How to Take Smart Notes Book Summary - How to Take Smart Notes Book explained in key points
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How to Take Smart Notes summary

Sönke Ahrens

One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers

4.4 (695 ratings)
18 mins
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    How to Take Smart Notes
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    Smart notes can lead to great achievements.

    Let’s get things started with a remarkable tale: the unlikely story of Niklas Luhmann.

    Luhmann was a German man who, in the 1960s, worked in an administration office. His leisure-time passion was reading. As he read, he made notes on things that interested him – philosophy, organizational theory, sociology. He made these notes on small pieces of paper, which he then systematically numbered before filing them in a Zettelkasten, or slip-box.

    Eventually, he put some of his thoughts into a paper and presented it to an influential German sociologist. Impressed, the sociologist invited Luhmann to become a professor of sociology at the University of Bielefeld.

    The key message here is: Smart notes can lead to great achievements.

    Now, Luhmann had neither a doctorate nor a sociology degree. But instead of declining the invitation, he got to work. He took sociology classes and put his thesis together in less than a year. In 1968, he became a sociology professor at Bielefeld – a position he held until his death. 

    So how on earth did he pull this off? We’ll get to that in a minute – but, before we do, we should mention Luhmann’s other accomplishments, which are even more impressive.

    On taking up his position, he was asked to present what his research project would be. His reply: “My project: theory of society. Duration: 30 years. Costs: zero.” In 1997, 29 and a half years later, he completed the final two-volume chapter of his seminal work, The Society of Society. It changed the field of sociology.

    By the time he’d completed his magnum opus, he’d published nearly 60 books and hundreds of articles. Still more material was published after his death.

    Many people regarded Luhmann as a genius. But studies of his methods show that his success wasn’t the result of an inordinately vast intelligence. It was the result of smart working. Luhmann knew exactly how to use his notes, which allowed him to remain focused and in control.

    So why isn’t everyone doing the same? Well, first, there’s been some confusion about his process; people have tried to employ it without fully understanding its workflow. Second, most of the information about this process was in German. And, finally, the idea underpinning the process is simple – and people often don’t expect impressive results from simple ideas.

    What exactly was Luhmann’s process? Well, as he himself said: “I, of course, do not think everything by myself. It happens mainly within the slip-box.”

    What’s a slip-box, and how does it work? We’ll explore that in the next blink.

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    What is How to Take Smart Notes about?

    How to Take Smart Notes (2017) is exactly that – an explanation of how and why to take smart notes. It explains how this simple, little-known, and often misunderstood technique can aid your thinking, writing, and learning. With the help of smart notes, you may never face the horror of a blank page again.

    Who should read How to Take Smart Notes?

    • Students and professors with papers to write
    • Budding nonfiction writers
    • Notetakers hoping to up their game

    About the Author

    Sönke Ahrens is a writer and researcher in education and social science. He’s also the author of the award-winning book Experiment and Exploration: Forms of World-Disclosure.

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