Separation of reading and note-taking

Have recently been wondering how you are supposed to separate the process of reading from the process of taking down notes of what you’re reading.

My idea of this separation followed Jordan Peterson’s description: generally involves reading then closing the book to think about what I’ve read before taking notes. I read a few sentences or a paragraph, then write down what I’m thinking in my own words. With this workflow, I have to be intentional with when and where I do this as I would need to have my computer with me while I read.

About a week ago, @AlexanderSavenkov introduced me to a different kind of separation (a Twitter thread from Tiago Forte). Upon my initial understanding of the workflow, I started highlighting text while reading, and I would take notes about those highlights later instead. This workflow gave me more freedom and less pressure when reading which allowed me to do so while eating and also worry less when I don’t take in all of the information immediately. This, I thought, was a better way of separating reading from note-taking.

Unfortunately, when I revisit my highlights to write notes, I sometimes forget why certain passages struck me in the first place, making it harder for me to write. And so for me, this workflow reduces the friction for reading but adds more to the note-taking process.

In either of these workflows, I’m very slow at making progress with the book I’m reading. Currently reading Sonke Ahren’s How to Take Smart Notes, it’s been a month since I started and still less than halfway through it. Not sure if this is a problem with the separation (it’s the first book I’ve read where I took notes seriously, so perhaps it’s the lack of practice), but the second workflow gave me the impression that I could get through the book faster. And upon my second look at Tiago Forte’s Twitter thread, I read that he first read the book cover to cover before actually doing his note-taking, which seems to allow me to get through the book faster but also adding even more friction to note-taking.

Would love to hear your thoughts on how to go about separating these two processes.

9 Likes

Also, my highlighting process involves using a different color for the book’s main points and a different one for its supporting ideas, which at least segregates the more important highlights from the less important ones, or so I thought. Unfortunately, I end up highlighting a lot of the supporting ideas while the main point is not enough to explain itself, so I’d have to reread a lot of the text.


Since I’m read with e-books, I have the option to add notes to these highlights, but I only do so when a note-worthy thought is triggered from what I read but not in the book itself. Perhaps using this feature more can reduce the friction from note-taking.

3 Likes

I am currently using the first strategy that you mentioned. Yes, it is slow, because reading a page or so and then think about what it’s really saying and taking notes on that is inherently a slow process.

This is because sometimes the mental picture that you’ve built so far (into the book) isn’t sufficient to understand the current thing that you’re trying to understand. To overcome this, I employ a strategy to hold back my natural tendency to dive into things that I don’t find convincing, and instead keep on reading until either the authors explain a missing key, or my brain works something out in the background.

Of course, this shouldn’t be abused, otherwise you’re just shallowly reading the whole thing, but when you’re stuck, it’s likely to be a rational choice to proceed in faith that you will understand it once more information are made available.

One similar concept to this is Simulated Annealing. The global maximum is the point where both information and brain’s processing power are best utilized and understanding (or insight, or knowledge) is obtained. Getting stuck at a spot where you don’t understand something is like getting stuck at a local maximum, the strategy used in Simulated Annealing is to make large jumps (initially) that would get you out of that local maximum, where you have a better chance to approach the global maximum. This large jump is analogous to the leap of faith you take when you keep on reading despite not having understood something.

As time progress, you make smaller jumps. Towards the end of the book, you may want to slow down. because information at this stage tend to be more packed and built upon preceding introduced information, so slowing down and unpacking all of that seems like a rational strategy.

Hope that helps !

10 Likes

Unfortunately, when I revisit my highlights to write notes, I sometimes forget why certain passages struck me in the first place, making it harder for me to write. And so for me, this workflow reduces the friction for reading but adds more to the note-taking process.

I kinda do progressive summarization (also a concept by Tiago Forte) to get around that.

  1. Write down detailed notes.
  2. Revisit them a couple of days later, and rewrite them to be a bit more concise.
  3. Repeat step two again after a few days.

That way each note starts with just a couple of main points (mostly 3-5) that I feel like I want to get as a result when I’m opening the note, allowing me to quickly capture the essence. If I feel like I need more than that, I just scroll a bit down, allowing me to see the context that surrounds it.

As for the reading part, I kind of do both. Basically read a chapter or two highlighting the text, then re-visit the highlights and try to capture the essence of a chapter in my notes. Sometimes a chapter is insignificant enough for me that I won’t write down a single note, but I’d say on average it doesn’t take me more than 10 min to reflect on a chapter and write down notes related to it.

I also make sure to always paraphrase things differently instead of writing down quotes, unless the quote really sticks to me and I feel like I might want to re-use it (for example, quote it somewhere in an article).

5 Likes

Few books are worthy of many notes.

Highlighting can be an easy way of increasing the information density, but they’re still part of a source not a note.
You can tag with little effort.
Only make a proper note when you have a thought you know is worth it. You can link it to a highlight and/or the original text.

4 Likes

@3mbry0, I’m sorry for causing the confusion. You’ve mentioned a few points in your post:

  1. Separating reading from note-taking.
  2. Petersen vs. Forte.
  3. Having your computer with you while reading.
  4. Taking information immediately vs. taking information later.
  5. Forgetting what your notes were about when you come back to them.
  6. Less effort for reading vs. more effort for note-taking.
  7. Progressing slowly through your books.
  8. Highlighting for main points and for supporting points.

I took the liberty to recombine them into How We Read and Why We Read to to reflect on the issues that you faced. I came up with the following text that builds on other people’s stuff in this thread and tries to advance the thinking behind reading and note-taking a little bit.


How We Read

Separating Reading from Note-taking

Petersen vs. Forte

Honestly, I don’t see a fundamental contradiction between the systems of Forte and Peterson. Ultimately, as a lot of people point out, it’s us and our workflow that matters, these guys only offer the options that work for them and don’t necessarily work for us. And, by coincidence, what they are suggesting are mainly techniques, whereas what we need is an understanding of the underlying principles to consciously apply them to our own workflow.

E.g., while trying to make his point stronger in the video that you shared, professor Peterson says that we shouldn’t be taking any notes while he’s lecturing (while seeing a movie, while reading a text etc.). Instead, he claims, we have to wait for him to finish and then take the notes. This could be harmful if taken literally: what if we have an interesting thought while he’s speaking? What if we see a connection to other ideas while reading a text or seeing a video? Of course we should immediately grab a pen and write down our note about this exact piece, otherwise there’s a good chance it’s lost forever.

On the other hand, Mr. Forte suggests (see extended description) that we have to go through five stages of summarization for certain pieces of information and do a lot of highlighting while reading. Again, taken to the extreme, this quickly becomes an overkill. There are plenty of books out there that are not worth the time to read, let alone highlight. If the book is easy to grasp, I, for one, will just jump to level 4 or 5 directly. If the book is complex, I might go through two or three stages of summarization, but never five. It’s not uncommon that a book is so poorly written, that we shouldn’t be summarizing it at all and stop wasting time reading it ASAP.

Taking Information Immediately vs. Taking Information Later

I don’t remember what are the exact scientific terms for that, but what we actually do is not merely reading or note-taking. These are only instances for information consuming (along with listening, watching a video, taking a webinar etc.) and information processing aka converting information into knowledge (along with discussing something with a friend, writing a forum or a blog post about something, doing something we discovered with own hands etc.).

These processes require different states of mind and thus our workflow should be designed to separate them. The way we separate them should be adaptable to the situation however. That’s the underlying principle of both methods and that’s how we can come up with a unified method.

So, as per Peterson:

  1. Listen / read (consuming).
    2.1. Write in our own words after finishing a certain chunk (processing).
    2.2. Simultaneously hook with memory with context questions (processing and linking).
    Aim: remember as much as possible.

Then, according to Forte:

  1. Listen / read (consuming).
  2. Take notes and highlights while listening / reading (a bit of processing).
  3. Progressively summarize our notes in several attempts (further processing).
    Aim: to understand as much as possible and to be able to find (discover) the notes later.

Finally, best from both worlds with a pinch of Zettelkasten:

  1. Listen / read (consuming).
  2. Initial processing:
  • When we feel like deep reading and when we can relatively easily grasp the content and when we have good working environment, we read a certain chunk, then summarize with hooks according to Petersen and we don’t forget to cleverly link our notes to other notes according to Zettelkasten (processing and linking).
  • When we feel like shallow reading, or or when the text seems really complex, or when we don’t have good means for deep work (during taxi ride, didn’t sleep well etc.), we highlight for later analysis according to Forte (a bit of processing). We then summarize and link as per Zettelkasten when we’re in more productive mood and conditions (further processing).
  1. We come back to our notes from time to time to improve them and to further interlink them (even further processing).
    Aim: understand and remember the core ideas, take notes to find details later if ever required, develop our own “model of the world”.

Having Your Computer With You While Reading

Switching between different mediums is likely to kill our productivity and our flow.
Reading a paper book? Highlight with a pen or pencil, create our own system of icons, do quick notes on a sheet of paper (referencing the page number) or in the book itself. I once read about a guy who prepared to read a book and take notes by altering book pages with blank sheets he would cut beforehand. Besides, there’s probably an additional perk of having our initial notes in handwriting. You only need your computer when you further process your notes, i.e. rework them, interlink them and prepare for discoverability.

Reading on an e-book reader? Not being a fan of them, I can only assume that switching between a reader and a computer can also be tiresome and laborious. I’d try e-book + paper. Or do e-book-only highlights and notes, then process within Obsidian or other tool of choice. In fact, we’re all hostages of today’s half-baked and mind-unfriendly tools. Notice how Tiago has to go thru the pain of getting his notes over from Kindle to Evernote, hence probably is why he only does summarization after reading a complete book. It doesn’t necessarily has to be this way.

Highlighting for Main Points And for Supporting Points

Having said all this, I’m not sure how to comment your point on different highlighting for main and for supporting points. For me, it only becomes apparent if the point is main or supporting after some initial processing. I’m not sure I immediately grasp this when reading or highlighting.

If your highlights give you nothing, why bother highlighting? Also note, sometimes it’s the case that the author doesn’t get the difference him or herself, e.g. makes some minor point and “dances” around it extensively, at the same time barely mentioning a huge point or an underlying principle.

Why We Read

Despite what we’re often told, it’s really hard to describe the end goal in the first place. We usually have a very vague understanding in the beginning, then slowly shape this “thought cloud” into more and more substantial matter. However, if we don’t reflect about the goal, we never come up with anything meaningful.

So what is the purpose of our reading? Do we want to be world-class experts on anything? Do we want to employ some of the techniques for our own studies or job? Do we want to get some insights from completely different field to merge into our field of work? We probably don’t get a clear answer right away, but the process of goal-setting is valuable by itself, it will shape our reading and note-taking style gradually.

Progressing Slowly Through Your Books

If I’m starting a completely new research area for myself, every piece of information will be tough to consume for me and will take a lot of time. On the contrary, if I’m reading a book on a subject that I’ve read a hundred articles / dozens of books about already, I will definitely have very few highlights unless a book is a real masterpiece and will progress much faster through any piece of content.

Also, I’m not sure that “being slow at reading” applies here. In my view, it’s perfectly fine to slowly read a few curated sources than to jump through hundreds of social media posts or rubbish articles.

I will only jump through the articles if I need to have a general understanding of the topic in a short amount of time. Even then, I’ll try to find one or two well-written pieces and stick to them reading slowly. Later, I can expand my knowledge building on the links from those well-written sources.

Less Effort for Reading vs. More Effort for Note-taking

This one should read “less effort consuming, more effort thinking and creating”. I think you’re learning a lot, if you have some much to document from a book. However, make sure your ways of reading and note-taking align with your learning goals as described above. If they do, let it take as much time as necessary. If they don’t, cut them right away.

Forgetting What Your Notes Were About When You Come Back to Them

To me, that’s a signal that something is wrong with the notes. If that only applies to highlights, chance are you’re highlighting too much. Again, it’s fine for a book from a completely new area. For familiar stuff, I always try to remember that I’m not documenting the world, I’m trying to distill information into my own knowledge to build my own “model of the world”. I also try to write those notes as if I was explaining something to a different person, in fact that person is my future self.

For me it also applied to notes sometimes. I ended up adding a piece of metadata to each note with some internal context which helps to remember why at all I bothered to write something. Note how Petersen adds a lot of context to his notes with questions like “how does this idea relate to other ideas I know”, “what is its significance for this idea”, “do I believe it ”, “how might I criticize it”. He then explains that he’s “attaching little memory hooks to it in in five different ways”.

P. S.

Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking…
— Albert Einstein, “What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck” The Saturday Evening Post (26 October 1929), p. 17.

45 Likes

What a great post! You clarify all the process variables for us. Thank you so much.

2 Likes

What a great thread,

Tbh I am still not sure about the answer.
I think maybe just speed-reading the book once before taking-notes is a reasonable advice, it’s a advice that I found in How to Read a Book (which btw is a good source that I noticed @AlexanderSavenkov mentioned too). I think at the end of the day all of this methods and standards needs a thorough personal testing because ultimately It depends on personal goals and conditions.

4 Likes

Actually I thought about this today but I didn’t know someone actually said something about that, that’s why I wanted to ask if anyone does it and what this persons experience looks like.

I was or rather I am currently taking notes while reading a book, so im interlocking (don’t really know if this is the right word) the process of reading and taking notes. I’ve done that now for quite some time and I can tell you that this process takes too long for my taste (actually don’t know if that is the right phrase either xD).

But I started separating these two actually yesterday. As I came back to my highlights to make notes it was much easier for me and felt much faster.

Sorry if this post is kinda bad written, I’m currently in a meeting and not really concentrated on either writing nor listening and also English isn’t my main language so excuse me xD

2 Likes

@Gul_Daniel Can you describe in more detail your highlighting and note taking process? Perhaps with examples? If you are finding the process faster and easier perhaps there is some value there that others can learn from as well.

I often use Cal Newport’s “morse code” approach which is analogous to your highlighting approach: dot the margin for a main point, dash for a supporting point. The trick though is that points are interlinked and woven together so we need to look in a text for not just the sequence of primary & supporting points as written by the author but also the larger themes and patterns that emerge from the text. This means that chunking by main+support is a perfectly fine first step but we should consider then grouping those chunks together into groups that represent overarching themes.

IMO its capturing and summarizing these themes and their main points that is the most important, rather than capturing the specific sequence of main+supporting ideas in a given section.

This is not always easy of course. I’m reading quite a few books (slowly, incrementally) and Eco’s How to Write a Thesis is an easy read because I’m already familiar with the process of comprehension/decomposition/synthesis. But I’m also studying a book for a certification exam as well as an extremely dense textbook on systems science, and the first requires a lot of rote memorization while the second requires a lot of deep thought given the density.

So I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach. Not every book warrants extremely deep thought. Eco’s book is great but I do fine skipping over parts, while if I did that with either of the other books I would get lost quickly.

My process for note taking is continually developing, but generally I read in the morning, and after reading a couple of pages or some logical section of text, I will go back immediately and handwrite (fountainpen/A5 notebook) notes. After a couple of days (or sometimes after I finished the book) I read the notes verbatim into OneNote (I hate typing).

Those notes get cut and pasted into a resource note in Obsidian (usually with chapter headings). I will come back to this note and from there I create atomic notes …

Though it’s about web articles, you can just highlight sentences while reading. By adding notes on highlights, you can easily look back at them and remember why you highlighted them.
This article helps you improve your situation.

And this is how I’m reading articles.

3 Likes

All of the above is very good and the summary post is excellent. I would like to support a point and add one other:

  • A quick “speed read” of an article / book is a sound approach. If it helps, its akin to picking up a map for your journey; we naturally take a highlevel view of where we are, where we are going, waypoints and key points of interest along the way and then we embark on the journey following the map in detail.

  • whatever capturing process you use chose one you enjoy; stretching the analogy above, enjoy the journey rather than focusing on churning out outcomes.

:slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

I’d like to add a few points that expand on topics raised in this thread:

On Processing vs Consuming

I find the “consuming” distinction here a bit of a red herring, because in reality we are hardly ever fully in passive “receiving” mode when we read (ie reading in order to learn). Even when we expectantly hit the couch in front of our favourite Netflix series to be entertained, our “consumption” is not passive. At the very least, we’re emotionally responding. In the background the brain is either “going along” with the fiction unfolding, in a state of suspended disbelief or… we switch channels.

When we read, we are always “processing” ideas as we narrate the author’s words in our heads. We experience reading as an inner dialogue between the author’s arguments and our own responses in the form of thoughts, reactions and questions. We try to understand and then debate with ourselves, as we’re reading.

Perhaps the implied distinction is less about cognitive passivity, and more about the type of processing. Processing can take place more consciously or more unconsciously (it’s always a combination). When our understanding is enabled by what we already know, reading is easy: we just understand (unconsciously). But when the reading is difficult, or when we disagree or feel strongly about the authors views, more conscious inner dialogue is involved as we try to make sense of the author’s reasoning.

I’d suggest a more practical way of framing the reading process is as an ebb and flow of (conscious) dialogue. The dialogue recedes when we easily understand or agree, so there’s no friction in our understanding. But dialogue is necessary whenever we hit stumbling points, or when we have questions or need to experiment with holding different positions or points of view.

Even after we’ve finished reading, we are still processing. And so the ebb and flow of conscious thoughts continues over time, extending beyond the “reading” stage. Things start to sink in. We sleep on stuff. We let things marinate. Insights pop suddenly into awareness, and we feel compelled to capture them or think about them. Often, our best ideas and insights surface when we’re relaxed or distracted doing something completely unrelated.

What I’m advocating for, is having a looser grip on the tiller as we read. It’s not possible to decide up front, what mode of comprehension you’ll be in. The mode of thought is a reaction to the reading. In a similar way, note-taking needn’t be artificially constrained or rules-based. Rather, we can simply take notes when we feel the need to. This is the benefit of tools like Obsidian: they allow us to make sense of those notes later, without interrupting the flow of our inner dialogue. A flexible tool like Obsidian can help take away the friction.

So I’d suggest we need to be careful about adding friction back, by being too rigid in our learning methods.

How to Frame Reading and Learning Goals

If we acknowledge that the way we naturally learn is the most frictionless way, then note-taking should feel natural. The easiest way to naturally guide our thinking and learning, is by formulating our reading goals. Once our mind has a goal, we can let go of consciously “looking for things to note” and simply notice what jumps out as relevant. Goals are form of guidance “relevance realisation” (to go deeper, this is the term that neuroscientist John Vervaeke uses in the title of his paper on wisdom versus stupidity, and how the brain functions as a self-organising system of relevance-realisation).

Joshua Waitzkin, the chess grandmaster, talks about his coaching work in one of his Google Talks on YouTube. You may know that Waitzkin’s work these days is coaching people in the top 10% of their field to become the top 1%. He has many practices that he teaches, but the essence of his work is unlocking the unconscious. One way he does that is by feeding questions to his unconscious, and I’d suggest that this is how we should use reading goals.

The practice that Waitzkin advocates is to stimulate our unconscious to serve up insights whilst we relax or play. It works via the formulation of questions: at the end of a day, or when he gets stuck, he’ll consciously formulate a question that articulates the problem and the outcome he’s looking for. The formulation of the question should focus on the most complex or difficult aspect of the thing you’re thinking about, so as to precisely focus your mind’s processing.

Then he’ll let go of it and do something else. I’ve been doing this for years now, and it works with practice. I’ll go for a walk, do some exercise or sleep on a question overnight. Or I’ll switch tasks and work on something else that’s unrelated.

The discipline then, is that when you return to the question next day/after a break, you write down whatever comes into your head. I’ll write for 15 minutes or half an hour, to start with. Sometimes I’m still going hours later, sometimes I’m still stuck and so I need to revisit the question and refine it.

You can use the same method for setting your reading goals. Simply articulate the problem or question you have, and that you want your reading to illuminate. Then let go. The brain will do its thing, and surface things that seem relevant. Your attention will be directed by your goal, and you’ll notice whatever is relevant. This works because the brain is wired to function this way, outside of your conscious awareness. Happily it’s also a painless way to read and think: the processing takes care of itself, so long as your question or problem is well formulated.

Two Modes of Reading

Before I read a book, I try to judge whether to undertake a “deep reading” or an “idea scan”.

A deep reading is slow reading. I take my time to pour over every sentence and diagram, as I try to take in and fully understand the author’s train of thought and intended meaning. As I do this, I connect what I’m understanding with my prior understanding and thoughts, looking for gaps or doubts or questions or agreement.

Few books deserve a deep reading, but often I won’t know until I start… and I follow my interest. If I lose interest, I stop without guilt.

An “idea scan” is appropriate when I know that I only want to read certain chapters deeply, because much of the book’s content is already familiar or is not that that insightful. And if it’s poorly written, I can’t frankly be bothered to make the effort - the friction of reading a poorly written book is seldom worth it. I can usually spot a book I will only scan via its contents page, and a quick scan of headings, diagrams, tables and the like - looking for new concepts and whatever jumps out at me as relevant.

The exception to this approach is a brand new topic where I have little or no understanding. In this case, I’ll do some research to try to uncover the key concepts and associated keywords, and to identify specific research papers or books that will be central to my understanding. If I’m looking for research papers, I’ll look to see if there’s a recent meta-analysis or topic review. I’ll scan keywords and abstracts, and judge how much I think I can understand, and this will usually tell me where I need to start.

If I’m contemplating a book by an academic or thought leader in a field, another trick is to look for any talks they’ve given at Google HQ or at top universities and student unions. Often the talk will be enough, if it’s a topic I’m familiar with, to decide if the book is worth my time. Or if I’m interested in a new idea or concept that I’ve come across, I’ll see if the academic has given any talks on it. Sometimes this primer is all I actually need, other times I’ll go deeper.

3 Likes

A small point about note taking. Many studies have repeatedly shown that you remember / retain information better when you take hand written notes. I know we are all devices connected/addicted but consider taking your notes about a section you’ve read by hand. You can scan/transcribe later and even store the image of your handwritten notes in Obsidian but start by writing.

Agree, another vote here for hand-written notes. I’ve tried to take hand written notes on my iPad, using the Concepts app - and that can work well for mind maps especially, since you can easily change them and re-arrange them, unlike paper… but it doesn’t have the same satisfying “feel” of pen on paper. Nor is it as freeing as a blank sheet of paper somehow.

I like the fact that paper slows me down… I feel I think more clearly this way.

Reading shouldn’t be a one-way traffic. It shouldn’t be a process of just consumption. This is where I disagree with Peterson and Forte above.

It should be a process of conversation, of intermingling of your ideas versus other people’s ideas. We should read books with an open mind, yes, in the way that we should really try to understand what the author is saying before trying to argue or put your own opinions in.

The reason why we easily forget principles is because we haven’t intimately interacted with the material. We often devour pages of information, whereas in real life, we wouldn’t really be ingesting so much information in one go. It’s unnatural. And if we don’t process it as we go, interact and toy with it, agree and disagree, really dive into each point, the shared information is going down the drain.

So that highlighting approach definitely doesn’t vibe well with me.

We still need to use our brains, not be a spirit medium for different authors or an echo chamber. We need to stretch our own cognitive load. Try to read a chapter, rest, toy with the ideas in the chapter, write notes of what you’d say or ask if you were in a face-to-face conversation with the author. Imo, that’s how we honour what authors have to say. And if a book doesn’t challenge me, I throw it away.

2 Likes

Not really; Hand Writing Or Keyboard, No Difference – Interdependent Thoughts
The difference is in the engagement after taking notes. The means of taking notes isn’t what matters.

The 2022 paper by Voyer, Ronis, and Byers, “The effect of notetaking method on academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” “*showed no effect of method of note taking on performance under controlled conditions. It considered 77 effect sizes from 39 samples in 36 articles, showing no effect on note taking approach.“

@ton @triedmanyapps

In defence of the OP, I read his post as also provoking reflection on the value of handwriting some notes. That taking digital vs paper notes has “no effect” on academic performance, is not quite the same thing as saying our choices of workflows, habits and tools don’t matter.

Our “engagement after taking notes” is constrained or enabled in part by the form of those notes.

As a touch-typist I can type between 60-90wpm without looking at the keyboard, so taking notes with a keyboard whilst watching a video/listening to an audiobook, is a no-brainer if I just want to quickly summarise and capture quotes and thoughts for future reference. I do this often when I’m in “capture” mode, but if I want to engage in those notes more deeply I’ll often resort to “writing by hand” on paper (even if digital paper).

I use a lot of A3 paper for concept maps and mind maps (using visual language, not just words), usually when reading a paper or book that I want to process more deeply. Categorisations like “note-taking” and “thinking” and “learning” are then far less distinct and meaningful - I’m doing all those things at the same time.

In my personal view, handwriting notes on paper is a qualitatively better experience for some situations. My digital vs paper choice is based on the “friction” of thinking with those tools.

One simple situation in which I still favour paper, is spreading a number of my concept/mind maps in front of me on the desk in order to “think about” something. Glancing across pages of A3 maps, adding post-its, making new mental connections, scribbling not the maps… it all happens as fast as I can think, with no friction. Even just sitting staring at the maps is something I can’t do digitally, due to screen limitations. As soon as I use a digital tool in this situation, I am constrained by it.

For focused tasks digital tools are hard to beat: I’ll use a split screen on the iPad or desktop for dual-processing, say, reading and note-taking from an e-book. And I might create a ‘hand-drawn’ A3 MindMap on my large iPad, so that it’s easier to edit and update later (I favour graphics apps over purpose-made mindmapping apps, for their flexibility and so that I can use visual language/graphics).

1 Like

I don’t disagree with you there. I tend to do the same, spread out things on paper around me to find a way forward in e.g. research I do for work. I also vastly prefer a paper notebook above jotting down notes on my mobile e.g.
And I have added multiple additional screens to increase the screen space I have to spread out digital things, but it’s not the same (also because pacing around my room while thinking/arranging post its is of a different quality than moving stuff on a screen while sitting down. Those are not taking notes though, all engagement with them. OP however posited ‘Many studies have repeatedly shown’ w.r.t. actual note taking which afaik isn’t the case.

1 Like