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!

13 thoughts on “How I Take Notes with Audiobooks

  1. Hey Patrick,
    Thanks for the useful information on audiobook note taking. I recently jumped onto the audiobook train about 3-4 months ago and haven’t looked back. An obstacle I am trying to solve is how to improve retention of what I listen to. So far all my books have been non fiction, however, there’s a good chance Ready Player One will be on my list sometime soon.

    The problem with note taking for me is that I listen to audiobooks during my 35 minute commute to work which makes it difficult to jot down notes. I am going to try the clip/bookmark feature on my next Audible book.

    Also found a great solution for the .mp3 audiobooks I have –

    Comes with a bookmarking feature. Now all I need to do is get some mounting hardware for my car and I think I’m all set!

  2. I’ve been thinking about how I read books differently these days – thanks for explaining how you handle bookmarks and how you review them! I’m going to see if i can apply it to reading on my Kindle.

    • With Kindle you can login to their website and see all of your highlights. It makes taking notes super easy. 🙂

      • this only works if you have the Kindle version. If you have only made bookmarks in an audiobook, then you cannot export those (at least that i can figure out and according to the Kindle support guy i was just chatting with).

        If you know of a way to do this, then please let me know!

      • Wow, I did not know this existed. Thanks for pointing it out.

  3. Thanks for sharing.
    I have been adding notes while making bookmarks in Audible. Is there a way to export those notes to say Evernote?

  4. I want to take quotes from audiobooks to later on referencing them in my written materials. But, ideally, I’d like to reference the citations as in what page of the physical book they were mentioned. I wonder if that’s possible at all?

    • This is also my challenge and what I resorted to the past 2 years is to buy the Kindle version of the audible books also. I have some of them also in hardcover, have spent allot on audiobooks/kindle books/books as a result.

      Have the problem of exporting the notes from Audible to paste into another programme for building references and knowledge base. It is also why I prefer to listen to the book from Kindle and use highlighting for export later which does it much better.

  5. @Everyone: You CAN EXPORT Audible Notes like this:
    1. Open Audible in Browser
    2. Start listening to Audiobook in Browser
    3. Hit Options
    4. Clips and Bookmarks
    5. Highlight all text and copy it

    I’m so glad this works, because I almost startet copying all my notes manually 🙂

    • How are you getting any text to highlight? All I get is the ability to listen to the clip.

      • You can only copy the text you wrote yourself.
        (Recommendation: You can enter notes with Google Voice input -> Very fast if you’re on the go)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.