How to Take Notes

For the last two weeks I’ve been on jury duty. I learned a lot. However, jury duty is not being offered for the truth of the matter asserted, but merely to show what lead to this blog post. Apologies for the legalese, I’ve been hanging out with lawyers too much!

Anyway, at jury duty we had a lot of free time where we were trapped in a courtroom with no wifi just waiting around for instructions. I decided to take that time to learn something! I downloaded The Rust Programming Language aka TRPL and grabbed my favorite notebook and took them with me to court every day for the last two weeks. On breaks I read chapters of the book and I took notes.

Why Take Notes

Taking notes doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it absolutely necessary to retain knowledge. Particularly, I make a point to handwrite most of my notes. There is something visceral and tactile about indexing handwritten notes that helps me remember the topics better. My coworkers kid me about when I first interviewed at Kickstarter, I brought a big notebook and took copious notes during all the interviews.

I find several advantages to taking notes. First, it gives me a written record of everything I’ve learned. If I timestamp it well (and I usually put hours and minutes as well as dates!) I can get a log of my progress. Second, the act of taking notes well helps me remember what I’ve learned.

Now, let’s discussing what taking notes “well” means.

The Cornell Method

I think part of the reason we hate having to take notes is the many wasted hours being forced to take them throughout school. Personally, I always loved to handwrite notes. However, there are conflicting studies as to it’s actual impact on memory retention.


My coworker has an amazing talk on dev diagrams

Lessons from Learning Science: Strengthening Recall

In conclusion, I know it’s not for everyone, but learning how to take notes has helped me improve how I learn, which makes me a better developer.