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65 Comments

How do you take notes when reading?

Many people share their book summaries and takeaways here on IH or elsewhere - which is really awesome.

How do you all write down and collect book notes or useful quotes? Do you look at your notes later? Please share your process if you found something that works well, and help each other out! 🤟

  1. 5

    Love this question so much! It was the bane of my existence before I switched to Notion. Had notes everywhere - evernote, apple notes, pieces of paper etc.

    Now, I use Notion to pull everything in one space. Have created a 'Reading list' table where I track 1) Things I want to read 2) The status (aka have I read it) 3) The topic (aka behavioural economics, mind, memoirs etc) . It takes time to set up the system but once it's up, it's easy to browse.

    As I'm reading, I'll jot down notes and quotes that stand out to me. And I look back on them if the topic comes up in conversation, if I want to share something with a friend or if I'm writing a new article :)

    How do you go about it?

    1. 1

      Thank you for sharing! How do you organise notes and quotes for different topics? Like you want to check economics ideas, do you look up the books you read & the notes for each?

      Right now I'm fascinated by ideas / models that apply across domains - but don't have a good process for collecting those (only a lot of Google Docs). I'm trying to find out what works for others here!

      1. 2

        Ooo such a good question! Totally get the dilemma of ideas / models across multiple domains tho. Really tricky!

        The way I approach it is I place books into broad categories (which I've split into separate tables in Notion) e.g. 'Think better', 'Mental health'.

        And then within each table, I have a column for 'Type' which I tag books with more specific domains e.g. Under 'Think better', I have books that are tagged with 'behavioural economics', 'psychology', 'philosophy', 'neuroscience', 'memoir', 'business' etc. Most fall into one category, but some might have two tags!

        So whenever I want to find economic ideas, I can either filter the table OR I can just scroll down the table (my tags are all colour-coded so I can spot them fast!). This works for me, and I have 100+ books in there!

        1. 2

          Oh and as for the specific notes, I always put the notes under the book itself! The tagging system helps me find the info. I found it pretty tricky to maintain a system where you're adding info to different 'topics'.

          1. 1

            I do this as well I use Tom Littler's note card system in Notion and as an avid reader for me it was a game changer!

            Link below:
            https://youtu.be/tix5Ze5D-Gw

  2. 4

    I normally write down things that results interesting to me: a new idea, some knowledge in a format of a bullet list at the beginning. Then I do a summary of what I read with my own words and use software like Notion or Obsidian to save that knowledge.

    1. 1

      Wow, thanks for the Obsidian tip, I've not heard of it, I'll give it a try :)!

  3. 3

    I have an unusual system but it seems to work well for me!

    • Fold the page if I find a sentence that stands out whilst reading
    • After finishing the book I go back through all the folded pages and review.
    • If it still catches my eye on the second read I copy the sentence into a Notion template where I store information on all the books I've read.
  4. 3

    Not very sophisticated, but have been working well for me - I usually listen to audiobooks and write down on Evernote.

    Crazy that Evernote still is a great solution for me when it comes to ‘longevity’ of notes - I can trace back to 2015!

    1. 1

      I like it, simple is more!

      Do you write down your notes per book or per topic? How / when do you look at your notes later?

      1. 2

        Poorly done is better than undone! That's something I read today and I couldn't agree more. So this is my excuse for simplicity.

        Currently I just write notes per book, and depending on the book I summarize in an article more actionable later on. For example, when I read 'Never Split the Difference' by Chris Voss on negotiation, I had not only the notes of the book but I created a framework in another article of how to apply the strategies and tactics learned in the book to a more actionable format.

        But for books like '12 rules of Life' by J. Peterson I just have the notes by chapter - which by the way I highly recommend in case you haven't read yet!

        What's your process?

  5. 3

    I read books on my Ipad Pro and use the Pencil to take reference notes in a side-by-side view. I convert the handwriting to text and sync it to Notion. After a chapter (sometimes only after I finish the book), I will make sure I take my highlights and reference notes and compile them into my "second brain" using Obsidian.

    If you haven't heard of linked note-taking before by using tools such as Roam Research, Obsidian, Athens or even Notion, I highly recommend you look into it, especially in combination with non-fiction books. The benefits are plenty, and chances are you'll find a common thread between your notes more effectively.

    Also look into Zettelkasten (or "slip-box" system) as a means to structure your notes :)

    1. 1

      Thank you for sharing, this sounds interesting!

      What kind of book notes do you save in Obsidian, and how do you organise them? Do you try to summarise the book content, or mainly write down inspirations relevant to you?

      How do you later refer back to book notes - is it per topic, book, or do you have other categories?

      1. 2

        I will keep a note on every book separately, but will also add my insights to the topics I'm linking to. Say I were reading "A mind for numbers" by Barbara Oakley, I might also add notes to my Zettelkasten for diffused mode of thinking, chunking, interleaving and procrastination.

        So - yes I will add my takeaways about a given book, but will also make sure I enrich the notes for an interlinked individual topic. That's a two-way street, your existing notes might contradict what you read in a book. This is where the magic happens, because you're reconciling what you thought you knew with what you just read: fact-checking!
        Most peoples' biggest problem today isn't access to information or the time it takes to consume it, it's knowledge reconciliation. Adapting what you knew to what you've just learned. No machine or service can do that for you.

        When second brain tooling gets more powerful, I hope to be able to "version" notes and add a source for me having changed or added one. That would allow you to time travel throughout your brain and knowledge, seeing which sources caused you to change your mind about a given topic. Powerful stuff!

  6. 3

    I have a giant list where I jot down all my notes, from shower thoughts to book notes to meeting minutes. Whenever I'm reading a book, I just add interesting thoughts to the top of that list.

    I do it this way because organization doesn't matter to me. I don't care where I got an idea. I don't care that it came from this book or that book. I'm never going to benefit from my notes being tagged or separated into folders. All of that stuff just gets in the way, and slows me down, and adds friction to the process of taking and reading notes.

    Keeping a giant list of bullet points means I'm constantly returning to my notes and ideas, and scanning through it is pretty quick and easy.

    1. 2

      I have similiar process. When reading I highlight interesting parts and fold the corner of a book. After finishing the book I go back to highlights and write the ideas in my notebook.

    2. 1

      I love that, simple is more! Are the thoughts in your giant list fairly general, if you don't need to categorise them by topic?

      E.g. notes about content creation could be quite different from ideas about business growth or emphasising with customers. Do you mainly use your list for inspiration, or to process & expand ideas?

      1. 2

        Super general. I have notes about all sorts of topics. If I want to work on a very specific project, then I'll use a different area for that, but that's usually for planning/strategizing rather than cataloguing notes and ideas.

        I mainly use my list for inspiration. For example, if I'm going to give a talk or appear on a podcast, I'll scan my list of notes for interesting ideas that might be relevant.

  7. 2

    I have a Wacom Folio. It's been a life-changer for me. I always liked digital notes for copy, paste, edit and organisation. But we know that writing with pen and paper is better for memory.

    With the Folio, I can scribble down notes (Also, I feel that it looks less rude in meetings), and then I can convert to text later, discard the junk notes and copy and paste. I'm still using multiple apps, all mentioned here already.

    Because it's actual pen and paper, even if the battery died I could still take notes (but this never happened yet).

  8. 2

    I've always taken notes, but I rarely looked back at them until I started leaving them all in Google Keep.

    I use Keep for quick reminders and running lists. It's not really built for long-form, organized notes on books. But because I'm using Keep all the time, I come across and read my old notes more often than I ever did when I used "thicker" apps designed to help you organize notes, or ones for books/quotes, specifically.

    Keep isn't feature-heavy, but the app has improved over the past few years. I recommend!

  9. 2

    I use many different apps but I have not found a solution that works. I often read while in the bus or train and in that case I use Google Keep (yeap, you read right) to take quick notes and often attach a picture of the paragraph and/or page). It works well for me if I need to use it for a post I'll do in the following days/weeks, but not any longer.

    I like to buy printed books for topics non-related to tech and eBooks for tech (I think printed books is such a waste since those won't be relevant after a year). For tech books I have a private repository in Gitlab for notes.

    I would love to be able to track better things and group together notes and paragraphs in more than one group, but I've not being able to do so. It is great to read so many new ideas to try here (ex. Zettelkasten, Obsidian, Honest Notes). I often remember the name of the book in which I read something I want to use but I don't remember the paragraph or page.

    1. 1

      For better tracking and grouping notes I highly reccomend using Notion and doing a note card system of sorts. I've linked the video below :)
      https://youtu.be/tix5Ze5D-Gw

      1. 1

        Thanks for the tip! Not a big fan of Notion, it might be because I used it for the wrong thing (it was used to do a little bit of project management and communication across functional areas in some of the startups I've worked).

        The video is really interesting, I might give it a second chance in the future. I am curious about the Notion Consultancy you mention in your profile.

        1. 1

          You're welcome and re the Notion Consultancy: Well I have a background in marketing and business analysis, so thought I'd combine the two plus my love of Notion to set up a business consultancy that helps charities and not for profit organisations to grow. I'll do this through creating (for my clients) digital eco systems and workspaces in Notion :)

    2. 1

      I use Google Keep for just about all my notes. It's a good app! And as I said in my post, I end up reviewing my notes a lot more often when I take them in Google Keep, because I use Google Keep for a lot of other reasons, too.

  10. 2

    For each book I read, I create a new note in Apple Notes. When I read something interesting, I add the quote and page number to the book's note. If I'm in bed, I usually just jot down the page number and the beginning of the quote. Later, when I'm at my desk, I'll type out the entire quote.

    Once I finish the book, I jot down a rating (1-5) and a couple thoughts about the book.

    I don't frequently refer to my notes on books, but when I do, it's always interesting and helpful.

  11. 2

    I generally don't take notes while reading. I believe I will re-read the book after quite some time if it was really good. Although for the ones I take, I use a diary where I write insights and notes from the book.

    1. 1

      I agree, for me personally, note taking can also go too far.

      For the things that you do write down, do you organise notes by topic or put them all into a general diary? Do you frequently go back to & try to apply these ideas - or do you just not want to loose them?

      1. 2

        I keep two notebooks. One where I write down the notes directly related to my work - growth, product and finance. I have another diary where I write notes for every other type of book that I read - Philosophy and Religion.

        I go back to these sometimes, while on other occasions, I re-read the book itself.

        I apply these ideas subconsciously. By this, I mean that as I read more, my mental models and way of thinking takes shape which influences the decisions that I make at work.

  12. 2

    After reading a book I write down certain things on paper and fold it inside, so I can refer to key takeaways later.

    1. Main idea of the book
    2. Main parts
    3. Main takeaways (can be 15-30 best statements)
    4. Author's point of view
    5. My opinion
    6. Conclusion

    Usually this fits 1.5 pages and helps me quickly refer to 40 books I've read in 2 years.

  13. 2

    What I found easiest is to just underline or circle anything I find important while reading the book, and after each chapter put together a bullet list of the most important items I marked.

    After finishing the whole book, I just put together a Google Doc where I list all the chapters and add the items from my bullet list to them.

    This gives me a nice and clean overview of the best insights I found during reading the book.

    (Also you can mark the page where the insight was found so you can revisit easier.)

    1. 2

      That sounds very useful, but not sure I'd have the motivation to stick with it 😄

      How much do you usually write down per book?

      1. 2

        Depends on the length of the book, usually, I write down around 5 bullet points for each chapter. This is for chapters with a length of like 20-30 pages. But it heavily depends on the book and the chapter, sometimes I don't find anything important in a chapter and I just skip it, sometimes I find a chapter so important that I write down 10 things to my bullet list.

        By the way, this is a good habit I picked up as a result of reading Psycho-Cybernetics, where the author actively encourages you to take notes after each chapter. ;)

        1. 2

          Thank you for sharing & the book recommendation!

          How do you organise your notes, when do you look at chapter notes again later?

          1. 2

            I make a bullet list for each chapter in my notebook (just a standard paper notebook), and after finishing the book I usually put together a Google Document based on my notes.

            I have used software like Notion / Evernote before and realised that with apps like those I usually just overthink and overcomplicate things, so after a while, I just started using basic pen + paper, sometimes a standard Google / Word doc.

            I usually re-read my bullet list / notes every time I start a new chapter, sort of as a review + whenever I feel like my mind needs a refresh about the stuff I read.

            1. 1

              +1 on keeping it simple, I also only use Google Docs.

              When do you re-read the doc you put together about the whole book? Would that doc be a condensed form of the chapter notes, or are those mainly to engage with & better understand the content?

              BTW, please share any summaries or takeaways on IH - that would be really interesting!

  14. 2

    I highly recommend this approach https://www.jamoe.org/note-taking
    I've been using it for a couple of months already and it was a life-changer for me

    1. 1

      there are many techniques there, which is top 1 to apply?

      1. 1

        Go through the HQ&A method articles :)

  15. 2

    It depends on what kind of book I read.
    If that's a technical book then I use Google Slide. Draw things on Google Slide help me understand better as well as remember better.
    I apply this technique when I learn online courses too.

    1. 1

      That's a good idea using slides. I might have to try that out 😀

    2. 1

      Nice, engaging with the content in a different way!

      I'm wondering: do you look at your slides again later, or is it really about the first time learning process?

  16. 1

    I use Notion. I have a large database with all books that I've read and want to read. Every book gets it's own subpage where I copy passages and add my notes and thoughts to it.

    I found out about an app called Laconic the other day (iOS only) - it let's you scan a book page, detects the text and then you can add notes. Don't know how well it works, because I mainly read digital books.

  17. 1

    I create notes in my notecard system via Notion. Got the idea from below video

    https://youtu.be/tix5Ze5D-Gw

  18. 1

    I personally find using pencil and paper the best, even if I have to copy a paragraph as context.

  19. 1

    Kindle sync with Notion. pretty awesome automation using readwise.

  20. 1

    I use highlight and Notion

  21. 1

    Hey Peter,
    I'm reading books with my kindle and just recently started using Readwise.io for note-taking. Can only recommend it! As the product not only cares about the note-taking process itself but also about actually memorizing those notes later on.

    1. 1

      Awesome! I'm not too familiar with Readwise (since I'm still stuck with paper books), does it allow you to enter your own notes or idea summary in addition to quotes?

  22. 1

    If I want to highlight the quote, I underline it on my Kindle e-book.
    In case I have some thoughts, I either write them down in my notebook, or in my notes on Iphone. It depends on what I have right now :)

    1. 1

      Do you look at your notes later?

      1. 1

        Yes. Both digital and analogue. Because there're some really great ideas I want to implement

        1. 1

          So it's more about remembering practical ideas or inspirations you've had while reading, rather than remembering the exact content you read? I'm just curious, everyone reads for different things.

          1. 2

            I read for both. Sometimes I just highlight some quotes that containt fresh ideas for me.
            Sometimes I have a great idea inspired by what I have just read, so I also write it down, but in my Notes on phone or a paper notebook.

  23. 1

    I also put down all useful ideas that come up. It's fascinating how many thoughts on my product hit my head when reading. No surprise Buffet does it for majority of his "working" day.

  24. 1

    At first I tried just storing markdown files on GitHub and Trello, but now I keep all notes and tasks in Notion.

  25. 1

    I always have my notebook next to me and write ideas and quotes down whenever I stumble upon interesting things or think of something.

    I regularly go through my notes and put them into Obsidian.

    1. 1

      how's your experience with Obsidian? I hear more and more people switching to it

      1. 2

        Quite good I must say. The tool is very pleasing to use, and there are a number of interesting community plugins.

        Still, for some reason, I want to build my own thing.. ;-)))

        1. 2

          I've had this idea too. Started a note-taking app half a year ago which aimed at helping medical students prepare to exams. Few pivots later it became a peer-to-peer mentoring platform. Now it's about reflecting on fuckups and tracking progress :)

  26. 1

    I just found out about readwise.io - you can sync quotes from Kindle or otherwhere, organise them & sync to note-taking apps. Is anyone here using it?

    1. 2

      I use it mainly for Twitter threads. I'm old-school and prefer paper books in hand, and then highlight main points, transcribe into Obsidian. It's not the best in terms of time compared to kindle highlight/export text, but it works for me.

      1. 2

        I also love paper books! It's not as convenient to save multiple quotes, but maybe that's even a benefit - you already distill the main ideas relevant to you.

        1. 2

          Good point. It's almost like there's no sense of transcribing something not important or unique. Realistically, I rather not transcribe too much as it's such a time sink. There is also speech-to-text which you can try out. I've tried it, and other than the odd misinterpretations, it's pretty good for longer pieces of text.

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