Review of How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens

I finished reading How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens.📚

This book presents a better way to manage your notes and organize your thoughts. It explains how the “Zettelkasten” method by Niklas Luhmann works and how you can use it yourself.


Please note that from here on out, the text can contain spoilers of the book.

I found the book interesting to read, but for me, not being an academic, it had a lot of content I cannot directly use. You can still get value out of the book. Still, if you are in an academic setting, this book gives you more directly actionable input.

The book had many chapters which were not directly of value for me. Or the author tried to say the same thing in different words. It took pretty long, in my opinion, to explain how the technique works. I would have loved a more hands-on approach with concrete examples of cards, especially the evolution from raw notes to permanent notes. This process is still a bit of a mystery for me right now, although, in the meantime, I think I found part of the answers elsewhere on the internet.

The chapter about always reading with a pen has changed my life – although it is not directly related to the Zettelkasten method, it helps generate lots of notes. The argument is that just underlining text does not help; you must ask yourself what question a book can help you answer – ideally, questions you already have in your Zettelkasten. So that after reading a book you have more answers.

Another surprising finding is that I thought I need a visual note-taking method, and Zettelkasten is quite the opposite of this. But when your goal is to write texts, it makes quite a lot of sense to make your notes in the form of sentences as it helps write your final blog post or book review. As the book so nicely stipulates, you never have the problem of starting on an empty sheet of paper again.

It took quite some time to write this review, as I first needed some practical experience with the method. So I’m happy to report that this book changes my note-taking process. I’m not yet sure if I have a Zettelkasten now, but it is certainly something in that direction – I hope.


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