The art of remembering what you learn
Blogging

How to remember everything you come across on the internet!

We process way too much information on an everyday basis.

A 2009 article says that we add 34 GB worth of information everyday. That roughly 1 TB worth of information stored in our brain every month.

And this cognitive load increases with the more apps and services taking our attention. If the number was 34 GB in 2009, it would be twice that number today.

Sources of Information

Every day we consume information from a variety of sources. This include Twitter, Medium, HackerNews, ebooks, newsletters, news websites, YouTube channels, podcasts, Product Hunt, physical books, and so on.

And, we don’t stop there.

We’re constantly using this information at various places – a conversation with your friends and colleagues, while writing a blog post or working on a podcast, during job interviews or when working on a cool side project.

But, the problem here is we often forget more than half of what we’d read or come across as interesting on the internet. We’ll often have a faint feeling of reading it somewhere, but we won’t know from where!

I’ve had this issue many times where I will just have a jumble of words about the article or the essay I read on the internet and I dump it all on Google or DuckDuckGo trusting the algorithms to understand me and get me what I want. And, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

This led me to build a personal system (influenced by several articles on learning to learn properly) that helps me read and retain more information from the content I consume on the internet and later use them while writing blogs, stories, novellas and articles.

I call it “The Three-layer Approach”. But, you can call it your second brain (a pretty popular term these days) or a Memex (read about it!).

The Three-layer Approach

Who is this for? - For anyone who is struggling to remember and recollect things, they’d learned. Comes in handy if you’re a blogger or working on a podcast or something who is trying to learn a new subject.

This is how the layers look from the bottom up,

  • Input – Every piece of content you read or consume on a daily basis.
  • Processing – Processing what you’d read on a daily basis and reflecting on how it benefits you. Requires a little bit of discipline. (You can do it, or not!)
  • Output – Usually a blog, podcast, an interesting conversation to impress someone, job interviews, and other ways to share it with the outside world.

Input

Consider this layer as the foundation for your knowledge. It is similar to the pile of notes you referred to the night before the exams. It is your go-to place to quickly remember everything you had learned.

For this to be strong, you need every bit of information you consumed to be organized and stored in one place. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time on the internet, you can use a good bookmarking tool like Raindrop or the collections feature in Microsoft Edge or more sophisticated tools like Instapaper, Pocket, Feedly, or Weava tools.

You can add a tag for every article making it easy for you to search through it and get instant access to the information you want.

You can also the Notion for this purpose. Check out the resonance calendar method by Ali Abdaal which lets you capture the summary of different type of content you come across every day.

But, I personally use Readwise as I consume information from multiple sources and devices and I want all my highlights and notes to be captured in one place.

I usually save Twitter threads and highlights from my kindle, iBooks, Email newsletters etc. on to my Readwise account. And, the most useful feature in Readwise is that it will randomly send these highlights as a digest email at a frequency of your choice.

In my case, I get a digest email once in every two days containing random highlights from what I’ve read in the past. This sometimes give me the idea for my next blog post.

Cost: All the tools mentioned above have a free plan.

Processing

Not a mandatory step, but it helps you think better.

After reading a book or an article or even a chapter in a book, try to reflect on what you’d learned. Because writing is thinking.

It need not be a 1000-word piece. It can be a simple 200-300 word summary. You don’t have to do this immediately. You can do it later that day or even before you go to bed.

Reflect on your day and whatever you’ve read or learned during the day. It is only when you write you know how much you remembered and what value you’d got from reading that article or book. Sometimes, you’ll also get interesting questions popping into your mind while writing the summary. Make a note of those and look for answers the next day. This way you learn more and think more.

I recently came across a beautiful article by Vasili Shynkarenka that talks about the process writing summaries and the benefits of it.

I use Typora for personal journaling and reflection.

It is an open source markdown editor (an absolutely beautiful one!)

When comes to journaling, I don’t want to trust any platform. I’m a little paranoid that way. So, I use Typora and sync it with Dropbox (a ‘just in case something happens’ backup). You can also pull these files and edit them on mobile using iA Writer which costs 199 INR per year.

But, you can use any note-taking app for this purpose.

Output

My output is usually in the form of blog posts which I write every month. But, it can be different for you.

You might be writing a book, or learning something for your career development, or preparing for an exam or job interview. Whatever you’re doing, collating all the relevant information and processing them periodically will help you remember more, think more, and become better at whatever you’re doing. For me periodically reviewing content from my past and reviewing my highlights that hit my inbox helps me think and write about new and interesting topics on my blog.

In other words, it has greatly decreased the time spent on looking for interesting incidents and anecdotes. I can instantly remember them or at least know where exactly to look for when I am working on an article.

I know this is a very high level article on how to retain and process information. I will soon write an in-depth article on how to set up your personal knowledge management and how to get the most value out of it.

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