Practicing note rewriting
Issue 108: Tending to previous writings to keep valuable notes
When you think of the challenges of writing, starting and making time probably comes to mind. Aside from that, the most difficult challenge I’ve heard from people is rewriting and editing your notes. My early day note-taking habits felt more like a transcription of a lecture as opposed to taking good notes. It’s really about the quality of the note vs. the volume.
The three Rs of note-taking
In an attempt to distill everything into threes, I devised three Rs that are important to me in rewriting notes: Reflect, Recall, and Rewrite.
On a personal and professional level, reflection is one of the most crucial acts in my life. There is a great excerpt from a Harvest Business Review article, Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It), which writes:
Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.
In agile software development cycles, reflection is built in—the end of sprint retro. It’s important to do a personal retro in your iteration cycles as well. Think about what is valuable to remember that you want to build on moving forward. The best way to ensure you’re reflecting is to build it into your schedule. For me, there are three instances when they frequently occur: the end of the day on Friday, Sunday evenings as the new week starts, and personal monthly retros.
If the reflection is the heart and soul, recalling elements is the muscle. This is where deliberate practice comes in to build notes into knowledge. Choose a recall method that works for you as it’ll be different for everyone. This could be sketching on a whiteboard, creating visual aids, using an adored piece of software, etc. My two favorites are taking notes with the Cornell Note Taking System and creating flashcards. Since my early days in school, studying art history slides, or leading a product development team, making memorable index cards are my tool of choice. This may seem counter-intuitive when writing digital notes but I find it helpful to bring things back into physical note cards.
Questions I ask myself when making flashcards:
What are the key concepts most important to remember?
What would the top-level summary of this note be if you had to write it in one sentence?
Are there aspects of your notes that are hard to remember? If so, how would you rewrite it in a way that would make it valuable to remember?
The final step is after you Reflect and Recall, it’s time to Rewrite your notes. Emphasis the concepts that are crucial to remember and delete notes that are no longer relevant. Good writing is usually a lot of deleting. Pick a rewriting method and stick with it. You might be comfortable doing it directly in your note-taking software or annotating on the file and rewrite later. I’m a fan of exporting PDFs and scribbling my rewrites on Muse. It works for me because I’m old school (and now probably just old!).
When doing a rewrite, I like to create note structures with key sections:
Point of view (my personal notes)
Resources (links to related articles)
A few practical tips
End of week/month reflections
Create a doc for each end-of-month reflection. Spend 15-20m looking through notes from the month and notate important milestones
What went well?
What could have gone better?
What do you want to achieve next month?
When I write daily notes of the current day, I always have the notes from yesterday open and edit them accordingly. Make your collective knowledge work together and not get lost in the day-to-day.
Highlighting and annotations
I wish operating systems and browsers had an annotation layer to any object. How incredible would that be? The importance of annotations is it’s another layer of data on top of what you write and consume. When I’m reading, I avidly highlight and write in the book to track what’s important to remember. When I am spending time recalling markdown files, I use the ‘==’ syntax to create highlights on what I want to go back to.
Review random notes
This is a great technique to recall your notes. There is an Obsidian plugin I love called Smart Random Note. It gives me an opportunity to link the note to others, rewrite it, or realize that it's not worth remembering. I'll add more tags and refine the notes.
The best notes have multiple iterations and constant rewrites. That's what makes it super powerful. I hope this gives you some ideas to rewrite your notes and would love to hear how you like to structure your notes!
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