When I start a project, if it’s in an area or domain that I’m not comfortable with, I always spend a lot of time upfront collecting whatever information I can find from Google, from authors or writers that I trust online and in the books of magazines that I own. I collect all the information I can find and try to do the best job I can with the tools I have (notebooks, and applications like Things, Evernote, and Mindnode) to explore what ideas exist, relate all those ideas together, and to understand them fully. Even almost more importantly, I do all this to try and help myself from forgetting the conclusions I come up with.I read lot, take a lot of notes, and draw many sketches. The problem is I always forget a lot. I don’t know why it happens, but the fact that I can’t directly recall 95% of what I just studied in university makes me worried… about the possibility of in the future forgetting things I actually care about (aka I don’t miss the school stuff much). Overtime I started to experiment with different behaviours that would help me better retain the key ideas of what I read. I tried bookmarking pages with Post-its, and I tried vigorously taking notes on everything I thought was worth remembering, but neither method helped me much. Though I did learn what I was actually trying to achieve, and it wasn’t to remember the key ideas at all. It was to become a better product of them. If someone else was writing this you could paraphrase that as “Not better understanding what makes a better entrepreneur, but actually becoming one”, or designer, or hacker, etc… The funny thing about it is though, that at the start of a project, no matter how much preparation I do in trying to understand an idea, it only ever feels like it’s through the process of writing code, or designing, or in tackling all the little problems that come up (and sometimes there are larger ones that come up too) when I can feel like I’m moving forward in furthering my understanding. It may actually be more appropriate to say that it’s in the course of development and of being in that correct mindset, the mindset of developing, and not the mindset of preparing, that I can do stuff like look at my notes, or create new drafts, and actually learn. All the notes and sketches I do before starting a project, are preparation for the learning I’m about to do. What does that mean? It’s means reading books is good, but referencing them, discussing them, and dissecting them in the right mindset is more lasting.
Try this. If you’re like me, you may still forget everything you read, but at least maybe the muscle memory will stick with you. The idea that I get very little from actually reading anything was a scary realization that was revealed itself word-by-word in front of me as I read The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains in Wired by Nicholas Carr.