March 6, 2019

Feynman notebooks

I first heard of this learning strategy from a blog post by Cal Newport, who in turn learned of it through the Feynman biography by James Glieck.

The method is simple:

  1. dedicate a notebook to “things I do not know”
  2. on the first page, write a list of things you do not know
  3. as you find the answer to each item, write a page detailing the answer and sources for the answer
  4. next to the question, write the page of the answer
  5. add any follow-up questions to the list of things you do not know

Newport says the notebook “can provide concrete cues that help you stick with this hard process” of learning unfamiliar things and will help you “translate your growing knowledge of something hard into a concrete form and you’re more likely to keep investing the mental energy needed to keep learning.”

I tried this once before (about three years ago at the time of rewriting this post) with partial success. The habit did not stick – I think there’s got to be a focus on things you want to know rather than just everything you happen to not know (which is practically everything).

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