Log: writing notes about books


Last week I spent Friday morning writing notes about what I’d read again. Once again I noticed that I’m moving through things much too slowly. The producer/consumer dynamics just don’t make sense in this regime. I either need to spend vastly more time writing about what I’m reading, or else I need to write substantially less per-thing-read.


This week I experimented with spending a few hours on Friday in “study” mode, writing about things I read. I’m still processing the same paper, only 4 pages in! I think I need to be much more choose-y about what I process—I’m simply too slow to put this much detail into everything.


Now that I’ve implemented Program: don’t do reading notes in the morning writing time, I have no “study time” at all!

New goal: “study” for at least 2 pomos, probably in the late afternoon, at least 3 days a week.


In the process of writing notes on books, I’m finding that I often need to switch back to reading, typically because I feel I need to go read some primary source. It feels a little disjointed, and it also saps my motivation a bit because I’m likely to end the day with little written. Yet clearly this is essential, and it doesn’t really make sense to just put it off. Not sure what to do about that.


I notice that the process encourages a depth-first tendency: I’m reading about Peak, which doesn’t explain itself all that well, so I read (and take note on) Chase and Simon, which requires me to read (and take note on) de Groot, etc. It feels bad in some sense—I think because I have goal orientation. A week goes by, and I only finished processing one chapter of Peak, which doesn’t feel like “progress.” Of course, processing the primary sources is much more important, but tell that to my subconscious.

Misdirected goal-orientation or not, there is a clear sense of “work piling up.” Because I’ve started processing this book, and there’s a lot of relevant detail in it, I feel I want to finish processing it. And now that seems like quite a lot of work!

This effect is exacerbated by the observation that the “study” work is somewhat rival to “personal ideal development work.” Maybe I can experiment with that issue this week..


Feeling again (see 2020-03-01 notes) that processing a book is a different mental “mode” than developing my own ideas. It’s significantly less effortful in some ways (and more in other ways!). So I’m not sure that working on it first thing in the morning actually makes sense.

But my efforts to read seriously or do administrative tasks in the evening have demonstrated that I’m very unlikely to do anything useful in that period, either. Late afternoon, when I’m sleepy?


It feels good to write durable notes about books that are highly relevant to my work. It feels like high-quality studying.

I notice, though, that there are really two kinds of things I do in My morning writing practice. There’s “studying,” which is often summarizing and synthesizing others’ ideas, and there’s “developing my own ideas,” where I take little inklings or views I don’t understand well and flesh out what I really think about them. The lines aren’t clearly drawn, of course—there’s a lot of overlap—but I’m finding that when I’m doing a lot of “studying”-type writing, I’m not developing my own ideas very consistently.

I may want to separate out quotas / goals around idea-development time, since I definitely don’t want to starve myself of that time.


It’s incredibly difficult to have two disjoint pages open at once in a book on macOS. Parallel reading is mostly impossible in digital reading

It’s very fiddly to reference bits of a book when one is writing notes. I find myself manually writing page numbers into the notes, even though I know that they’re not machine readable, and even if they were, they’re not clickable links, and even if they were, my PDFs can’t jump to book-logical pages anyway. I want to be able to see the pages I’m referencing in my Peripheral vision when I’m looking at a note.

I started processing Peak - Ericsson and Pool chapter-wise, rather than looking at the notes holistically. I feel conflicted about that. I think that processing the book holistically is more likely to lead to Do your own thinking, and I’ll also probably prioritize the material better. But the intermediate state requires too much working memory: I found myself overwhelmed trying to juggle all the scraps I might want to write about. I guess one approach here is to process chapter-wise, then process again holistically.

I spent about 2 hours this morning processing chapter 1 (of 10). Will need to pick up the pace to make this worth doing. I’ll set myself a goal to process chapter 2 in one hour.

Last updated 2021-12-13.