Re: this comment from “Notes on sleep books”.
The purpose of this research method is to find the best 20% of popular technical information for a topic as quickly as possible by cutting through information complexity. I almost always use it as the first step in a program for training a specific skill. Used to be, I would try to solve every little thing myself through tangential learning and pure ingenuity, but I’ve learned it’s more efficient and effective to treat conscientiousness and associative horizon as two different skillsets with their own problem-solving domains that rarely overlap. (In general, associative horizon is good for right-brain tasks like aesthetics and trust, and conscientiousness is better for left-brain tasks like judgment and constructive action.) In the 6-step problem solving method, this research method would represent step 2, gathering information.
The first thing is to ask whether it will be both useful and appropriate to get the popular level of understanding of the topic. Most of the time the answer is yes because most of the things I’m trying to accomplish are things humans have tried to accomplish in the past, where there are no conflicts of interest preventing them from putting their heads together productively. A good way to gauge this is to ask yourself whether you’d benefit from reading a popular online forum on the subject. Exceptions:
-Game, because sexual reproduction represents a conflict of human interests (i.e. lots of disinformation)
-Understanding conspiracy theories, for the same reason and because you have to go very deep into any specific theory or you’ll get negative returns
Things you might not think this would work for, like complex historical problems or hard science, will actually still benefit from this approach. The catch is that they will only be a benefit *in addition to* more necessary approaches like developing a rigorous research technique and deliberate practice of math exercises, respectively. Think of it as rapidly developing a contextual base, a broad but shallow understanding of expert sentiment, rather than true expertise (which comes from progressive mastery of each skill in the discipline).
I’ll presume you already have a problem statement and a SMART goal you’re using as a target for optimization, like “I don’t make enough money” and “I’ll be earning 100k/yr in 2025.” This is a pretty normal thing to do and rapidly developing a broad but shallow understanding of expert sentiment would be a good start. The next thing to do is list your major contextual obstacles to decrease the complexity of the problem by chunking the interactions into big, useful categories. For example, some of the reasons I don’t already make 100k/yr:
-The world order is falling apart (i.e. “how to profit during a collapse”)
-I’m a fucking white male
-I don’t have any credentials
-I don’t have any marketable skills
-I don’t know how to start my own business or work as a contractor
-I have no professional network
-I have Asperger’s
-I don’t know how to make money any way except by working a job or selling things
Treating all of these things as one problem would be very frustrating because a lot of the advice for each category would clash. Finding advice and books that are extremely specific to my situation would be nice: “How an Aspie can go from 40k with no marketable skills or people skills to 100k in five years in Clown World”. But that book probably doesn’t exist (yet). I’ll probably have to read up on a few of those things individually (e.g. profiting in an economic depression) and a few of them in related clusters (Asperger’s, people skills, and networking are probably treated together in a book somewhere). The obstacles related to being a fucking white male aren’t going to be covered well by popular sentiment due to the conflict of interest problem and would be better served by what’s called “tangential learning” (following rabbitholes of contrarians you like and trust until you find one who can give you the one or two red pilled books you need to understand your particular situation and design your own training plan).
The next step is to compile some book summaries into an overview. Google “best books for X” and compare 5-10 of the lists to get a sense for what’s out there. Selecting only interesting books here by exercising some judgment can save you a lot of time and pain. For example, when I was researching sleep the Ariana Huffington book came up on several lists, but I cut it anyway because the summary made it sound like the audience is soyboys and she’s vaguely associated with politics I don’t like. Maybe there’s information in it I’m missing out on but you can only read about 2,000 books in a lifetime anyway, so even if sleep is important enough to spend 33% of your life on it you’d still have to make cuts like this. There are also a number of books that sound interesting but aren’t related to what I want to accomplish, like how to get babies to sleep better. I’m in the 100th percentile for “curiosity” being a factor in my consumption choices, so being clear about what I want at this stage really saves me from going down a lot of rabbitholes.
The next step is to make a list of 3-5 books in order of priority for getting the most relevant information the most quickly. Here are the factors I use to judge:
1. Is it on Audible or Hoopla? (I rarely sit down just to read anymore)
2. Is it more specific to what I’m trying to accomplish or more general? (I.e. “Training to Lower Your 70.3 Half-Ironman Time” versus “Comprehensive Book About Triathlons”).
3. Does it look like the kind of book that I’ll enjoy and be engaged by?
The next step is to go down this list in order and collect other people’s summaries from the internet. I’ll pick one or two that appears to be the best summary and just add append any good details from the other ones. Often, I won’t feel the need to go any deeper and can skip reading the actual book. For example, I don’t want to read “Sleep Smarter” because I don’t need any more information than a conceptual overview, the 21 tips, and descriptions of the tips to avoid ambiguity in application. This also saves me a lot of time taking notes later if I decide to do so. I can just edit the existing notes and add notes where I think these summaries missed important points. Further, these notes pages make excellent review material whenever I find it’s something exceedingly important. I’ve recorded myself reading a couple of them (e.g. MM’s notes on Extreme Ownership) to listen to on my phone once a month or so.
But as a rule, I always read a book the first time without taking notes, and this includes textbooks. If it’s worth my time to take notes, it’s worth rereading a couple of times, and I’ll know which books fall into that category after the first read-through. When I do take notes, here are my rules:
1. The first set of notes is “major takeaways”, and must be done entirely from memory, on paper, after a walk, soon after finishing the book. If I wait too long, I’ll read the book again.
2. All notes that I intend to add to the notes pages must be written on paper first. Writing with a keyboard encourages verbosity and hyperfocus, which is poisonous to writing precisely worded plainstyle abstracts.
3. Only take notes on one book at a time. To start taking notes on a new book, I must finish taking notes on the current book. This keeps my appetite for new projects under control.
Remember, the goal is to hit that 80% mark as quickly as possible. You can get this process down to 20 hours or so to gen from layman to intermediate. You can always go on from there if necessary, but often it will be more useful to start practicing what you’ve learned by forming habit chains and hiring a coach to begin a deliberate practice regimen.