Book review How to Take Smart Notes One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking

The book was a great surprise. I found this book on a list on the Ali Abdaal as books to read in 2021. The title got my attention right away as I am notes addicted, and since Ali was recommending it, I decided to give it a try.

The book is about notes and writing in general, and I regret not knowing it during my master’s degree. The book’s point is to introduce the concept of the slip-box, a simple technique to take notes and link notes over time.

It is an easy and fast reading book, I finished it in 2 days, and it made me re-think the way I am taking notes from now on.

I have a straightforward system to take notes, having general notes and project notes, and I take notes about everything I think is necessary to remember. It has done magic to my carrier and personal development. But I never linked them in a consumable way. So having all your notes liked and indexed will for sure help in having new ideas in the future.

Also, having slip-boxes for different subjects so I can in the future reorganize them into learning material (Blog posts or documentation manuals). Additionally, I liked the idea of taking notes about everything you read into reading slip-boxes. I already do that into these book reviews posts, and I had this idea to document what I read and get an idea of what I took from the text in the future. But also, doing it for papers and blog posts in a less traditional form may pay dividends, and I am starting doing it right now.

I also never thought about having all my notes in a centralized place since lots of them are only related to a project in a temporary situation (for example, a customer I am working for). So now, I am centralizing all of them into a well-known structure where I can search and reference them. I use git submodules to keep them into separate projects or customers.

I keep all my notes in markdown because they are portable and easy to read and print. That facilitated a lot of this reorganizing that took no more than 30 minutes to get it going.

Now about the indexing + tagging system, I still don’t have a great solution yet. I am using markdown links and adding tags in between square brackets to search them with a simple regular expression when needed.

Back to the book, there are two main tips I would like to incorporate, “read with a pen in your hand” that I read takes notes about all you read, “take smart notes and connections between them” that I read contextualize them into interests and subjects with tags. So with that, when you decide you need to write about something, you need to go back to your notes and organize them to tell a good story.

The book also introduces a method to develop new ideas and share insights that systematize how you can produce new content based on what you read and take notes into your slip-box. I cannot speak too much about that yet since I have not put it into action, but I will run this method for a while and see what it does to my productivity and writing. Maybe we can talk about this in my subsequent annual post about the developer’s productivity.


I would recommend reading “How to Take Smart Notes” to everyone that writes or want to write about anything at any time. It will yield even great results if you are in academia or writing a book or something.

It was a quick and easy reading, and I already see some results of its technique in my day-to-day as a dev. I am sure I will re-read this book again soon once I have experimented more with it and see what I may have missed in the first reading.

I hope this new technique makes my wring more productive, but let me tell you that in a few months, see you in the next ones.

Where to find it

Written on November 2, 2021