How to Take Notes Like an Alpha-Geek (Plus: My $2,600 Date + Challenge)

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I take notes like some people take drugs.

There is an eight-foot stretch of shelves in my house containing nothing but full notebooks.

Some would call this hypergraphia (Dostoevsky was a member of this club), but I trust the weakest pen more than the strongest memory, and note taking is—in my experience—one of the most important skills for converting excessive information into precise action and follow-up.

Simple but effective note taking enables me to:

-Review book highlights in less than 10 minutes

-Connect scattered notes on a single theme in 10 minutes that would otherwise require dozens of hours

-Contact and connect mentors with relevant questions and help I can offer

-Impose structure on information for increased retention and recall

I fashion myself a note-taking geek of the first class. How dare I self-appoint myself into this priesthood? Relax, script kiddies. I’m using a much broader definition of “geek,” this one borrowed from “Understanding Geeks” in the current issue of Inc. Magazine (that said, I was recently on Geekbrief.tv, birthplace of the ubercool iYule.tv):

“Someone with an intense curiosity about a specific subject. Not limited to tech–there are also gaming geeks, music geeks, etc.”

Here are a few recommendations from inside the world of a compulsive note taker, including both the macro (books and notepad principles) and micro (page features and formatting):

1. Create an indexing system:

aj.jpg
Indexing AJ Jacobs’ latest book (click to enlarge all thumbnails)

Information is useful only to the extent that you can find it when you need it. Most of us have the experience of note proliferation—notes on the backs of envelopes, billing statements, hotel paper, etc.–that somehow never gets consolidated. Consolidate and create an index.

My favorite notepads (covered below) generally don’t have page numbers off the shelf. Here’s how you progress with a non-paginated pad:

A. Put page numbers on the upper-right of each right-hand page but not on the left (e.g., 1, 2, 3, etc.). I do about 30 pages at a time, as needed.

B. Whenever you complete a page, put the page number in an index on the inside cover (front or back) and a few words to describe the content.

If it’s on the left-hand page, just take the prior page and add “.5” to it. Thus, if you flip over page 10, for example, and write on the back, that second page is “10.5” in the index.

blog-brainstorms.jpg
Brainstorming blog post topics and paginating on the right-hand pages

The page numbers in the index do NOT need to be in order, as you’ll be scanning for content, then referring to the page. If you write on the same topic again, simply put that page number next to the previous index entry.

Creating an index like this for non-fiction books I read allows me to refer back and review key concepts in 5-10 minutes without rereading the entire book and searching for underlined sections.

stanford.jpg
Notes from “The Biology of Sleep” at Stanford University (Notice the bottom-right square allocated to follow-up questions, which is standard)


2. Choose the Proper Pad for the Job:

notepads.jpg
My current repetoire of active notepads.

Not all notepads are created equal.

This doesn’t mean that one is better for all things, just that you should match the form factor and durability of a notepad to the content.

Below is a photo of several different notepads I use:

-I use the big notebook, which contains graph paper, for larger projects such as future books, TV programs, feature-length articles, LitLiberation, conference panel notes, etc. I don’t want to turn 10 pages to get an overview of all the pieces of a single topic/event. Cons: terrible for traveling and intimidating for interview subjects. The larger the pad, the more reserved interviewees will be.

sxsw-1-with-person-follow-up.jpg
Notes from my first SXSW (Notice the bottom-right follow-up, in this case, people to contact)

blog-to-book.jpg
SXSW panel titled “Blog to Book”; Notice the bottom panel and how I number the participants so I can just label comments/notes with each respective number. No spacial guessing required.

-I use the hard-backed red rectangular notebook, bought in Milan, as a default notepad. It is the perfect fits-in-ass-pocket checkbook size. Telephone interview notes, lists (dreamlining, asset assessment, cash-flow projections), projects requiring less than 3 hours to complete, random observations about emotional state or internal problem solving, random silliness like songs (think Adam Sandler), etc. Here is one beauty, written at 4am during an airport layover after a sleepless red eye:

Triple Threat

The fattest midget I ever met
Some called him the triple threat
Ugly, dirty, and smelly yet
The fattest midget I ever met.

Hey… if you’re bound to have rare flashes of insight/stupidity, you might as well capture them on paper.

-The flexible softcover moleskine is excellent for interviews, especially if you are in motion or in the field. I’ve found, however, that if that is the only notebook I carry, I put in material I would prefer to preserve for months or years, and the soft moleskine gets ripped to pieces in backpacks, luggage, and pockets over just a few weeks. There are hardback versions, but they tend to be square-ish and fit poorly in pockets. I limit this format to interviews, contact info when on the run, and temporary to-do/not-to-do lists.

I don’t use digital notetaking tools. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve noticed that some of the most innovative techies in Silicon Valley do the same, whether with day-planner calendars, memo pads, or just simple notecards with a binder clip. It’s a personal choice, and I like paper. It can be lost, but it can’t be deleted, and I find it faster.

###

Odds and Ends: My $2,600 Date and a Challenge

The $2,600 Date:

So, what happened after I auctioned myself off for literacy fundraising on eBay?

Quite a few of you have asked, so here’s the scoop. The $2,600 date took place this past Saturday, and we had an AWESOME time. I promised I wouldn’t show pictures, but the smart young lass looks a lot like Natalie Portman, so the night immediately started off on a much-relieved foot. She’s a veeeery pretty girl.

Big smiles all around.

Festivities began at the famous Alfredo’s Steakhouse in SF, where Marco made the meal one to remember. The delicious medium-rare Chicago steaks were matched with wine I brought along, in this case, a particularly sentimental and special bottle: Rombauer Vineyards’ Proprietor Selection 2004 Zinfandel (think of it as this wine on steroids).

Bigger smiles all around.

Once full and well buzzed, we set off for the beginning of entertainment: seats 10 feet from the main platform at Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza. It was incredible, and as an acrobatics fetishist, it was in seventh heaven. Hard drumming, aerials, gainers, wheels of death… Here’s just a taste of what we feasted our eyes on:

After Cirque du Soleil… well, I’ll leave the rest of the date to your overactive imaginations! It’s entirely possible nothing happened, but if it had, I wouldn’t be one to kiss and tell. Some things are more fun left unexplained 🙂

The Dream Date Challenge:

What would your dream date look like?

Pick a city anywhere in the world, and for a budget of no more than $500, describe your dream date in 300 words or less (bullet points are fine). My favorite 5 will get at least 12 copies of the 1st printing (it’s now in the 25th) of The 4-Hour Workweek to give away as X-mas/Festivus presents.

Be specific… but go nuts!

Posted on: December 5, 2007.

Please check out Tribe of Mentors, my newest book, which shares short, tactical life advice from 100+ world-class performers. Many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs, athletes, investors, poker players, and artists are part of the book. The tips and strategies in Tribe of Mentors have already changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for a sample chapter and full details. Roughly 90% of the guests have never appeared on my podcast.

Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.

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245 comments on “How to Take Notes Like an Alpha-Geek (Plus: My $2,600 Date + Challenge)

  1. My dream date would start midmorning in San Francisco, with a scenic drive through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, after which we’d stop at Telegraph Hill to enjoy the views from Coit Tower and browse & buy at Robert Sexton’s gallery . Then we’d have lunch (dumplings!) in ChinaTown and catch a cable car down to the waterfront, where we’d do a little window shopping before taking the ferry over to Sausalito. We’d browse a few stores and indulge in an afternoon snack, then take a beautiful drive to the Muir Woods. After a lovely walk through that cathedral of trees, we go back to Sausalito and have dinner outside overlooking the water. We’d cap the evening off with another ferry ride back to SF, where we’d pick up the car and maybe head for a moonlight drive to Half Moon Bay or Carmel…

    Like

  2. Very odd mix of note taking and ideal date on this page. It’s so funny how people wax all detailed about their “ideal date”. Like we care people! 🙂 Anyhow, I liked the suggestions about note taking. I agree that paper is the way to go. There’s less chance you’ll get bogged down obsessing about the medium and get on with the ideas. I would say that it’s probably better to just stick with one journal type for everything… something that sits on a shelf, and fits into a large pocket. I number my journals J1, etc. and refer back to entries in previous journals when needed. I can always refer to p150 in J5, for instance. The other thing that’s important is a good pen. I can’t stand throwing away a gel pen every day. So, I bought a refillable fountain pen for $30. At least I’m not filling landfills with perfectly good pens that have just ran out of ink. Such madness really.

    Like

  3. Barra, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. February (Important)

    There are more extravagant places in the world, but nothing comes together with more beauty and options as Brazil.

    1. 11 AM: We start the day off with an all you can eat sushi lunch. Amazing sushi (Brazil has the second highest Japanese population in the world), all the price of 100 Reais. Or about $50.

    2. 12:30 PM: We climb a mountain to go hang gliding. We float beautifully above the hills and can see the hundreds of miles of ocean. In fact that’s where we land. $100.

    3. 2:00 PM: We take surf lessons as we land on the beach. Neither of us can surf, but we have a great time in the 75 degree water laughing. $50.

    4. 4:00 PM: We get changed, and catch a Capoeira class. Free / $10.

    5. 6:00 PM: We go to a Churrascaria (Brazilian BBQ / Steakhouse). We drink wine and eat delicious, wonderful all you can eat meat. Tons of is. Inclusion of the wine. $100.

    6. 8:00 PM: If it’s February (which we say it is), we take a cab so we can watch the amazing Carnival Samba performances. She swoons at the sight of the costumes and performances. $25

    7. 2:00 AM: We go to a Baile-Funk party. An all night Dance Party with thousands of your closest friends. We dance all night long until we are long past exhausted. $20.

    A 15 hour date, all for $355. Everything is cheap in Brazil. I spend the last $145 on contraceptives because I showed my date the best time she has had in her entire life and we begin a life together. Best date ever.

    Like

  4. Dream 1st date? Drive to a winery on a Saturday afternoon with a picnic lunch. Eat it, have wines paired with the lunch and learn about one another. Total cost: less than £10; on the offchance the lady doesn’t like wine, she’s not worth dating for me.

    Like

  5. Dreamdate:

    A challenge for nature loving geeks
    Place: Norwegian mountains in the late summer, the Hardanger plateaus

    Taking the train or bus to a decent place, cycling to a certain place, and all hiking from there.

    Includes: Enjoying nature, romantic sunsets, talking whole nights through, bathing in the cold mountain water, eating self-made food. Clothes getting really dirty, challenging the organizational, technical and social skills. Having fun singing silly songs, and seeing all gadgets running out of battery…

    Like

  6. Personally I don’t get along with notes, myself…but mostly because I’m pretty dang scared of them. I might have to try some of the techniques – (just about) everything else I’ve read so far in your blog makes good sense, so I have this sneaking suspicion that this is helpful, as well…

    As for a dream date, I decided to keep it domestic. Not because I don’t like to leave the borders of the good ol’ US of A, but mostly because I haven’t found a place more appropriate for a dream date than I note below.

    The city: Knoxville, TN (yes, seriously; keep reading and you’ll see why).
    The time: Ideally fall, but anytime will do for this dream date.
    It all starts with a nice dinner. Not our “typical nice” dinner [Applebees], but a “REAL nice” dinner at a Brazilian churrascaria in the heart of the city. After a nice bottle of wine and stuffing ourselves comfortably full with the spectacular dinner and a piece of chocolate-raspberry cheesecake we step into a stretch limo.
    The next hour or so – in the limo – is spent with soft background music, a bottle of champagne and our feet up. Perhaps singing along to the music [who can resist some impromptu karaoke solid gold 80s hits?], maybe getting/giving a foot massage, maybe something…else [we’re married – who am I kidding?!?! :)].
    When we reach our destination we’ll step out, sit on the top of the limo and just look out over the vision of a lifetime: the trees of different varieties and colors of the Smoky Mountains. An hour there as the daylight ends and the sun sets and casts its red and orange beams over the foliage of eastern Tennessee, and then back in the limo for a peaceful ride home.

    Total cost:
    $ 150 – Dinner at a Brazilian churrascaria
    $ 275 – limo ride for a few hours
    $ 50 – Deductible for the visit to the ER when she faints out of sheer amazement at the sight of the Smoky Mountains in the fall

    Like

  7. Pingback: Random Tangent
  8. Tim, Take me on my dream date with you! You get to pick the location – but my dream date would be to take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise, somewhere over a beautiful countryside (could be Wisconsin or Italy) but anywhere I can stand in awe at God’s creation…After the balloon lands, a picnic brunch, a walk along a stream, lots of great conversation…and all the romance nature has to offer. The dream isn’t always about what you do, but who you’re with. =)

    Like

  9. Hey, I was really getting into the content of the audio book (4-hr…), when I popped in disc 3 and heard “Crocodile on the…by Elizabeth Peters”. It’s good info and I need disc 3! What should I do?

    -Steve

    ###

    Wow, that is the oddest thing I’ve heard about the audio yet! I would definitely contact whomever you purchased it from, as you need to get a replacement, to be sure.

    All the best,

    Tim

    Like

  10. Pingback: Janet
  11. My Dream Date:

    Bombay, India
    The date would start after I finished my Rock show with my band, the Gods Of Now.
    (at least 200$ in my pockets)

    My lady would of course be warmed up by the live performance and we would carry on
    the festivities to a typical Indian restaurant where we would have the whole works of the Indian food culture. (10$ US)

    Next step would be to slowly digest our feast while enjoying a hooka pipe along with some moroccan tea ( heck! why not blend the cultures a bit )
    Discussion would go from how good the hooka is to how complex our two brain hemispheres are. (brought by me = 0$)

    The night would surely end in a slow and intense tantric communion until we both collapse with big smiles on our face as we would let the warm Indian wind dry our exhilarated bodies. (priceless)

    what a night!

    Like

  12. Dream Date:

    Tokyo, Japan, where I met my beautiful wife, but we haven’t been in more than 10 yaers.

    Saturday evening on a balmy summer night there.

    – Start with a quick drink at a small alley in Shinjuku or Harajuku. Let the atmosphere and welcoming nature of the faces guide which hole-in-the wall bar to be in.
    – Walk, leisurely, holding hands among the crowds (emphasis on no rush) through the neighborhood to a 2nd floor restaurant with a counter that serves raw fish delicacies, and perhaps cooked foods like robata yaki or yakitori. Again, eat slowly, leisurely, enjoying every moment. Only eat at a place where he counter people are engaging and interested in talking. A neighborhood place might be as good.
    – Make sure, in strolling, to stop along the way at any galleries passed, windows of interest, to chat with anyone who wants to be chatted with, generally enjoy the time.
    – go to a rooftop beer garden or bar, to enjoy the lights of the city and the night air. bask in the warmth and glow.
    – decide, based on the mood, whether to
    * Go to a fancy coffee shop
    * Stroll by some water
    * Take a quick train ride to Yokohama bay and stay there for the night, to wake up near Chinatown where we can have dim sum
    * Go back to our Inn (we’d have to be staying at an inn) and enjoy each other’s company in more private surroundings.

    Pleasant, intimate among the crowd, nostalgic, mixing urban excitement with touches of beauty, food and taste, and special meaning for both of us.

    Like

  13. Very interesting to read about your note-taking habits.

    What I’d really like to know is how you manage, keep track and assign tasks to your outsourcers… Do you use any online project management app, or rely on email only, or keep notes in one of your notebooks?

    Like

  14. Dream Date, here it is
    in Los Angeles, South Bay..
    .dream dates must have an element of mystery & unknown
    .my date is here as sunset, we drive to the heliport on 120th Street
    .we get on a helicopter, fly toward Catalina Island, it’s almost dark..
    .the city lights and the fading sun: we fly over the ocean and.. we arrive to Catalina, on one of the beaches,
    .get off the helicopter at the sound of jumgle drums, while fire dancers spark up the air..
    . barbecue on the beach, watching the dancers
    . return helicopter flight to Los Angeles, unforgettable view of the city at night..

    A bare foot sort of date..

    Like

  15. Have you tried TiddlyWiki?

    It’s a free web-based wiki where all your notes are contained in a single html file (so you can use online or offline and it’s small enough to be kept on a USB stick so it’s portable).

    It works much like the brain works: in a non-linear way. So you end up with a network of linked notes.

    If you’d like to give it a go then try a hosted one on http://www.tiddlyspot.com

    Like

  16. Tim,

    Exactly what I was wanting. However, I have another question. Do you find any value in journaling your daily activities and thoughts surrounding them. Not just notes on meetings, books, and interviews. Something more chronological… I hate to call it a diary… but you get the gist of what I’m thinking.

    Ken

    Like

  17. Dream Date: 2 islands – 1 country

    Assume we’re in Chora, Mykonos.

    Spend morning gathering food for the day/evening–wine, tarmasalata, pita bread, baklava, etc. plus a few other items we’ll need for spending an evening under the stars on a sacred island.

    Take ferry to Delos, mythological birthplace of Apollo and Artemis; now a sacred island. Spend day exploring what remains of a once-powerful city.

    Find a good place to hide from the on-site island “guardians” so we can stay on this sacred island for the evening.

    Spend evening in candlelight, under the stars sharing spiritual insights, adventurous life stories and other romantic experiences as a couple might conjure up in such a situation.

    Take ferry back to Chora the next day (ok, so the tix were for yesterday…whatever!)

    2nd stop: Santorini, Fira Town

    Take ferry from Mykonos to Santorini–3 wonderful hours on the Mediterranean Sea!

    Check into Theoxenia Hotel (http://www.theoxenia-hotel.com/). Enjoy wonderful shower!

    Rent motorcycle and explore Santorini, including remains of beautiful city on cliff peninsula, relaxing on volcanic sand beach and diving into mystical caldera.

    Return to hotel and get ready for a delicious dinner at a wonderful restaurant on the edge of the caldera. Marvel at the beauty and mystery we are gazing at together on this intoxicating island while sharing Greek delicacies and wine.

    Stroll back to hotel…walk into our most romantic room…and close the door!

    2 Ferry tix to Delos, food, etc: $60
    2 Ferry tix Mykonos to Santorini (RT): $100
    Hotel: $150 (includes VAT & breakfast)
    Motorcycle rental/food in Santorini: $70
    Dinner: $100
    Total: $480

    Dream date with dream man: Priceless, of course! (where is dream man, by the way?)

    Like

  18. Dream Date:

    Wake up at sunrise and meet for breakfast on the river where they pronounce eggs as oeufs, and the coffee is strong enough to chew. After two to three cups of caffeine powered conversation, speaking about dreams and inspirations, we eventually digress to fart jokes and throttle the other customers with uncontrollable laughter.

    At this point we take a vote and decide it would be best to take our private party to the sand dunes where we can go for a good morning swim. The beach is uncrowded this early in the morning and we can wear as much or as few clothes as we like.

    I ask her what her superpower is, and if she knows the many uses for a towel. I quickly describe how it works wonderfully as a cape, tie it on my neck and encourage her to do the same. We run up and down the beach like superheros on BodyQUICK until we collapse exhausted gasping for meaning. After lying in the sand reflecting on that experience and complimenting each other on our superpowers we jump into the cool silent water. Swimming until my thoughts of ‘she is so amazing’ monopolize my thinking and bring enough courage for me to swim over and kiss her.

    Like

  19. I’m going to suggest a new tool for you to check out. It doesn’t completely replace the pen/paper system, I still use both, but only as a temporary medium. Electronic documents such as Word are tired, and in need of a much more useful paradigm. They’re no different than 8 ft of shelves full of notebooks other than they can create that index automatically. In my opinion, the greatest innovation Microsoft has come out with recently is OneNote. the reason I like OneNote is because it allows me to put all my content together. i can have separate notebooks, within which are multiple sections, each section with multiple pages.This allows me to easily see all my content together, at whatever granularity I need. But the thing I love about it is the versatility of the content I can put into my notes. I can drop other files into the note, I can take a screen snapshot and paste the image, I can take audio recordings and drop them in as well. You say, “i can do that with a Word document!” But what you can’t do in Word is search that content. In OneNote, I can limit the scope to section/notebook/all, and when I search for the term Ferriss, it will find text, images with the text embedded, and assuming the audio is lacking a strong accent, it will even find audio clips where people have said Ferriss. So even though your naming system for the notebooks, sections, and pages will provide most of the index for you, the search feature will get you that last leg of the trip. I know you prefer Nokia, but if you have a Windows Mobile phone, you can also install OneNote mobile. So I can record voice clips or take notes on my phone and when I plug it…. fffwwwwwiipppp… it gets sucked into OneNote on my computer. I now use my phone for important items, my idea book/bug list, etc. Oh! have a Tablet PC? you can write directly into onenote as well and optionally convert it to text for you (although that can be problematic). And you can mark items for followup and it will automatically create the task (and link it) in outlook.

    The thing it’s lacking is formatting. If you want to create a polished document, you still need to use something like Word, but luckily it has the ability to export directly to Word for that purpose. Or you can export to PDF (as with all Office 2007 files)

    I know it’s not as romantic as stacks of notebooks, but it’s worth a look. It’s completely changed the way I work with data by making it much easier to recall. If you’re interested, drop me a line and I’ll send you a copy.

    Like

  20. I’ve recently found you might want to have a mid-way dream first date because a dream first date is awfully hard to follow up. Here’s why.

    Me Australian living in London at bus stop bloody cold 1 am Sunday morning after fun night out.
    Cute blond girl jumping up and down to stay warm at bus stop near by.
    Me: What’s wrong with you? said with 😉
    Her: I’m Cold. (in strong Nordic accent)
    Me: No your not, your weird. (said with ;-)) Are you American? (said with ;-))
    Her: LOL no Norwegian
    Me: Do all Norwegians jump up and down in the cold
    Her: Yes
    Me : (Thinking this girl is cool) So if you’re from Norway aren’t you meant to not feeel the cold.
    Her: Not me.
    Cant remember exactly what followed but we got talking more and said I wanted her number. She pulls out this awesome new phone.
    me: That is so cool
    HER: Yeah I designed it
    Me: Right, we are SO going out.

    Me: Text her straight away when she got on her bus. ” you so did not design that phone”
    Her: Google me
    me: after googling; Wow she’s truething it.

    She had to leave to go to the states for work for a week. We texted each other and she basically got to the point where she said; to go out with someone she hadn’t met before, on a date, it would have to be a really tempting offer.

    So I wrote that I would bring the essence of temptation, if she was game enough to meet at the Tate modern at 2pm sharp to have afternoon tea sitting in the lobby of the Tate, over the crack (A public exhibition with a huge crack the full length of massive concrete lobby floor) at a portable table.

    Her: Yes; I can’t believe I am putting meeting my parents aside to do this.
    Me: (Quietly, well noisily “STOKED” on the inside.) Right I’ll see you at 2pm don’t be late!

    Come the day:
    I turn up slightly late, after leaving working out what the essence of temptation was going to be and getting a table and chairs, until 1pm and turning up at 2.15pm. Only to get promptly told the museum would not be happy to have us have a 1st date over the crack (no pun intended. )

    Not to be out done; we decided in the theme of things we should have afternoon tea in another publicly not correct place. e.g. On the Millennium bridge (one of the coolest foot bridges in the world in my book) next to the Tate mdern and crossing over the Thames to St Paul’s Cathederal.

    Other women walking past us where holding their chests going aaawh, or what ever the noise they make when they’re impressed. Guys who worked out what was going on thought i was either proposing or gave us the thumbs up. Fun, fun.

    her: I brought blueberry muffins and smoothies.
    me: You so rock, that is my favorite.

    Had a great afternoon being in the way of people a little bit. One of the much better things I’ve ever done. Probably all on CCTV too, NICE.

    On the second date we went out for coffee in a nice restaurant.
    What an anti climax!

    So if/when I end up on a perfect date again I’ll make certain to make the same effort for the next…

    Cost
    £10 for dodgy white plastic fold-up table
    £15 for dodgy fold up chairs
    (BOTH RE-USABLE & Could have been borrowed)
    The essence of Temptation
    and a memory and story to last until I get amnesia, dementia or loose the photos.

    Now that Im looking for them…

    Like

  21. Tim,

    This is a helpful post (and I find most of what you offer on your blog helpful, by the way). I was especially interested to see your endorsement of hand-written notes. The most popular post on my blog is called “On Note-Taking and the Body.” It draws on the thought of the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty who argued that we are embodied minds, instead of minds in bodies. It is a short post if you want to read it: http://therelativeabsolute.blogspot.com/2009/05/on-note-taking-and-body.html?showComment=1244641380950#c5133607749773729340

    One thing I would like to see is a more fully articulated “method” for note-taking. For example, your notes resemble a quasi-Cornell method with the space for summaries or questions at the bottom. I imagine that your method developed organically and is therefore personally fitted to your needs, but a blog about method would be fantastic!

    John

    Like

  22. Hi Tim, thanks for the interesting post.

    I used to take notes while reading, but I realised this took the fun out of reading so I stopped. I thought, I’ll remember what I need to remember. If I can subconsciously remember what I’ve read, then it’s worth remembering. Otherwise, why bother? I’m not sure if this is the best mindset to have! What do you think?

    Mary

    Like

  23. Hello 4HWW!

    This might seem like a silly question. While taking notes on a topic, is it better to write on every page, or to write on every right handed page? Is that just a matter of individual preference? Also do I write down the page number in the index a page so…page 1 index, 2 index 3 index, or once I finish writing on multiple pages of the same topic (e.g. 1. index….stop the topic at page 20…index) I don’t quite understand.

    Thank you all for your time.

    Like

  24. No offense, but I consider an article written on advancing note-taking capacity that doesn’t include computer-generated soft-copy notes to be EXTREMELY outdated, impractical, antiquated (not in the pleasant old-school way either), and novice. I have thousands of notes all stored, archived, and categorized on computer (which are triple-backedup of course) all the way as early as elementary school, highschool, through college, certification programs and the bulk of all the notes by far are personal notes taken on self-endeavored research projects. The occasional scratchpad hand-written note is okay, and I’m a computer science geek of sorts, but still, I found an article on the “joys of numbering your handwritten pages” (and then what do you do with those stacks of slowly deteriorating pages and awkward binders???? Nothing , they create toxic clutter) to be kind of pathetic. so just my 2 cents. But all my notes are soft-copy tripe-backedup on the computer where they’re accessible on my iphone, laptop, comuter any webbrowser really. Could you imagine carrying around all of your hand-written if you wanted to look up a notes? Absurd, ridiculous, and pathetic to the extreme. I’ve put time into copying valuable hadn-written journals/notes to computer files. and properly archving/storing the notes. I was shocked to see such a not only outdated, but slow, cumbersome, and quite ridiculous (bordering stupidity) hand-written note method still used bye Ferris, of whom so many lifestyle techniques are so advanced.

    Like

    • Pathetic and stupid? There is no place for rudeness here. Constructive criticism is fine, but rudeness and ridiculing other commenters (as you did on one other comment) don’t have a place here.

      Thanks for commenting, but play nice…

      Tim

      Like

  25. tim,

    have you ever thought or had some experience with using something like a wiki for storing your notes and if so what makes you prefer using notebooks to it?

    Like

      • I’m also an avid note taker, both on paper and using Evernote, but with the system you described here I would imagine that old (physical) notebooks soon fall off the radar.
        Is scanning the notebooks into Evernote your solution to this problem? How do you go about it?
        What did you do prior to Evernote?

        Like

  26. My dream date takes place in long beach calif. Happy hour and sunset starts the date at the art deco Observation Bar on the bow of the Queen Mary. Great views and live music in an amazing atmosphere of nostalgia and wo der. The. It’s off to 7 pm salsa lesson at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) about 2 miles away. From there it’s a late dinner at Fuego, a great new Latin restaurant located close by in the new Maya hotel. More ocean views with a martini and paella. Hence, my non-existent dream date. Total cost under 200 dollars

    Like

  27. Notetaking Comment & 4HWW Suggestion

    Tim,
    Your notetaking system has really helped me. Thank you for going into such detail!

    I have a quick question: How did you use this technique for writing the original 4HWK? I’m guessing you made the headings for the concepts you wanted to discuss in an index and gave yourself 20+ pages to add to your ideas. Would you explain how you did it?

    Have you considered writing a book directed specifically to professional educators? How to quickly teach concepts (which engages students and nixes behavior problems), set clear boundaries with parents and administrators, while still accomplishing student learning? For example, if our administrators saw the instructional time benefit of teachers who only checked their email twice a day, they might be gung-ho of more ideas you advocate.

    Can’t wait for the release date in December!

    Jane=)

    Like

  28. Tim-

    Please tell me where you found that graph paper notebook. I have been searching everywhere and most of the ones I’ve found are terrible.

    Thanks,
    Woodward

    Like

  29. Hey Tim,

    as a true friend of paper-based notes (I really tried almost any digital solution out there!) I have to introduce you to the following:

    ‘Roter Faden Taschenbegleiter’ (no URLs here so just google the full term)

    It’s some kind of ‘notebook plus’ with a unique clip-mechanism, that allows you to compose a notebooks that fits to your individual needs. You can add whatever you want to it: calenders, adressbooks, plain notebooks… You name it.

    And the best thing is: You can design it on your own (size, colour, material, number of pockets….)! Have to admit that it is far away from beeing cheap but in return you get an awesome quality: All of these books are handmade by the german designer and her team.

    Go check it out and keep up the good work here!

    Cheers from Berlin,
    Clemens

    Like

  30. Tim you seem like a pretty ruthless note-taker, and I know you’re a ruthless language learner. I’m surprised that I haven’t seen you endorse the Pulse Smartpen (http://www.livescribe.com). Besides not having to worry about losing your notes somehow, its the most amazing thing for language studies (I’m currently using it for my third language- Chinese). Are you familiar with it? If you are, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If not, I think you should give it a try…

    ???

    Chris

    Like

  31. This one blog post and all of the comments are the reason I have spent 3 months building a new product around this.

    It truly changed my life and the day I stopped being a consumption whore I started building awesome stuff to point at.

    One notebook, one blog, changed my life and I can say that with honesty. I also bought every person in my family a notebook for Christmas and asked them to create, write, inspire others to do more, and they did.

    I had people say “that was the best idea ever,” – Brother “I wrote another page in my book!” – Grandma… and many more. I was then able to give $250 to St. Jude instead of blowing it all on Christmas.

    It is not about buying 1 notebook, it is about buy 10 and enabling your family and friends to do more, build more, and create. The simple things in life.

    The product will be launching soon and it is a mix of the 1 to 1 non-profit model, why buy 1 when you can buy 10, and community will have a voice in the hard copy of the book. The entire book will be pre-indexed, Tim Ferris style, and I am talking to publishers now.

    Again, thank you Tim. People read your book with so much words of wisdom and yet it was this one post mixed with your book ideas on running a business that have led me to help others.

    I would love to talk with you sometime to share the idea and get your thoughts around the product launch. (we will be using shopify and diving into the contest as well.)

    Thanks,
    Shane Mac
    @shanemacsays
    309-453-8175

    Like

  32. Tim on your note taking I really need some advice here. It seriously pisses me off that evernote and one note, the best programs to take notes in lack a user friendly equation editor.

    I have been trying a similar technique for years and I prefer to take notes by hand but it pisses me off because each class is different. A lot of classes today are literally all power-point’s and professors even leave blanks so that you will go to class. How do I put all of this together without using a binder. I hate binders. How did you deal with these class types?

    Either you need to worry about printing everything, which is a huge hassle if you need to print 30-50 pages for one day of classes, or you need to worry about scanning all of your hand written notes.

    The day that Evernote comes out with a good native equation editor, excel integration, and export ability is the day that every student will be using it to take notes.

    Like

  33. Dude,
    So Im replying a little late to this post as you wrote it 3 years ago, but you don’t need to refer to the people in India as your slave labour, I’m just saying.

    Like

  34. Ok, Tim, I thought of this as a challenge…I went out and tried to find a notebook just like you described and couldn’t…so I created it.

    I would have called it the Tim Ferriss journal, but I didn’t want any legal issues so I’ve called it MyThoughtPad. It has everything you mentioned and then some: index pages on front and back covers, numbered right-hand pages, graph pages, vertical-lined pages, a box in the lower right corner for things like random silliness, nice thick paper to write on, super heavy chipboard cover, oh and a little envelope in the back for miscellaneous knick knacks.

    There’s even one with your name on it (literally!), no strings attached, if you’re interested.

    -Nicole

    Like

  35. Seeing your writing style really inspired me man. I really dig your detail-oriented style with things, especially writing. Thing is, I have been going through this for a long time now. Teetering on the edge of the, somewhat, whimsical usage pattern of what we know as, “Taking notes with your computer”. It is seriously this thing that people I feel like CAN NOT figure out what to do! Should they take a note using a notepad for 1 thing and a computer for a diff? Should they just throw out all paper and docs on the comp for todos and just use Post-its? Whatever it is, people are confused by it – and often a few have stood out of the crowd saying we will use these tools only (E.g. Write on the computer only for everything .. (down to the purists who would only use one txtpad for EVERYthing) but also the ones who write all on physical paper- and everything in between. Anyway, point being – I was in this teeter as I have been ‘experimenting’ with different styles of note taking for seriously probably 10+ years, and I’m only 22 – yeah I was one of those kids. I was super into physics and particularly quantum/theoretical physics as a young young young kid – for whatever reason. It was intense to the point where I had, what was at the time, binders and binders of notes that were totally unorganized – BUT now, in this present moment, I have somewhat perfected it I think. Interestingly enough, it loops right back around to where I’m back to paper again.

    I kind of got inspired by your post to re-examine my situation, and it came as somewhat of a sudden realization that this is something that more than just me goes through (Doy, I know). Well, so basically now I have a setup somewhat similar to yours or ANYONE who is embracing a slight minimalism in their life to de-clutter the BS to focus on the points that stand out from the rest of the Universe. ‘Where’s Waldo’ status.

    I really appreciate the inspiration man and just wanted to say keep killing it. I pre-ordered the book can’t WAIT to get it – am getting to a point in my life where physicality is becoming a main focus in my mind/body connection. It is perfect timing for the flow of my life and I am stoked as hell and am just grateful that you keep on with the writing. You have a lot ta share mate, which I’m sure you’re aware of – but you may even have more than you would think at first. You have a philisophical side man, you should seriously write a book like that. Wayy down the road I know, but all I’m saying is when you’re like 80 (we won’t live that long but just if) you get to like 80 and have a huge white beard and long white hair you must write a philosophy book as sort of an ending memoirs. “Letters from Timothy”. Haha dude I’m totally pulling a hippy glenn here, let me just finish this. Take care Tim.

    PS – I would d-i-double-g the cover if it had the shiny meditative guy – but I can see your worry, is it too flashy gimmicky for a meditative Buddhist position. Realistic concern! Honestly tho, I really think it would just look more ‘official’ with the shiny attributes. It wouldn’t be scammy – but PSS on the ‘scammy note’: You sure are a running with that title. Just remember, the play goes ‘Run out .. hook in. Run out… hook in. Haha 😉

    Like

  36. On note taking:
    I use index cards. I usually carry around 3 to 5 in the back pocket of my jeans. Very easy to put in order, rearrange or simply file them in a box 😉

    Like

  37. Ok, so I didn’t read all the comments, but: I am a student in public health at a semi-prestigious university, and I need to say that, for qualitative research, this is GREAT. When you are doing research, it is extremely important to document the process of your thoughts, but it is very herd to do so in a way that will help you later. Cheers to this process!

    Like

  38. This whole Wikileaks fiasco is pretty crazy. You should check out http://voteonwikileaks.com. It’s a recently launched website that seems to be going viral. They got something like 50,000 visitors in the first 24 hours of launch. It’s sort of like a crowdsourced collection of arguments against and for Wikileaks. As a blog owner, you’d probably find some of the opinions there a good read.

    Like

  39. Hey Tim, could you clarify the notetaking of books like AJ Jacobs’?

    Are you simply indexing the book, so when you need the info you grab the index and the book (or the index alone triggers recall), or is the index created in addition to notes for the book?

    Thanks!

    Like

  40. Tim,
    Great post. I second Josh’s request. It’s the HOW I’m interested in. What do you do when you take notes? Is there a book or URL that you can recommend?
    Thanks and Cheers,
    Steve

    Like

  41. Hey Tim,

    One small point about all of this that I think your overlooking (note: assumption) is something which my mentor pointed out to me and many people stuggle with, is taking notes for “post scanning”

    … if you watch most people they write at all angles across the page, in different directions, sizes etc. Whereas, if you make the choice to write either vertically (or horizontally, as applicable) down/across the page it makes it a lot more easier and quicker to scan and re-read at a later date, which is not the case when you write otherwise.

    You can increase “scanability” by using set spacing between text, set margins, bullet points etc.

    In the past I did it. Now, it makes things a LOT easier and you will notice a distinct impact on your mental and emotional state – you feel less “cluttered” more present, clear minded and certainly “stress free” which is created in a majority of cases (esp. in a digital world) by being overwhelmed by information.

    Glenn

    Like

  42. Hi Tim,

    I’ve reread this post 10 times in the last year and have found many of the suggestions very practical. I’m still struggling to understand your indexing (for example – AJ Jacobs book). Is it an index of the topics & pages in the book where you can find them OR an index of your notes on those topics from the book and the pages to find your notes on the book in your notebook?

    Thanks so much for taking the time to respond … it’s the one lingering question that is confusing me.

    Like

  43. Tyler, my intrepretation of Tim’s writing is…

    “an index of your notes on those topics from the book and the pages to find your notes on the book in your notebook?”

    Hope this helps.

    Like

  44. As a non-profit Man Coach I dream about Dates alot.. There is just one thing i’m looking for.. the woman and in what kind of Environment her beauty shines best.. I really love! to hijack woman.. they have alot of stuff to handle.. alot of responsibility.. I love it to give them a space where time seems to hold still and they can just go with theyre deepest emotional states what ever it might be..

    1. I’ll grab the woman right away from her workplace arranging it before with her chef.
    2. As working in fashion business i’ll give her a little handpack and bring here to the airport..
    3. Let her close her eyes and show with the finger to last-minute destination on a map
    4. fly there with her and prepare during flight the perfect hotel or if it would be in Croatia where im actually from, i’ll talk with old people having the best appartements you can imagine..
    5. I’ll cook for her or take her to the restaurant, depends on the woman.. and then let me inspire me true her.. i love to take pictures to let the woman see true my eyes.. or to dance tango with them.. everything where i lead and they can just relax and be who they are..

    On the last i’ll take a black pen and go with her in the almost empty street and write the first sentence of a love story on a public place.. lead her to another place and let her write the second..

    Man love your question.. greetings from a former student of orlando owen btw steve p.. you know what i mean 😉

    Like

  45. In spite of reagular reading your blog I was very excited after seeing a blog post that I have missed somehow and that is something I truly like doing – notes.

    Imagine my reaction when I got to the end of it and the only thing I can say is “well, sounds like me”. First blog post here that merely described my so far experiences. It either proves you’re a human or that those methods “really” kick ass ;))

    I learned how to take notes from my biology teacher in high school. Man was crazy, he could present 20pages-long material of difficult words and schemes in the regular lesson and the grades were mostly B (or 4/6 in the Polish system)

    Like

  46. Tim and his blind date walk into a talent agency. Says to the talent agent, “we’ve got a great act.”

    Talent agent says, “I usually don’t do ‘blind date’ acts, they’re a little too cutesy.” Tim says, “We know when you see our act, you’ll love it. Please can we show you our act?” Talent agent says, “Okay, fine.”

    With a smirk Tim says, “I wouldn’t be one to kiss and tell. Some things are more fun left unexplained”. (takes an immediate and pronounced bow)

    Talent agent says, “That’s a hell of an act, what do you call it?”

    “THE ARISTOCRATS!”

    Like

  47. Great article – I just moved from using a tablet with keyboard back to page a day diary. The act of taking notes is great for re-enforcing memories & I learn more by doing this.

    Like

  48. Thank god I thought I was the only one with the ” Notemania Disorder”
    I have notes about everything-pregnancies 2- food, random observations everywhere I go, I left Moleskin notepads for my Iphone Notes.
    Thank you for making my day.
    Have a notefunfilled day,
    Naima

    Like

  49. At some point, I realized that I totally misunderstood the Moleskine Daily Planner. I was thinking of it as a — wait for it — daily planner (with a vertical calendar in front), when it’s REALLY a general-purpose notebook with the following attributes:
    — 370-page ruled Moleskine (the largest Moleskine by far);
    — idiosyncratic page numbering scheme, but that’s okay, because it matches the built-in index pages in front;
    — each page has a big area at the top for subject and/or metadata; and
    — it can often be found at a discount starting mid-January.

    Like

  50. yes and some people take drugs recreationally these are the people who do not take notes.
    I thought your comment was funnyso I thought I would try and match your wit.

    Like

  51. On note taking also try here…

    http://bulletjournal.com

    There’s a whole community.

    Dream date:

    – My Wife.
    – Wake up early and review to do list (naw just kidding!)
    – Walk to the Welsh Rugged Coastline and a four mile trek to the Pub.
    – Lunch and catch the bus back (Don’t drink and drive.)
    – Change and off to the theatre in town.
    – Hotel with late drinks.

    Simples…

    Like

  52. Great article! I’m really trying to get into consistent note taking. It’s something that has come up as a theme in recent books I have read (The Miracle Morning, Steal Like An Artist). I have mainly used Evernote for Journaling/Note taking but I’m trying to make the transition to paper.

    I’m not sure if anyone has asked this already but I’m a little confused on how the index works.

    “Whenever you complete a page, put the page number in an index on the inside cover (front or back) and a few words to describe the content.”

    Does this mean that you create an index entry for each page (I’m assuming that you don’t)? And if you don’t, does that mean you just index things you feel are particularly interesting?

    Also, it would seem that as you get deeper in to a notebook it would get increasingly difficult to determine whether to create a new index entry or go through the other entries to find out if they are of the same topics. Any strategies for doing that? or does is not as much of a chore as it seems?

    Thanks again for the article. There is always great content here. You are an inspiration!

    – Ryan

    Like

  53. To create an index on the cloud, you could photograph / scan the index pages and save these to evernote (or similar). If you write with block caps, they will be searchable. If you don’t, you can get someone to type them up. Nothing stopping you doing that with the entire notebook of course.

    Like