Starting my “Commonplace Book”

Ryan Holiday is one of my favourite authors, penning books such as The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy. His blog and his books introduced me to the concept of stoic optimism, which I try to apply to my daily life as much as possible.

While reading through his blog I came across a post discussing a “commonplace book“, a single repository of all the info collected from reading. For the past year I have read more non-fiction, while also marking pages of interest. The pages of interest sometimes apply to anecdotes or random facts but sometimes they are simply quotes or pieces of advice I want to remember. I realized (too late) that all this reading wasn’t resulting in as much retention or action as I hoped. Due to this, I wanted to try starting my own commonplace book.

The commonplace book is something I have put off for a while now, and as Holiday says in the linked post, the longer you put it off the harder it is to start. It is intimidating to look at all the books and marked pages I have, and know I have to transcribe them now. Holiday uses 4×6 index cards and categorizes them by themes e.g writing, books, education. I was tempted just to type out my notes, but I do remember all the lessons The Shallows taught me, analyzing how writing helps retention. This is part of the reason I never used a laptop to take notes in college.

Although the scope of this project makes me want to just type everything out, I want to try committing to writing everything instead. As time goes on, storage may be an issue, and maybe at some later time I’ll decide to just type everything out. For now, I want to stick to writing it out. I have already copied over notes from three books, and have decided I will try to do more on saturday. Afterwards, I will try to add notes from at least one new book every week. Trying to copy everything over at one time is an intimidating project, and I don’t want the dread of taking that project on to dissuade me from doing anything.

Aside from retention, writing out the notes also forces me to be more selective with what I transcribe. I can make quick references to anecdotes (e.g. Mastery, page 30) but I only choose to write out the words that will give me the most value if I skim through my commonplace book.

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