I’ve been taking down notes for the longest time using physical notebooks and OneNote. In college, I used to have a large notebook divided into sections for each class. During graduate school, I just printed the relevant papers and organized them into different folders. If I ever needed to, I just wrote my thoughts directly on these papers.
Reflecting back on this approach, I realize that I am prone to never looking at them ever again. In college, after I’ve taken the final exam for a course, I just typically just keep the notebook somewhere, forgetting that it even existed. In graduate school, once I’ve finished writing a paper, I just keep the relevant papers somewhere, never to be seen again. My rationale was that I was not going to use my knowledge in that specific class again. At the same time, my thinking was that I can easily find things when I need it through Google anyway. I have not been able to get much return from taking down notes. That is why I have stopped taking down notes.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the potential of spaced-repetition systems (SRS) in augmenting learning. Michael Nielsen from Y Combinator wrote a great article of how he used it to dig deeper into machine learning. SRS is just a fancy word for flashcards. A famous app that facilitates this is Anki. You can create your cards in this app based on whatever information you come across. Dates, names, equations, pictures, mental models, frameworks… whatever information that you think will be important down the line. Everyday then, you review your cards, marking them as easy or difficult to remember. Anki facilitates what cards to show you based on how easy it was for you to remember the card in the past.
Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been using Anki to learn different fields. I’ve made cards from data science, pharmaceutical sciences, econometrics, sociology, history of management and decision sciences. I’ve written down interesting quotes from speeches, insights from videos and fascinating stories from podcasts.
Since I’ve started, I have added 3,047 cards. It’s become a habit at this point. I spend around 30 minutes per day, reviewing around 80 cards. In my opinion, Anki has really augmented my process of learning new things. It helped me prepare for my PhD defense. Now, it is helping me in my knowledge journey.