During my moments away from home work, I wanted to combine two of my favorite things: movement, in this case, I’m talking about gentle movement like walking; and learning. I decided to try listening to audiobooks as I walked and mix the two things together, yet, I would be constantly distracted and not retain any information from them.
This is the curse of the mind of a highly creative individual.
Then genius struck.
I had the idea of creating a new section in my notes app for key lessons from books.
Bill Gates himself has been writing down key lessons and takeaway from books he reads. And there’s well-known research showing how we can better retain information when writing it down.
This made me wonder whether, in a world obsessed with productivity and the idea of working smarter, not harder, I could hack my morning walks and slot in some valuable learning time.
“Could I really retain information more easily and efficiently by writing down key takeaways from audiobooks?”
I decided to explore this theory by writing down key lessons as I listened to my audiobooks each morning.
To prove the effectiveness of my experiment, I wanted to use two books as examples.
I created one note for each book I would listen to. Each note would have headings based on chapters. The body mainly consisted of bullet points of key concepts allowing quick and easy categorization while typing on my phone.
I wanted to determine whether these book summaries could help me make the most of this personalized learning time.
If, like myself, you want to become a convert of walking while listening to audiobooks, here are a few shortcuts and hacks that you can use for yourself.
Why audiobooks, and why walking?
You can use the principle of taking notes for audiobooks for anything else, including podcasts or interviews.
To master my craft with notetaking on the phone, I wanted to fully immerse myself in a book’s storytelling experience. I decided to combine it with the act of walking.
Thankfully, there is loads of research to back up the fact that walking is one of the most efficient ways to spark creativity and encourage inspiration.
From walking meetings to walking meditation, walking can be found as a great way to get the blood pumping, get some movement in and also get some effective learning done.
What about the perfect stretch of time you should take when it comes to your listening sessions?
Pro tip: I would recommend at least taking 30 to 45 minutes at a time when it comes to listening to your audiobooks. Or, try and break your sessions into chapters.
On average, I noticed that I would listen to roughly 2 to 3 chapters during a 30-minute stretch. This is just about enough for me to wake up, get my coffee in, and get some time to myself to learn something new to start my day right.
Discoveries and hacks
Despite potentially ruining the Pathos of this whole experiment, I can disclose that, overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what I’ve learned. However, from the experiment itself, I discovered a couple of things that made my notetaking habit even more efficient.
I use Audible to listen to my audiobooks, and a great discovery I made was that I could speed up or slow down the narrator according to my needs – perfect to retain the information you hear.
I never really noticed that before because it didn’t matter to me. Depending on your typing skills, you may want to adjust the speed based on the type of content they are listening to. These controls allow you to speed up any storytelling or example that isn’t relevant with a ground-breaking concept, and slow down the juicy tips and advice, so you can jot them down without having to stop the audio.
Pro tip: if you apply this principle to podcasts, platforms like Cast now allow you to speed up or slow down the audio
Being able to adjust the speed on my audio was key to adapt my note-taking experience to the type of content I was listening to and the lessons I wanted to note down.
Another great hack I learned is related to formatting your notes.
At the expense of sounding slightly OCD, being able to standardize my notes helped.
And from choosing the right type of headings to defining how to categorize my bullet points, I created a better flow for my notes, especially since every note is allocated to a specific book.
The title of my notes includes the book title and the category (for example, productivity, social media, finances). This helps me finding any topic when I need it for articles and whatnot.
Once I’m back at my desk, I add the author’s name and a link for people to buy the book at the very top of the note.
When it comes to adding more notes for myself and reminders based on some of the lessons that I can apply to my own business or life, I usually use bold or italics to be able to spot straight away and external comments I want to make.
Creating a practice
As a literature graduate, I spent lots of time taking notes about books I was reading when it came to my degree. Yet, fiction books are as much about learning as they are about entertainment and escapism.
What I noticed throughout my experiment is that realistically speaking reading a non-fiction book for me is more like a ritual that helps me progressing and evolving over actually using it as a distraction and escapism.
In a way, having my hands-free and been able to jot down notes as I’m listening to the audiobook really helped me take the time to retain the information and fully immersed myself in the process.
During my first attempt with the first audiobook I read, One Million Followers by Brendan Kane, I found it quite challenging to keep up with the pace and find a balance between listening and taking notes. You could call this the curse of listening to a book that has got plenty of practical advice.
I also listen to it while on holiday, and that didn’t help me because I was easily distracted by not using one of the usual walking routes I embark in.
Another note that I want to make it something I realized when listening to the second book, The Art of Community, by Charles H. Vogl.
As I became more experienced with my notetaking, I realized that the time I would take to listen to the book was also affecting my overall experience and help me relate the lessons to my life and my situation.
Pro tip: I would recommend making this time the one that you used to listen to audiobooks, almost like a ritual. Something that you would do during what you would consider your prime time for learning.
Despite being fun, you could still come this as a way for you to learn and improve, almost at work. You want to make sure that you’re focused, alert and not easily distracted to make the most of it.
Takeaways from my experiment
This was one example of a practice that I tried almost for fun, and I truly got excited with it, and it’s something that will stick to going forward. Below are a few of my top takeaways:
- It’s important to break down the sessions to a timeframe that can allow you to fully concentrate on the task at hand
- Follow routes you are familiar with as it will help not getting too ditracted by your surroundings
- Creating a system to format your notes can help when jotting down ideas on your phone and categorise them efficiently
I’m excited to see how I can take the notes that I wrote onto my phone and potentially turn them into something more.
My challenge to you is to give this a try. Choose one audiobook you’ve been wanting to read for a while, dedicate at least 45 minutes per day to the ritual of listening and notetaking and see how you get along, and how much information you retain.