Note-Taking is Time Travel

Have you ever looked at photos from an old trip?

Doing so brings back all kinds of forgotten memories. Find a photo of the dinner you had in Prague, and you’ll remember the delicious fish you ate, which will remind you of the charming Airbnb you rented, which will remind you of the graffiti on the John Lennon Wall, which will remind you of the friends you walked with on the Charles Bridge. 

You get the point. Memories unlock memories. Photos don’t just remind you of what you captured. They elicit memories of the other places you visited, the people you were with, and the emotions you felt while traveling. 

Note-taking works the same way. It’s not just about saving quotes and shopping lists. It’s about having conversations with your past and future self so you can develop ideas over time. The Grammy Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar once explained how note-taking is the closest thing we have to time travel:

“I have to make notes because a lot of my inspiration comes from meeting people or going outside the country, or going around the corner of my old neighborhood and talking to a five-year-old little boy. And I have to remember these things. I have to write them down and then five or three months later, I have to find that same emotion that I felt when I was inspired by it, so I have to dig deep to see what triggered the idea… It comes back because I have key little words that make me realize the exact emotion which drew the inspiration.”

Kendrick doesn’t write down all his ideas. That’d take too long.

Instead, he captures just enough to return to his emotional state when he wrote those notes. Like a journey through old photos, those snippets trigger a memory cascade and a torrent of buried emotions. Without those notes, his observations would evaporate faster than he can rap about them.

But words on the page have infinite patience. By taking notes, Kendrick travels through time and rebels against the entropy of memory.

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