DEV Community

loading...
Cover image for Takes Notes on Everything

Takes Notes on Everything

maxwell_dev profile image Max Antonucci Originally published at maxwellantonucci.com Updated on ・3 min read

A new favorite book of mine is "You Are Not So Smart" by David McRaney. It lists dozens of common cognitive mistakes humans make constantly, ranging from how we disorganize social relationships, misinterpret the world around us, and invent fake motivations and memories.

Why would I like this book? It's a great list of my mind's limitations, and only by knowing those I get around them. One of the most important is how (un)reliably I remember what I read.

That is to say, not reliably at all. Certainly not when it comes to coding.

An example is my recent purchase, "Accessibility for Everyone" by Laura Kalbag (or really, anything amazing from A Book Apart). I skimmed it before reading through the sections in-depth. But if I wanted to really use anything from that book, say in a new project, I wouldn't remember virtually anything useful. I'd have to crack open the book and search all over again - at best I'd just know where to start looking. Considering how much info most developers process each day, this happens all the time. It only goes away with info I read at least five times.

This is why writing down notes on everything I read is an important habit I've sadly let falter. My own preference is a Github repo full of markdown files with notes on books, blog posts, and whatever else I want to save for later. Important syntax rules, term definitions, personal tricks or ideas, quotes or summaries - I write down anything I find inspiring or useful from the texts. So far these have included:

  • Tips for maintainable CSS and front-end libraries
  • Basics of web typography
  • Important Git commands I tend to forget
  • Styleguide and CSS tips from "Hardboiled Web Design."
  • Effective UI and UX from "Don't Make Me Think."
  • The principles of Essentialism
  • The major tips and takeaways on a book for not being ashamed of being single (judge all you want, it was a great read!)

Just writing down these notes has many benefits:

  • It helps me separate the signal from the noise, and keep them separate. Looking for something is easier when I don't need to navigate a book or blog post, and for extra help I have the search function.
  • It forces me to distill important info from the larger source. The easier I want my note-taking to be, the faster I need to get to the point.
  • Others can reference your notes if you keep them in a public repo. This is a win for the open-source community, beginners looking for good resources, or your career if scouters or developers looking to hire see your focus on learning more.
  • It's always fun yet productive to relax and flip through past notes.

I'm not claiming taking notes is more important than writing actual code. But in my coding workflow, I'm seeing that my note-taking is part of an important balancing act. Finishing a project gives me a huge, euphoric sense of accomplishment that's like a drug hit - I'm anxious and rushed to get the next. Recording my new knowledge gives me a gradual, calmer sense of accomplishment that scales well over time. It helps me better examine what I'm learning and not overlook important details. In the long run, it makes learning easier and helps me remember more. As a bonus, it may even help others who read them.

This is all part of why I'm a big supporter of programmers doing more writing outside of just code. If not for others to read, than for yourself to improve your knowledge and craft that much more.

Discussion (36)

pic
Editor guide
Collapse
letsbsocial1 profile image
Maria Campbell

Totally agree. Do the same. Very helpful and saves A LOT of time in the end! Thanks for sharing (and confirming!) Max!

Collapse
maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

Happy to do so, Thanks for sharing and confirming with me as well!

Collapse
letsbsocial1 profile image
Collapse
jjude profile image
Joseph Jude

If not for others to read, than for yourself to improve your knowledge and craft that much more.

This is exactly why I keep a blog and keep posting there. It is not really for others; I blog what I learn there so I can reference it back.

One type of app that I use often is notes. I used nvAlt for long, now I use iAWriter on Mac and iOS. It is filled with so many TILs (today-i-learned) and other similar notes.

Similar to what you describe in this post, I keep a note of all errors I get while developing. You will be amazed how often you search for the same errors. Keeping a log of the errors and how you solved it will save so much of time. I blogged about it here: jjude.com/flask-errors/

Taking notes also makes you conduct a thoughtful retro of what you have done. It helps you to improve.

Collapse
shayde profile image
Shayde Nofziger

Agreed - half the time the errors I'm searching for have purple links in Google, so I know I've found/fixed the problem before....

Maybe actively writing down the issue and my solution would make me better retain it.

Collapse
maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

Very good point about keeping track of errors made as well. I have often written down new things I've learned in the process related to them, like a new git command related to a rebase error. But documenting the specific nature of the error does make it much less likely I'd make it again too.

Collapse
craser profile image
Chris Raser

I love the idea of logging all errors. Totally going to start doing this. Thanks!

Collapse
letsbsocial1 profile image
Maria Campbell

Same here.

Collapse
t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen • Edited

GitBook may help you keep things more organized while at the same time keeping everything in a GitHub repo.

Collapse
jorinvo profile image
jorin

Alternatively a static site generator gives you a lot of freedom on how to organize content. You can still keep it all on GitHub.
Jekyll is super simple to get started since support is built into GitHub.
My personal favorite is Hugo for the simplicity, features and speed it provides.

Collapse
papey profile image
Jean Michel Functional Programming

Why GitBook needs access to my orgs ? Pff... Looks promising but I can't use it with GitHub... Thanks for sharing.

Collapse
papey profile image
Thread Thread
t4rzsan profile image
Jakob Christensen

You can choose to let GitBook store your books in a GitHub repo.

Collapse
maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

Thanks for the suggestion! I'll definitely look into this, will also make it even easier to read and review.

Collapse
craser profile image
Chris Raser

Great stuff! I've been keeping book notes in a personal wiki for years, and I can attest that it helped me better remember what I learned, and having something to refer back to has been invaluable.

More recently (Last 4-5 years), I've started dumping hard-to-remember bits of code/commands/configs into a snippet manager like TextExpander or Alfred. (I'm told Dash is also good for this, but haven't tried it.)

Collapse
arisng profile image
Aris Nguyen

I totally agree with you.

For me, OneNote is utilized pretty well by me to write notes about almost everything happening in my daily routines, ranging from work to life. I started the habit of taking notes when I was still in university.

I also encourage my colleague and all the people that I've mentored so far to make a habit of taking notes and feeling really happy when they find it useful.

Thanks for the great post!

Collapse
jorinvo profile image
jorin

I totally agree with you about the feeling of taking notes on paper! I feel like it's easier to remember things and also easier to be creative and actually keep writing.
One thing that helps to focus on writing instead of refining your notes is that you can not undo what you wrote down. Some editors have this as a feature under the name Hemingway Mode.
I wrote more about my thoughts on this in the past: dev.to/jorinvo/note-taking
For me paper is a great medium for thinking, but digital is a good addition for refining, sharing and archiving notes and writings.

Collapse
bhavaniravi profile image
Bhavani Ravi

Totally agreed, In 2019 I read 30+ books but I can only remember a few of them, 2020 my resolution was to read books and assimilate them by publishing summaries. Here is one, dev.to/bhavaniravi/atomic-habits-b...

Collapse
jsm91 profile image
Jesse

I agree 100%! I've been wondering if perhaps taking the time to write down my understanding/explanation for why a piece of code works was wasted when comparing it to the time I could spend coding. However, it's how I learn :)

Collapse
idhruvs profile image
Dhruv Shah

Hey Max ! Thanks for writing such a great article. It immediately prompted me to start my own repository for keeping a note of stuffs I have learnt.
Since a long time I am having a tough time organising stuff that I've learnt/read.

I even plan to create a web-application that helps me write stuff and organise it based on tags and locations. I am still working on ideas to expand this application's utility though. I intend to apply some analytical utility to it so that the user can have an idea on what topics did he 'logged' the most during the last month. (May be generate a word-cloud of most terms logged in the user's notes)

Would love to hear your views on the same.

Collapse
maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

I do the same thing! Partly since I don't always have my computer around when I need to note nothing, and partly I just like to write a stream of consciousness for a kind of mental release.

Collapse
galtenberg profile image
Christopher G

You might enjoy this program buildingasecondbrain.com. If you look into it, tell Tiago that Chris G sent you.

Collapse
maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

Thank you very much for the offer, but I may just opt to keep it simpler with my Github repo. My own preference is the simpler way I record info, the more I focus on its quality.

Collapse
matiasvj profile image
Matias Verdier

Great article! thanks for sharing!

Collapse
michaelhonan profile image
Michael

Love it! Started a new repo for 'my second brain'.

Collapse
maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

Haha, that's a much catchier way of referring to it than I could've thought of.

Collapse
jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her)

It made me happy that you used "Accessibility for Everyone" as an example :)

Collapse
maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

It is a really good book I agree! Laura Kalbag is a really inspirational figure in web development for me.

Collapse
voins profile image
Alexey Voinov

Thank you for the pointer to the book. It is great indeed. :)

Collapse
subbramanil profile image
Subbu Lakshmanan

Great Article Max!. I do that at work, except that I'm keeping my notes in a private repo for the time. I do have plans to separate my personal & work notes so that I can publish my public notes.

Collapse
reeder29 profile image
Doug Reeder

If you like to retrieve your notes by any word in them, or context (where or when you wrote them), try my web app Serene Notes:

serenenotes.hominidsoftware.com/

Collapse
nishi_id profile image
Nishimiya

Thanks for sharing! Helps me a lot for the future use

Collapse
alexruzenhack profile image
Alex Ruzenhack

I like to believe the notes are a form to travel in time. And often I catch myself grateful for me in the past, to give me note as a gift, a clear and useful note.

Collapse
ialexs profile image
ilya alexander s.

Agree.. I kept a single file named ‘learnt.md’ and update it as needed.
Once in a while tidying it.. fix the syntax, links, comments etc. File kept in a git repo & Dropbox for easy access..