One of the skills I developed since starting this blog was note taking. I got through college largely on the slides and my natural talent for programming, but this was me unwittingly taking the hard route. Nowadays, I take notes for everything. Every bug I work on at work has a folder containing all the notes I took while working on it, every talk I listen to at a meetup results in a few hundred words of notes1, and my class notes are 20-30 page long LaTeX pdfs. It’s good because it forces you to pay attention, organize your thoughts for others, and lets you review them when you start to forget.
Sitting in a room and listening to someone talk can be done mindlessly, so can flipping through a pdf or a PowerPoint, but you can’t say the same thing for taking some words, paraphrasing them, and typing as much of the most relevant parts as you can in real-time. For those more prone to fidgeting, you can keep your hands busy being useful. For those prone to daydreaming, you can keep your brain stimulated thinking about what you should be thinking about.
Note taking disciplines your thoughts by taking them outside the jumbled mess within your brain and putting them in the structure of a common language. If you get in the habit of formatting your notes neatly, they can be used as a rough draft for say a presentation or a blog post or anything where you need to present your thoughts to others.2 It can also get you in the habit of writing a rough draft quickly and coming back later for editing, which I feel strengthens your general writing ability.3 These behaviors start a positive feedback loop, where you think about what questions other people would have on a topic and make sure your notes address them. For some of my bug fix notes, I’ve distributed them to engineers working on similar or even the same problem. This saved them the hassle of either rediscovering my work or hoping I still remember the particulars when they ask me in person.
The human brain is of course not as good at remembering as the cloud.4 Instead of having an endless torrent of ideas cycle through my brain and out into oblivion, I can keep a record. I’m sure we’ve all faced the situation where we know we used to know something, but can’t remember it. As my set notes grow in volume, I know I will have a deep source of reference material for anything my future self will want to know.5
There’s plenty of knowledge just a Google search away, but I have a source which is inherently relevant to what I want to know and which has made me a better writer and listener by making it. I hope you all will take this as inspiration to store information you want to remember in a durable, universal format: text.
Several of my blog posts are either prettified design documents I wrote for myself or my thoughts on a conversation I was a part of. ↩
I had a rough draft of this within a half hour of having the idea to get out of bed and write it. ↩
Or dead trees, but as a software engineer I’m firmly on team keyboard. ↩
This assumes that my future self’s interests are correlated with my past and current self’s interests. This has worked out so far in life. ↩