Imagine a Book With All The Information You Needed

It exists. It's you.
June 19, 2022
2 minutes

Have you ever run into the situation of not knowing something? You're scrambling to consult Google once again.

The problem is, that Google doesn't fit your needs.

You're a unique person. How you think, behave, and learn are different from that which Google can provide.

It turns out there's a solution that's over 400 years old.

Commonplace Books

Commonplaces are like books but filled with useful information you collect over time. They are different from a journal because they focus more on information collection and utilization rather than introspection. They were used extensively in the 15th century.

The term "commonplace" is used to describe how information is brought under one "common place". Simple.

But, simple doesn't mean stupid. Don't underestimate the power of a book like this.

Let's talk more about why Google sucks for learning and how commonplace books solve this.

Google Sucks for Learning

Google has almost all the answers, but there are a few problems.

  • Consuming too much information decreases retention and learning
  • Too little retention and learning equals no real application
  • No application means you don't achieve your goals

Often, we search for something but don't read slowly. We compulsively search for what "feels" like the right answer. Perhaps, we come to the right answer, but then we don't have time to apply it because we're getting a notification on our phone.

Instead of absorbing it, we bookmark it or copy and paste the link into a document of some kind for later reference. We never come back. How many saved pages haven't you used?

A commonplace book fixes this because it focuses your attention on collecting the right information, not the amount.

Nowadays, owning a commonplace book seems archaic or even silly. But, writing information down, slowly & manually, helps you learn much better.

Typing is known to decrease your ability to absorb the information you are processing. Screenshotting or web-snipping is the absolute worse. Instant capture "note-taking" is inevitably going to create a giant list of information that isn't organized and isn't designed for you.

The slow methodical processing that a commonplace book pushes gives you the structure needed to create a learning environment and reference that helps you absorb information, retain it, and recall it when problem-solving and pursuing your goals.

A Simple Way to Get Started

I've created a minimalistic commonplace book called an "I want to..." page. Here's how it works.

Ask this first...

What do you want to do?

Once you have that question answered, get more specific. For example, this is my list under my "Writing" header under my "I want to..." page.

a section under my "I want to..." page in Obsidian

The beauty is its simplicity. If I'm writing an outline, but feel lost, I can consult this to remind me of the processes that I established in the past. Over time, with constant review of this page, I'll become a better outliner.

This is just one part of the writing process. You can go as deep as you'd like. All things can be boiled down to a simple step-by-step process.

Here lies the secret of really smart people.

Intelligent people don't know more.

They know less, but really know how to use the information they do have.

Reviewing the same quality information over and over and acting upon it is what creates success.

Not reading 52 books a year. Not sporadically searching Google to try to piece together a plan. And definitely not screenshotting information that you'll never remember to look at again.

Make what you do know matter.

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