated this to reminiscence with out essentially understanding the way it truly labored. What would have been extra useful would have been to learn the definition, then write it out in a approach that was significant to me, corresponding to: “Mitochondria are the energy plant of the cell. They generate a lot of the chemical vitality wanted to energy the cell’s biochemical reactions.” Possibly even diagram the method within the margins. That is synthesis. This denotes understanding.

And there’s analysis to again this up. Particularly, that verbatim be aware taking simply isn’t as efficient whenever you’re making an attempt to study and retain new info.

Pen and paper

To this present day, I nonetheless take lots of my notes by hand. It helps me to keep up focus and internalise the necessary bits. It’s not possible to put in writing as quick as individuals communicate, so I’m pressured to put in writing down what I feel is most necessary or make be aware of what I don’t perceive in order that I can ask questions.

A stack of notebooks
The pocket book archive view from my desk…

The Cornell Methodology

I’ve spent fairly a little bit of time over the previous couple of months studying about and relearning totally different note-taking approaches. Every little thing from outlining to thoughts mapping to charting. And what’s labored fairly effectively for me is the Cornell Methodology. A easy method that has you break up a pocket book web page into 4 elements: 1/ title, 2/ notes, 3/ key phrases/questions, and 4/ abstract. And no, it’s not as a result of I labored at Cornell for the higher a part of a decade, however as a result of this technique encourages you to doc your thought processes (i.e., ask questions), synthesise what you’re studying in real-time (i.e., take notes), and summarise all of it after the very fact (i.e., write a succinct abstract).

What I wind up with are structured notes which are straightforward to learn, organise, and revisit, as a result of it’s extra than simply writing one thing down, however having the ability to return and evaluate questions and problem assumptions.

Illustration of the Cornell Method
Credit score:

A latest research by Kuniyoshi Sakai, titled Paper Notebooks vs. Cell Gadgets: Mind Activation Variations Throughout Reminiscence Retrieval, truly confirmed increased retention and recall for topics that used pen and paper versus a keyboard, or pill and stylus. Nevertheless, there may be broad settlement that taking notes, in any kind with any enter, helps with encoding, retention, and recall.

As you possibly can see from the picture above, I’m a giant fan of analog note-taking. For me, analog helps with memorising, synthesising, and summarising. As quickly as I write one thing down with pen and paper, it additionally appears to seek out its approach into my mind – one thing that doesn’t occur with digital. I even use the Cornell technique when making ready for conferences; I summarise the briefing doc in my pocket book, and it instantly sticks. The truth that you’re energetic with the textual content as a substitute of simply studying it drives this course of.

Utilizing ML and generative AI

There may be lots of worth within the act of taking notes and actively synthesising info. However we stay in a world with extra knowledge than we might ever fairly count on to comb via. That is an space the place ML and generative AI will play an more and more necessary position. Just a few examples that come to thoughts are:

  • Utilizing a transcription service with speaker identification to complement the notes you are taking throughout a gathering.
  • Utilizing laptop imaginative and prescient and optical character recognition (OCR) to transform your handwritten notes into docs you can simply share with others or retailer in a central location. (Assuming that you simply’re not already utilizing one thing like Kindle Scribe).
  • Close to-instant summarisation.
  • Iterating over a complete corpus of notes utilizing an LLM to establish themes, developments, and necessary individuals throughout a whole bunch of pages from conferences, lectures, doc evaluations, on-site visits, and so on.

I see this like studying a map. When you return 20 years, studying a map was a reasonably frequent talent. You’d plan a route, take some notes, then attempt to navigate it. And in the event you took the route sufficient instances, you’d remember it. You’d bear in mind a fountain or the color of a selected home alongside the way in which. You’d know when and the place there can be site visitors or building, and the alternate routes to get round it. However nowadays, we simply use our telephones. We observe turn-by-turn instructions from street-to-street without having to commit an excessive amount of to reminiscence.

It’s useful. It’s straightforward. That’s probably not up for debate. However studying a bodily map remains to be a really helpful talent. There’ll inevitably be instances that you simply don’t have cell service (otherwise you lose your cellphone, or possibly you wish to disconnect from expertise), and realizing the place you’re and how one can get the place you’re going are necessary. And identical to taking notes by hand, it means that you can take away a few of the noise created by expertise, and to give attention to the necessary bits.

I’m genuinely curious to see how analysis will evolve within the subsequent 10+ years as we proceed to review what works finest for digital natives.

Take notes, a number of them

I’ll depart you with a quote from the author Anne Lamott: “[…] one of many worst emotions I can consider, [is] to have had an exquisite second or perception or imaginative and prescient or phrase, to know you had it, then lose it.” My recommendation: take notes, a number of them.

Now, go construct!

Observe: I’m genuinely curious how my readers take notes and synthesise info. When you’re doing issues in another way than me, let me know on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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