I was meeting my friend for lunch when he ran in late carrying a book, a journal, and a pen. He is a prolific reader, so I wasn’t surprised to see him with a book, but the journal and pen were new accompaniments.
Are you going to a meeting after lunch? I enquired.
No, I have just been reading my book. The journal and pen are to take notes on what I read.
I asked to have a quick look — after all, I am a writer myself and a curious one at that. I saw he had pages of handwritten notes, diagrams, quotes, and charts. It looked like he had been studying for a test.
Are these just for that one book?
Yes, the first few chapters. There’s so much I want to remember and ensure I follow.
As I handed back his notes, I thought that he had lost the joy of reading. For him, it was a time of academic note-taking and trying to make his reading productive and better his life.
Instead of lying on the couch, or a beach, or sitting in a cafe with a book in hand, enjoying the words and immersing himself in the narrative, it became a chore.
And it seems he is not the only one.
Stop and smell the roses is an overused saying. Perhaps we should say stop and read the words. In today’s fast-paced life, some activities should just be enjoyed without the need for a pop quiz at the end.
Stop (no collaborate) and listen
Hands up if you recognized my poor attempt to incorporate Vanilla Ice into a headline. Sorry — I won’t do that again.
Another of my friends — yes, I have more than one — is an avid podcast listener. He devours any podcast related to business, entrepreneurship, or marketing. But like my book note buddy, this friend — let’s call him podcast pal becomes fixated with taking notes.
He says a forty-minute podcast episode can take a few hours as he pauses to write down notes he can use to help drive his business. Podcast Pal says he doesn’t enjoy listening to podcasts, and I can see why. Again it sounds like he is taking something that is fun and trying to turn it into a productivity exercise. He can’t just take time and listen to a podcast.
I prefer to listen to a podcast in one go without stopping. Usually while exercising. It takes my mind off the exercise and also means I am focused on listening to the subject.
If something particularly stands out, I make a mental note, and then when the episode is finished, I check out the show notes. Many podcasts have these listed, and they contain articles, links, and main points discussed within the episode. I can reference these and check out any that resonated. Importantly it means I don’t have the need to stop the podcast or take notes.
Stop taking notes and read
See no corny puns that time: just a plain and admittedly dull headline.
Book Note Buddy’s reading process would remove all the enjoyment out of reading for me. I often read before bed when I use the time to wind down and relax.
But as a writer, I’m always looking for ideas.
If I’m reading and find a passage that triggers something — either for my writing or personal development I’ll fold over the corner of the page and keep reading. It’s a brief one-second pause in my reading. Then, when the book is completed, I will go back to any turned pages and then write notes or quotes.
The key is when I read, I read the book in full and enjoy it. To treat reading as a hobby rather than purely a learning exercise. So I actually digest the information as I read rather than focusing on trying to take notes.
It may lead to a few pages with bent corners, but it allows me to keep my reading flow going.
And as a reader, there isn’t anything better than being in the reading flow when time slips away, and you become enveloped by the words in front of you.
Stop and watch
You can see the pattern here.
TEDx Talks. YouTube videos. It’s the same principle. Take them in and absorb them. You can always go back and watch the key parts.
Here is my confession.
I used to be one to pause TEDx Talks, even when watching one with my partner. It would drive her mad. So then I downgraded to just writing down the ‘time stamps’ of critical points. But I found that if I wrote down 5 minutes and 30 seconds, I couldn’t stop there and would have to add a quote or a fact.
Eventually, I went cold turkey and would watch a talk in its entirety without a single note.
The focus should be on watching the content first. It’s Netflix and chill, not Netflix and study.
The curse of perpetual improvement
Many people reading this article will be looking at ways to improve their life — hence the wise choice to read this. One survey found that 94% of millennials make personal commitments and that many become addicted to self-help. This can then take over all their consumption habits.
We lose our enjoyment of activities as we believe we should be learning and growing from them.
The part to take notes on
I was hoping you could take the next book and read it from cover to cover. Without notes or highlights. Immerse yourself fully in the reading experience: just you and the pages. Find that reading flow. Don’t be a Book Note Buddy for just one book.
Listen to that next podcast episode without hitting pause. Be it on your run, your drive, or sitting in your favourite chair. Don’t be a Podcast Pal for just one episode.
Have a day without notes and see how different the experience is. Turn a task into a recreational activity. Not every activity needs to become a life lesson.
Except for this one.
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