Reading notes -- How to take smart notes

I recently finished reading "How to take smart notes" by Sonke Ahrens. It's an excellent book that goes into depth in explainin the zettelkasten method - a note-taking method popularized by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann.

The zettelkasten method relies on a simple central idea which is to stop using your brain as a central repository for memorizing and organizing your knowledge. Instead, your knowledge should be organized in a system of notes that are interconnected and forming a web. Normally, the first impulse would be to organize notes in some sort of hierarchy, thinking that such a system is easy to organize and refer to later. Unfortunately (or fortunately) human brains do not work in a hierarchic manner. Just imagine for a second how you access thoughts and memories. You don't start from an idea and work your way down through a predefined hierarchy. You start from a memory or thought and work your way through thoughts that are connected to that first one and so on.

The method starts by teaching the note-taker to keep everything in one place, which is easy to access and to use a simple system to retrieve the notes one needs. The zettelkasten system is composed of an inbox, a temporary central repository of fresh knowledge which is then moved to a slip box, a permanent repository of knowledge where each note is written in a piece of paper or otherwise known as a slip. Each slip is identified by a unique ID which is usually a number and slips can be connected to each-other through references. The last element of the system is a reference repository, which keeps track of all the books, articles, research papers, etc that the user reads and which is connected to the slip box through references from the individual notes.

Finally, the last important point raised by this book is that every project we undertake is built upon previous work and that nothing truly starts from scratch. For most people the first step in starting a project is brainstorming, but brainstorming is just picking your brain for previous knowledge and trying to connect said previous knowledge to the task at hand. If one is to keep notes regularly, then there is no need for brainstorming. A simple trip through the slip box would give you easy access to a network of the previous knowledge you have that could be used to solve the task at hand without having to brainstorm.