Taking notes

Eugene Wallingford wrote something that struck a chord with me with respect to taking notes:

Foremost, having no laptop affects my blogging. I can't take notes as quickly, or as voluminously. One of the upsides of this is that it's harder for me to distract myself by writing complete sentences or fact-checking vocabulary and URLs.

In my experience, electronic note-taking is more of a distraction than it is helpful. Taking notes on a laptop (or worse, a phone or tablet) reduces me to focusing on specific phrases instead of thinking about the bigger picture. This is true regardless of medium: attending a lecture, a meeting, or a reading a book.

The biggest benefit I get from lectures/meetings/books is connecting the ideas presented with my experiences. I'm working my way through Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery and while it's a demanding read, I don't take any notes (I can always go back and re-read it!). It's often the case that I will read five to ten pages, then dwell on it for days on end, relating it to my work in software development, specifically testing practices.

Burying myself in minutiae of a presentation causes me to get hung up on that minutiae. Getting a larger view is usually more useful. (And it is often the case that you can go back and review the little things anyway. For example, lectures aren't as ephemeral as they used to be.)