How to take smart notes by Sönke Ahrens - Notes & Highlights

How to take smart notes by Sönke Ahrens - Notes & Highlights


Sönke Ahrens' "How to Take Smart Notes" teaches effective note-taking with Zettelkasten method, enhancing learning, productivity, and creativity through optimized knowledge organization and research.

Table of contents

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. How to take smart notes gives a very detailed description of how to use the note-taking system used by Niklas Luhmann. The appendix primarily provides these details.
  2. It discusses the philosophy of note-taking and how writing is thinking. Often the two are separated, and people think of stuff, write it down, and do some more thinking. Sönke Ahrens explains that the writing within a slip box is the thinking; the two are the same.
  3. Furthermore, it gives the advantage of structuring your writing bottom up instead of the other way around. Once you start using a method like this and stick with it, you’ll never have to worry about what to write because the bottom will feed you enough content.

🎨 Impressions

This is such an important book to read. I valued the philosophy of reading and note-taking the most, which brings much value to your life once understood. It was challenging to get through the last part once you got the gist of the message being told. Nevertheless, following a bottom-up approach to note-taking and reading like you have a pen in your hand are powerful tools you need to have explored in your life. It is one of the reasons I’ve started this website.

How I Discovered It

This book was a recommendation from Ali Abdaal. He also has a great video on Youtube on note-taking based on the contents of this book.

Who Should Read It?

I recommend this book to people that are transitioning toward adulthood. Right after puberty, when you have the patients to read such a book. Please do it. If you can find yourself in this stage earlier in life, even better.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

💡 How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • I do not see note-taking as a separate task necessary to learn something; I now perceive it as an incorporated medium in my thinking process. There is no goal, only a process.
  • I’ve become more aware of my reading because I want to translate it into an understanding right away.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • “How do you plan for insight, which, by definition, cannot be anticipated? It is a huge misunderstanding that the only alternative to planning is aimless messing around. The challenge is to structure one’s workflow in a way that insight and new ideas can become the driving forces that push us forward.”
  • “the professor is not there for the student and the student not for the professor. Both are only there for the truth. And truth is always a public matter.“
  • “Reading with a pen in the hand, for example, forces, us to think about what we read and check upon our understanding. It is the simplest test: We tend to think we understand what we read – until we try to rewrite it in our own words. By doing this, we not only get a better sense of our ability to understand, but also increase our ability to clearly and concisely express our understanding.”