June 08, 2015

Think like a Glossary

With so much info out there, I’ve recognized something important: The more we need to learn, the less we need to memorize.

Memorizing it all is too much

It’s no secret that information online get overwhelming fast. Everything on social media streams, news sites, career-related info sites, e-commerce stores, and whatever else Google throws at us, it all adds up. Yet we’re expected to keep up on it all, whether for our social lives or our jobs.

We’re well beyond the point where one person can know it all. More info is added to the Internet every second than we could ever imagine.

The bitter part is, even if we could learn it all, we likely wouldn’t use all that knowledge anyway. Most news articles I’ve read brought a moment of clarity, a second of catharsis, and then nothing again when I flipped to the next one. I rarely needed that info once I let it go.

So the question you’re likely asking, and have asked yourself many times before, how do I effectively keep up? Remembering it all clearly isn’t the answer.

Memorizing, thankfully, also isn’t needed

Think of remembering online info like remembering a map of your town. You don’t know each road off the top of your head – but if someone gives you enough details about any area, you’ll know right where to look on a map. So if someone wants to know where a church is and tells you some nearby roads, you’ll know just where to look and give them directions.

  • Take quick notes: skim through books and articles, only stopping to copy info to use later. For most of my web development books, I take quick snapshots of useful code snippets, remembering their basic uses and not the specifics. I personally recommend Evernote but there’s many other tools out there.
  • Sort out useful resources: If you’ve got tons of useful links, organize them to more easily find what you need. This can be through color-coded documents, Excel spreadsheets, or you can get ambitious with a searchable, filterable data table for anything you find.
  • Skim and highlight eBooks: Reading ebooks on computer or tablet devices saves lots of time, since all the info’s at your fingers. But this also means you can suffer information overload very easily. So find an e-reading tool to quickly highlight passages, add notes, and if you’re lucky, export your notes to new documents. The only tools I know now to do this are iBooks and using a Kindle Paperwhite, but often only for certain book types. Otherwise, you may need to resort to screenshots or copy-and-pasting.

The major takeaway for the next time you’re reading online is this: don’t worry about remembering it all. Instead know where to look when you see a chance to use it. Keep the source in the back of your mind, save it with something like Pocket, or simply write it down. Worry more about locating info than remembering it.