I am late on this Recently, and lost a bit of the habit already that I started in September. However! I’ve been running a mile every other day regularly, sticking to my dietary goals (vegetarian leaning vegan), and keeping my morning routine (5am-7am for running/reading/writing). Unfortunately, I’ve had to use that morning time for work related things quite a bit the last month, and that has interferred with my reading, note taking, and writing. Given the amount life changes coming down the pipe, I am not hopeful of how November will go. But I will try to do my best to keep it steady!

Anyway, this month’s recently is short. Let’s get on with it.

Using our brain the way it works best

Last month I read How to Take Smart Notes by Ahrens Sönke. The gist of the book is that real learning and original insight comes not from gathering encyclopedic knowledge but from making connections between what we learn in different contexts. It is very much a how-to book, teaching Niklas Luhmann’s “Slip-box Method” of note-taking and writing, but Sönke also spends considerable time explaining why that method is so effective.

For example, it turns out our brains are very good at finding patterns and similarities (or dissimilarities) between objective, external things. It doesn’t do such great a job when comparing subjective, interal things, like thoughts. Looking down at physical (or digital) notes that you have captured in precise words leans into how the brain works best when searching for connections to make between material. Doing it all within your head, not so much.

The practical tips from the book were helpful for setting up a structure for reading, note-taking, and reviewing notes in a way that leads to some sort of output. The result of working in this structure so far has been a considerable amount of serendipity. I will move from reading a book on Topic A to reading an article on Topic Y and a tweet on Topic Z, and discover there is this thread that connects them all together and touches on my own thinking on the subject. Something I would have missed without the deeper, more thoughtful approach to reading and note taking that the book evangelizes.

I have high hopes that focusing on this habit of taking smart notes will in time lead to a lot more writing, with more original insight, and with less stress and misery involved in the process of the writing itself. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in its subject matter.

Sleeping

An excellent guide on sleep showed up on Hackernews a month or so ago. It suggested biphasic (take a nap and sleep at night) and free-running sleep (no alarm clocks, wake when you wake) were keys to good sleep. I gave up the alarm clock after reading this and discovered that I was waking up around 5am without it. I feel much more alert and less groggy in the mornings now. I haven’t been able to fit a napping practice into my day, but I have been going to bed once I am tired and not fighting it. The result has been bed times around 830pm-900pm quite consistently. This doesn’t leave much time to spend with my wife on weekdays, however, so I am going to try harder to incorporate a nap after lunch and see if that shortens the night sleep I need, and gives me back my evenings.