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The Myths about Note-taking
Here we would not provide you with “the best note-taking method”. Instead, we encourage you to build your own way. Those productive experts may tell you how to write better articles about productivity rather than how to build a real production system based on your own workflow.
Those who truly create note-taking methods never mentioned the method itself. They paid attention to effectively researching through the methods. Take Luhman as an example. He seldom write articles about Zettelkasten but shared a few practices when he was ready to retire.
There is rarely a lesson about how to take notes. Even we know a few methods, we may never think of building a system.
So before creating your own stuff, let’s see a few blind spots.
We are not simply using tools but also improving our workflow through tools. Sometimes it’s not the tools that are hard to use, but our workflow needs to be improved.
Say, there are tons of lessons about playing golf, but there is no lesson about using the golf club. The golf club is the tool, but playing golf is a whole workflow. Only learning to use the golf club can’t make us an outstanding golfer as Tiger Woods, let alone the only used a second golf club.
So, rather than learn to use tools, pay attention to the productive goal you want and the suitable way to achieve it. There are too many people who get lost in searching for the best tools.
Focus on the goal and methods rather than the tools. When you have these two, you will know which tool is the best for you.
Even if you have never thought of writing a book, you need to organize your thoughts and the daily information you received.
Writing can improve one’s thinking because it forces you to read, comprehend, and organize information. Reading a lot of books is not equal to a lot of ideas. Wisdom and self-mastery are acquired practices by practices, just like swimming. Therefore, the challenge of writing and studying is not studying itself, but comprehension. When you truly comprehend something, you consciously put it in a structure formed by related thoughts and ideas. In this way, the new knowledge can be quickly remembered and recalled.
When you absorb the information, a specific and practical goal will definitely change the way you deal with it. You will be more curious, more precise, even more critical. You won’t miss any detail, and you will try to perfectly record everything. You will ask a sharper question, and you are no longer satisfied with the blurred logic. You will naturally think about the best place to display your work because the feedback in that place can motivate you to think deeper.
Deliberate practice is the best way to improve everything. When you practice setting a goal for your reading, you are deliberately practicing the most basic skill: thinking. Even if you have never truly published an article, your thinking will be enormously improved.
The worst blindspot about creativity is “Creation means making new from emptiness”—empty pages, canvas, and stages...The most common literary theme is implying to us that the essence of creativity is new from nothing.
Our typic writing lessons somehow enhance such a belief. We are told to find a topic, which is the very first step to writing something. And then we do some research, discussions, and make a conclusion. But the weird thing is: how you can make a decision about the topic before you find it worthy to be researched? So before you find a topic or a worthy-researched problem, you have to dig into reading. The subject you are going to read is not popping out as well. It usually comes from your existing interests or comprehensions.
And this is the core of creation: you research a topic and accumulate thoughts before you choose a topic to write down. Ideally, you should research it before you write it. Thus you can accumulate materials, references, and thoughts for weeks, months, even years. That’s why so many people buy the idea of building a second brain.
When we are reading, we are building a growing thinking pool. So in creating, we won’t simply follow our instinctive plan in our brain. We will check our notes, and follow our interests and curiosity. These are all inspired by reading, thinking, discussing, and note-taking. There are no more empty pages. There is no need to face the dilemma of nothing to write down.
No one is truly writing from scratch. All the things they are thinking come from their prior experience, research, or other understanding. But because they haven’t acted on this fact, they can’t track ideas back to their origins. They have neither supporting material nor accurate sources. Since they haven’t been taking notes from the start, they either have to start with something completely new (which is risky) or retrace their steps (which is boring).
Taking notes and putting them in your second brain can release you from the traditional linear path of writing. It allows you to systematically summarize information from the linear resources, reorganize them until a new pattern emerges, and then turn them back into linear texts for others to read.
You will find the changes in making this shift when the fear of not enough to write about is replaced by the problem of having far too much to write about.
We all call ourselves “corporate slaves”, but it can be divided into two types:
- Traditional employees who rely on the tools of production belong to capitalists, such as delivery guys (requires orders and navigation) and workers in the factory (requires large machinery).
- Knowledge employees who produce the ultimate value though they rely on the tools of production as well, such as a doctor to explain the image of MRI.
Most people of the previous generation are traditional employees. But most of us are knowledge employees. Such a change means that knowledge has become our tool of production. When we resign from a company, it doesn’t mean we have nothing left. The accumulated knowledge is our tool of production (even materials of production). We can make a living by summarizing our previous experience into a book or a lesson, or we can pass the following interviews by abstracting the experiences into a structure.
The environment of big companies today is no longer as colorful as they were ten years ago, and some of us feel “involution”. It is because those who worked in the past were knowledge employees, and they were creating many tools of production. But those who are feeling involution have become traditional employees because of the standardization of jobs. You may compare those who created the search ads and those who are working on optimizing the search ads now.
What about the future? In the future, maybe the knowledge assets will be more valuable than the financial assets.