How I Take Notes with Audiobooks

Person Taking Notes

Reading business books is one of the best things I've done for my personal growth & my business. I've avoided countless mistakes having first read about someone else making that mistake. But to get the most out of a business book you can't just read it and understand it perfectly. You have to retain that information before you can do anything with it. I take notes with audiobooks all the time – even while walking the dog. And now my retention is better for audiobooks than physical books.

How to Take Notes

Now with regular paper books you can use a highlighter to highlight sections & you can write in the margins. Both of these are easy and they're very common but they aren't actually useful.

This Time article illustrates how inefficient highlighting & underlining are.

Highlighting and underlining led the authors’ list of ineffective learning strategies. Although they are common practices, studies show they offer no benefit beyond simply reading the text. Some research even indicates that highlighting can get in the way of learning; because it draws attention to individual facts, it may hamper the process of making connections and drawing inferences.

What does work is writing a separate page of notes. In The WAC Journal from September 2005 they talk about writing notes in a familiar outline form:

Friend (2001) clearly showed that learning to extract information from a text, and then to sort it and classify it into a hierarchy is beneficial for first-year university students taking remedial courses to improve their ability to create texts. The effectiveness of this type of training is further enhanced by the fact that it also involves combining and generalizing the important pieces of information that have been extracted from a text.

Of course you need to be selective. If you copy everything you don't learn anything. You have to figure out what is important and write that down. The Art of Manliness has more:

Only write down the main points of the lecture. Don’t write everything down! Your goal isn’t to transcribe your professor’s lecture word for word, rather it’s to extract and record the main points of it. The trick to successful note-taking is learning how to separate the wheat from the chaff. […] You don’t want to waste your time writing down and studying info that you won’t even be tested on.

Taking Notes With Audible

So how do I do all of this with Audible? Audible has a handy bookmark feature (now called Clips). You just open the app and tap a button.

Audible Bookmarks

As simple as clicking a button

So anytime I hear anything that might be important I leave a bookmark. And then after I finish the book I go through the bookmarks and write my notes.

This has the added benefit (yes benefit) of having to listen to my bookmarks again and determine if they really are that important.

Earlier this year I finished Originals and I had something like 400 bookmarks.

It took me several days taking about 8 hours in total to go through them and write them up into one big outline.

Check it out. It's over 8,000 words. It's organized and searchable (in Evernote).

Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you about how I quoted:

  • Employees who use Google Chrome & Mozilla Firefox stay in their job 15% longer (even when controlling for other factors)
  • Some of the most well known originals weren't risk takers. They didn't go all in. They had a balanced risk-portfolio. Steve Wozniak had HP, Bill Gates had an official leave of absence from university, and Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) worked at Pacific Bell for 7 years after his first strip
  • There are only 4 responses to a bad situation: exit (quitting), voice (speaking up), persistence (grit), neglect (doing the bare minimum) and your company culture determines which one you'll choose.

These are just a few things from Originals that I pulled from my memory in the last couple of months.

Eight hours might seem like a lot but it's a small price to pay to actually retain information. I started doing this earlier this year and I plan to keep doing it for every business book I read.

Happy note taking audiobook listeners!

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