The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges

Book Notes: The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges

Rating (7.5 / 10)


The Intellectual Life was first published in 1921 as a guide for how to structure your life so that you could spend more time in thoughtful study. Sertillanges was a French Catholic philosopher and a Dominican friar, giving this book a religious (and at times misogynistic) viewpoint. I’m not religious myself, but I still find this book helpful for several reasons. Sertillanges was dedicated to reading well, creating valuable notes, and designing a working space for thinking without distraction. He wrote about timeless problems, which is why we’re still reading it 100 years after publication.

Direct Quotes:

Page 10 – Embrace Hard Work

“It is in the steep mountain passes that one bends and strains; level paths allow one to relax, and a state of uncontrolled relaxation quickly becomes fatal.”

Page 18 – Avoid False Teachers

“One has no faith in jewel merchants who sell pearls and wear none.”

Page 27 – Anything Worth Building Relies on Fundamentals

“Do not overload the foundation, do not carry the building higher than the base permits, or build at all before the base is secure: otherwise the whole structure is likely to collapse.”

Page 96 – Don’t Half-Ass Your Work

“Do something, or do nothing at all. Do ardently whatever you decide to do; do it with your might; and let the whole of your activity be a series of vigorous fresh starts. Half-work, which is half-rest, is good neither for rest nor for work.”

Page 97 – Know the Value of Time

“He who knows the value of time always has enough; not being able to lengthen it, he intensifies its value; and first of all he does nothing to shorten it.”

Page 167 – Your Education is Your Responsibility

“No one can teach us without our own effort. Reading puts truth before us; we have to make it ours.”

Page 183 – Can You Summarize What You’ve Just Read?

“Be ready, as soon as you have read or heard the thing, to repeat it exactly in as far as you want to fix it in your memory. If it is a book, do not leave it without being able to sum it up and to estimate its value.”

Page 256 – Rewards

“The reward of a work is to have produced it; the reward of effort is to have grown by it.”

Analysis of Key Passages:


Page 42 – Extravagance Can Be a Distraction

“If you want to entertain knowledge as your guest, you do not need rare furniture, nor numerous servants. Much peace, a little beauty, certain conveniences that save time, are all that is necessary. Slacken the tempo of your life. Receptions, visits that give rise to fresh obligations, formal intercourse with one’s neighbors, all the complicated ritual of an artificial life that so many men of the world secretly detest-these things are not for a worker. Society life is fatal to study. Display and dissipation of mind are mortal enemies of thought. When one thinks of a man of genius, one does not imagine him dining out.”

Analysis: I’ve often felt like I can’t ready book X, Y, or Z until I’ve accomplished a certain level of income in my life. I feel like I’m wasting time reading when I need to hustle and get the bills paid. There’s no shame in this. I think it’s normal to have good intentions for personal education, hoping that one day you’ll get the opportunity to follow your curiosity. I do agree with the sentiment of this passage though. If I were to stop trying to acquire possessions, I would have more time to acquire knowledge, and that would be more valuable.

Page 50 – Environment Design for Intellectual Workers

“When silence takes possession of you; when far from the racket of the human highway the sacred fire flames up in the stillness; when peace, which is the tranquility of order, puts order in your thoughts, feelings, and investigations, you are in the supreme disposition for learning; you can bring your materials together; you can create; you are definitely at your working point; it is not the moment to dwell on wretched trifles, to half live while time runs by, and to sell heaven for nothings.

Solitude enables you to make contact with yourself, a necessity if you want to realize yourself-not to repeat like a parrot a few acquired formulas, but to be the prophet of the God within you who speaks a unique language to each man.”

Analysis: This passage is all about environment design. In order to do intellectual work, I need to take a few days off to improve my workspace. What can I do that will make it more organized, peaceful, and conducive to thought? There are a lot of noises where I work. I could put up more sound blankets and foam pads. I could spend a day deep cleaning the office. I could also organize my bookshelf.

Page 98 – Defend Your Focus Time

“You must defend your solitude with a fierceness that makes no distinctions whatever. If you have duties, satisfy their demands at the normal time; if you have friends, arrange suitable meetings; if unwanted visitors come to disturb you, graciously shut the door on them.
It is important, during the hours sacred to work, not only that you should not be disturbed, but that you should know you will not be disturbed; let perfect security on that score protect you, so that you can apply yourself intensely and fruitfully.

You cannot take too many precautions about this. Keep a Cerberus at your door. Every demand on you from outside is a loss of inner power and may cost your mind some precious discovery.”

Analysis: Another passage on the defense of focused time. I decided to add this passage for the phrase, “that you should know you will not be disturbed.” It’s one thing to put up a sign telling people to go away. It’s another thing entirely to know they will respect it.

Doing Work

Page 8 – Be a Conscientious Worker

“What a difference, supposing equal resources, between the man who understands and looks ahead, and the man who proceeds at haphazard! “Genius is long patience,” but it must be organized and intelligent patience. One does not need extraordinary gifts to carry some work through; average superiority suffices; the rest depends on energy and wise application of energy. It is as with a conscientious workman, careful and steady at his task: he gets somewhere, while an inventive genius is often merely an embittered failure.”

Analysis: Genius is overrated. While it would be nice to have unlimited intelligence, it’s more valuable to have a conscientious and steady approach to work. By showing up each day, I can make incremental gains that add up over time. In How to Take Smart Notes, Sōnke Ahrens reminds us – All you need is an undistracted brain and a reliable set of notes. If you have these at your disposal, and you Learn to search your thoughts, you can do great things.

Page 41 – Create Rules for Your Life

“In order that everything in you should be directed towards your work, it is not enough to organize yourself within, definitely to settle your vocation and to make wise use of your powers; you must further arrange your exterior life, I mean in respect of its framework, its obligations, its contacts, its setting.

One word suggests itself here before any other: you must simplify your life. You have a difficult journey before you-do not burden yourself with too much baggage. Perhaps you are not absolutely free to do this, and so you think there is no use laying down rules. That is a mistake. Given the same external circumstances, a desire for simplification can do much, and what one cannot get rid of outwardly, one can always remove from one’s soul.”

Analysis: It’s not simple task to live an intellectual life. I’m going to need large quantities of undistracted time. This means turning away from commitments, interests, and certain social obligations. I have to rework my business calendar and daily meetings. I’m not willing to sacrifice time with my wife and kids, but even then, I’ve noticed that a lot of time is wasted in the evenings as we’re milling around the home. During downtimes where nothing is happening, I need to open my books and study. Ralph Waldo Emerson would tell me to stop living by other people’s expectations, and to create a life that meet my version of eudaimonia.

Page 95 – Avoid Half Work

“If you have so foreseen and settled everything, you can get straight at your work; you will be able to plunge deep into it, to get absorbed and to make progress; your attention will not be distracted, your effort scattered. Avoid half-work more than anything. Do not imitate those people who sit long at their desks but let their minds wander. It is better to shorten the time and use it intensely, to increase its value, which is all that counts.”

Analysis: I’ve noticed that I have to do some mental work before I sit down to read or think. I have to make the conscious decision to open my mind and learn. I also have to make the decision to ignore certain things like my calendar, annoyances, etc. If I don’t take a few minutes to do this, then I spend the entire session doing poor work. It’s like being stuck in the shallow end of the pool. You need a system to leverage your thinking, and it starts with this decision.

Page 67 – Work in Solitude for 2 Hours a Day

“The spirit of silence must therefore pervade the whole of life. That is what matters most of all. It is said sometimes that solitude is the mother of results. Not solitude, but the state of solitude. So much so that we could, strictly speaking, conceive an intellectual life based on two hours’ work per day. But does anyone imagine that having set those two hours aside one may then act as if they did not exist? That would be a grave misconception. Those two hours are given to concentration, but the consecration of the whole life is none the less necessary.”

Analysis: Sertillanges is challenging me to structure my calendar and workspace so that I can devote 2 hours a day to intellectual thinking. What would be different about my output if I could make this happen? This level of focus reminds me of Warren Buffett who spends 5-6 hours a day in his office thinking and reading. No wonder he’s so wealthy.

Page 119 – Breadth vs Depth

“A danger lies in wait for minds that spread themselves over too many subjects: the danger of being easily satisfied. Content with their voyages of discovery in every direction, they give up effort; their progress, rapid at first, is like that of the will o’ the wisp on the ground. No energy continues to exert itself for long unless it is stimulated by increasing difficulty, and sustained by the increasing interest of some laborious investigation.

When the whole field of study has been surveyed and its connections and unity estimated in the light of fundamental principles, it is urgently necessary, if one does not want merely to mark time, to turn to some task which is precise, defined in its limits, proportioned to one’s strength; and then to throw oneself into it with all one’s heart.”

Analysis: This passage was written for me. Sertillanges is advising that I start by throwing a wide net in my work, but then to find a point of interest and focus all of my energy there. I’m at a point in my life where I have the luxury to start reading, writing, and going back to school. I’m beginning a philosophy degree this year. All of this is to say that I’ll be casting a wide net in order to learn about the different ideas in philosophy, but during this time, I need to pay close attention to a single area of thought where I can contribute.

Page 120 – Eventually, I Will Specialize

“Everyone in life has his work; he must apply himself to it courageously and leave to others what Providence has reserved for others. We must keep from specialization as long as our aim is to become cultivated men, and, as far as concerns those to whom these pages are addressed, superior men; but we must specialize anew when we aim at being men with a function, and producing something useful. In other words, we must understand everything, but in order to succeed in doing some one thing.”

Analysis: Again, another passage on breadth vs. depth. I added this because of the last sentence. In order to actually make a difference, I’m going to have to specialize. The trick is deciding which area to devote my life towards. FOMO is a real thing.

Page 121 – FOMO in Work

“From that it follows that we are obliged at a given moment to accept necessary sacrifices. It is a painful thing to say to oneself: by choosing one road I am turning my back on a thousand others. Everything is interesting; everything might be useful; everything attracts and charms a noble mind; but death is before us; mind and matter make their demands; willy-nilly we must submit and rest content as to the things that time and wisdom deny us, with a glance of sympathy which is another act of homage to the truth.”

Analysis: This piggybacks off the previous note. It’s hard for me to pick something as a focus for my work, but I must do it. I feel like I’m turning my back on all of my interests, but at the end of my life, I don’t want to realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface of a thousand ideas.

Page 199 – It’s Time to Produce

“You have come now to the moment for producing results. One cannot be forever learning and forever getting ready. Moreover, learning and getting ready are inseparable from a certain amount of production, which is helpful to them. One finds one’s way only by taking it. All life moves in a circle. An organ that is used grows and gets strong; a strong organ can be used more effectively. You must write throughout the whole of your intellectual life.”

Analysis: I can’t spend my entire life reading, thinking, and waiting for something to happen. Eventually, I have to produce something of my own – otherwise, all of this study was for nothing.

Page 200 – Ship Your Work

“When you write, you must publish, as soon as good judges think you capable of it and you yourself feel some aptitude for that flight. The young bird knows when he can venture into space; his mother knows it more surely. Relying on yourself and on a wise maternity of the spirit, fly as soon as you can.
Contact with the public will compel you to do better; well-deserved praise will stimulate you; criticism will try out your work; you will be, as it were, forced to make progress instead of stagnating, which might be the result of perpetual silence.”

Analysis: I’ve found benefit in writing and publishing my thoughts every day. It’s helped me formalize my ideas, become a better writer, and work harder. If I know people will be reading what I write, I put way more effort into the final product. This reminds me of René Descartes who despised publishing, but did it anyway so that his work could be held to the highest standards. This idea comes from A Discourse on the Method.

Page 215 – The 3 Virtues of Doing Good Work

“Creative work calls for other virtues also; its demands are on a level with its worth. I speak here together of three of these requirements, which subserve one another and insure results that are not poor or inadequate. You must bring to your work constancy which keeps steadily at the task; patience which bears difficulties well; perseverance which prevents the will from flagging.”

Analysis: If I want to create, I need to do my work daily, be patient, and learn to push through boredom.

Page 216 – Work Habits Matter

“Everyone knows those intellectuals who work spasmodically, in fits interrupted by spells of laziness and indifference. There are rents in the fabric of their destiny: they make of it a tattered garment roughly drawn together, instead of a noble drapery. We, on the contrary, mean to be intellectuals all the time, and we intend others to recognize the fact. People will know what we are by our way of resting, of idling, of tying our shoes: still more will it be evident in our fidelity to work, in our prompt and regular return to our task, and in its continuity.”

Analysis: Some people are rigorous in their work. This idea reminds me of the aphorism, “how you do anything is how you do everything.” The kind of person who takes their work seriously will live the kind of lifestyle that supports that level of work.

Page 229 – Finish What You Start

“I see a cause of moral decadence in abandoning a project or an undertaking. One grows used to giving-up; one resigns oneself to disorder, to an uncomfortable conscience; one gets a habit of shillyshallying. Thence comes a loss of dignity that can have no favorable effect on one’s progress.

Measure your cloth ten times; cut out once; tack carefully, and when the time comes to do the sewing, let nothing on earth make you say: I give it up.

The consequence will be that the sewing, as far as in you lies, will be perfect. Finished means ended, but it also means perfect, and these two senses reinforce each other. I do not really finish that in which I refuse to aim at the best. What is not perfected is not. According to Spinoza, being and perfection correspond to the same idea; being and good are convertible.”

Analysis: It’s important to be a finisher. I’m working on this skill. I think reading is a great way to practice the art of finishing. If I get past the 50-page mark of a book, I will finish it. This mentality needs to work it’s way into my projects. If I can’t finish it, I shouldn’t start it.


Page 14 – We Need Thinkers

“Here I am, a man of the 20th century, living in a time of permanent drama, witnessing upheavals such as perhaps the globe never before saw since the mountains rose and the seas were driven into their caverns. What have I to do for this panting, palpitating century? More than ever before thought is waiting for men, and men for thought. The world is in danger for lack of life-giving maxims. We are in a train rushing ahead at top speed, no signals visible. The planet is going it knows not where, its law has failed it: who will give it back its sun?”

Analysis: Even in the early 20th century, Sertillanges felt like people were moving too quickly, acting without thought. This makes sense. He watched as Nazi power surged and fear broke out worldwide. In this passage, he’s calling for someone, anyone to hit pause and think before acting. How much better would the world be if we could teach people this one skill?


Page 83 – Capture Fleeting Notes

“Very often, gleams of light come in a few minutes’ sleeplessness, in a second perhaps; you must fix them. To entrust them to the relaxed brain is like writing on water; there is every chance that on the morrow there will be no slightest trace left of any happening.

Do better than that. Have at hand a notebook or a box of slips. Make a note without waking up too fully, without turning on the light, if possible, then fall back into the shadows. To get the thought thus off your mind will perhaps help your sleep instead of disturbing it. If you say, I will remember, I will remember, that determination is more likely to interfere with your rest than a quick jotting. Remember that sleep is a relaxing of the will.”

Analysis: This passage is connects well with Niklaus Luhmann and the idea of fleeting Notes in a zettelkasten. When an idea comes to me, I need a system that will reliably capture and resurface that idea for processing. My Obsidian workflow is getting there. I need to make the inputs from my phone easer (less friction).

Page 184 – Progressive Summarization

“Next, a necessity following on the previous one is to reflect, as often as is possible and as is worthwhile, on the object to be preserved from oblivion.

Life obliterates the traces of life, and for that reason we were advised to engrave deeply; the same motive urges us, seeing that nevertheless the traces grow dimmer, to run the tool over the lines again, to apply plenty of acid to the etching, that is, constantly to revivify our useful thoughts and to ruminate on the facts that we want to keep before our eyes.”

Analysis: This reminds me of Tiago Forte’s idea on Progressive Summarization which is that I need to revisit my notes in a series of steps, each time distilling them down into the most useful points. When I first read a book, I highlight too many concepts. From there, I need to whittle those down further and further into useful literature notes.

Page 186 – Knowledge That’s Too Valuable to Lose

“If we had to trust memory to keep intact and ready for use all that we have come upon or found out in the course of our life of study, it would be perfectly disastrous. Memory is an unreliable servant; it loses things, it buries them, it does not answer at call. We refuse to overload it, to cumber the mind; we prefer liberty of soul to a wealth of unusable ideas. The notebook or card index gets us out of our difficulty.”

Analysis: I need a system to leverage my thinking, and the best way to do that is with a reliable note-taking workflow. My studies are too valuable to let them slip in my memory.

Page 187 – Two Kinds of Notes

“We can distinguish two kinds of notes, corresponding to the remote and the immediate preparation for our work. You read or reflect in order to form and feed your mind; ideas occur that it seems good to fix in the memory; you come across facts, various indications, which may be useful later on; you note them down.

On the other hand, when you have to study a precise subject, to produce a definite piece of work, you try to gather material, you read what has been published on the question, you have recourse to all the sources of information at your disposal, you make your own reflections, and you do it all pen in hand.”

Analysis: According to Sertillanges, there are two kinds of notes. The first are general notes I think will be useful to my future self. The second are project-specific notes that I’m gathering on a topic for output. This idea ties to Niklaus Luhmann and his zettelkasten – literature notes and project notes. See more on How to Take Smart Notes.

Page 188 – Taking Too Many Notes

“Some people have so many and such full notebooks that they are prevented by a sort of anticipatory discouragement from ever opening them. Their imaginary treasures have cost much time and trouble, and they yield no return; they are choked up by a vast number of worthless things; the useful ones might often with advantage have stayed in the tomes from which they were extracted, a reference with a rapid summary taking the place of wearisome pages.

Keep notes made after thinking, and with moderation. In order to avoid first-minute surprises, the effect of some passing preoccupation, or the enthusiasm sometimes aroused by a brilliant form of words, do not definitely include the passage in your notes without letting some time elapse.

Quietly, at the right distance, you will judge of the value of your harvest and store up only the good grain in your barns.

In both cases equally, we must make our notes after vigorous mental work with a sense of our personal needs. The aim is to complete oneself, to furnish one’s own mind, to provide oneself with armor suited to one’s own person, and to the requirements of the battle to be fought. Even if a thing is all very well in its own way, even if it is valuable in theory, that is not a reason for transcribing it.”

Analysis: I love this passage because I live it. I’ve been through so many personal knowledge management systems, and I keep changing because I’ve designed them poorly or overcrowded them. The real problem isn’t the system, it’s my discipline in the note-taking process that matters. I’ve noticed that during an intense study session, I’ll start making more notes because I lose the ability to discern which notes are valuable. I suffer from decision fatigue.

Page 190 – Make Your Notes Your Own

“Better still, it would be desirable that besides documentation properly so-called-facts, texts, or statistics-the notes you take should be not only suited to you, but should be your own, and that they should be your own not only when they emanate from your thinking but also when they arise out of reading. Reading itself should awaken reflection, and we have already said that a borrowed passage can become our own to the point of not differing at all from an original creation.”

Analysis: A good note is NOT a direct copy from the source. I need to think about it, and then write the context of it in my own words. The goal is to teach myself the concept. When O learn something well enough to teach it, I solidify it in my knowledge.

Page 194 – The Craze of Note-Taking

“We must beware of a certain craze for collecting which sometimes takes possession of those who make notes. They want to have a full notebook or filing cabinet; they are in a hurry to put something in the empty spaces, and they accumulate passages as other people fill stamp and postcard albums.
That is a deplorable practice; it is a sort of childishness, and risks becoming a mania. Order is a necessity, but it must serve us, not we it. To indulge obstinately in accumulating and completing is to turn one’s mind away from producing and even from learning; excessive attention to classification interferes with use; now in this connection everything must be subordinated to the good of the work.”

Analysis: There is a real addiction to collecting notes, especially with today’s technology. My current Obsidian workflow makes it ridiculously easy import content. I need to be more judicious when adding to the inbox of ideas.


Page 147 – Read Like a Housekeeper

“We must read intelligently, not passionately. We must go to books as a housekeeper goes to market when she has settled her menus for the day according to the laws of hygiene and wise spending. The mind of the housekeeper at the market is not the mind she will have in the evening at the cinema.

She is not now thinking of enjoyment and dazzled wonderment, but of running her house and seeing to its well-being.

The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading.”

Analysis: It’s a tough job running a home. It’s often said that “mom ran a tight ship.” Sertillanges is suggesting that I approach my reading the way mom ran the house – with stern discipline. Reading is self-education, and if it’s to be done well, it must be structured.

Page 147 – It’s Possible to Read Too Much

“There is no real work to be expected from the great reader, when he has overstrained his eyes and the membranes of his brain; he is in a state of chronic mental headache, while the wise worker, preserving his self-control, calm and clearheaded, reads only what he wants to retain, retains only what will be useful, manages his brain prudently and does not abuse it by cramming it.”

Analysis: There comes a point where reading has diminished returns. I need time to process and apply what I’ve read. Clutter will consume my ability if I don’t hit pause to clean the mental house.

Page 150 – Choose Your Books

“Choose your books. Do not trust interested advertising and catchy titles. Have devoted and expert advisers. Go straight to the fountainhead to satisfy your thirst. Associate only with first-rate thinkers. What is not always possible in personal relations is easy, and we must take advantage of it, in our reading. Admire wholeheartedly what deserves it, but do not lavish your admiration. Turn away from badly written books, which are probably poor in thought also.
Read only those books in which leading ideas are expressed at first hand. These are not very numerous. Books repeat one another, water one another down, or contradict one another, and that too is a kind of repetition.”

Analysis: When I walk into a bookstore, it’s tempting to by the fancy new books on the stands which have beautiful covers and lots of marketing budget behind them. Sertillanges is warning me to avoid this temptation, and instead to go to the bookstore knowing what I want beforehand. The goal is to read with purpose so that I can move my work forward. Otherwise, I could get stuck in a book that’s a major distraction.

Page 152 – The Four Kinds of Reading

“I distinguish four kinds of reading. One reads for one’s formation and to become somebody; one reads in view of a particular task; one reads to acquire a habit of work and the love of what is good; one reads for relaxation. There is fundamental reading, accidental reading, stimulating or edifying reading, recreative reading.”

Analysis: This passage is useful. I like the distinction between the different types of reading. I think it’s important to know what my reading goals are before I dig into a specific book.

Page 158 – Read The Best Writers

“Contact with writers of genius procures us the immediate advantage of lifting us to a higher plane; by their superiority alone they confer a benefit on us even before teaching us anything. They set the tone for us; they accustom us to the air of the mountaintops. We were moving in a lower region; they bring us at one stroke into their own atmosphere.”

Analysis: Since I’m unable to read every book that interests me, it only makes sense to spend time with the most intelligent authors. That means doing my homework on the book, its thesis, and background before I crack the spine.

Page 166 – Use What You Read

“One last and capital point has to be noted about reading. The reader, if in a certain way he must be passive in order to open his mind to truth and not to hinder its ascendency over him, is nevertheless called on to react to what he reads so as to make it his own and by means of it to form his soul. We read only to think, we acquire wealth in order to use it, we eat to live.”

Analysis: Whenever I read a book, it’s my job to shape an opinion on it. If I read only to receive information, I’m missing the point of having books in my life.


Page 92 – Learn How to Rest

“In spite of the passionate and self-interested illusion of those who maintain that a part of man must be set aside for the life of pleasure, dissipation is not rest, it is exhaustion. Rest cannot be found in scattering one’s energies. Rest means giving up all effort and withdrawing towards the fount of life; it means restoring our strength, not expending it foolishly.”

Analysis: When I do get downtime, I need to rest correctly. I’m not a party animal, so it’s not in my nature to stay out late and drink. My problem, is that when I do get free time, I want to keep working. I love what I do, and if I can open a book and take notes or write an essay, I’m going to do it. That’s a problem. I need rest, and when it’s time to shut down, I must turn the work off.

Page 124 – Guard Against Laziness

“The great enemy of knowledge is our indolence; that native sloth which shrinks from effort, which does indeed consent now and then capriciously, to make a big effort but soon relapses into careless automatism, regarding a vigorous and sustained impetus as a regular martyrdom. A martyrdom, perhaps, given our make-up; but we must either be prepared for it or relinquish the idea of study: for what can be done without virile energy? ‘O God, Thou sellest all good things to men at the price of effort,’ wrote Leonardo da Vinci in his notes.”

Analysis: Laziness is the intellectual worker’s enemy. It’s so easy to take the night off, watch Netflix, and hopefully get to the books tomorrow. We all have good intentions to do work, but its the few that get off the couch that do something worthwhile. Note that laziness is justified as rest, when in reality, it accomplished the opposite of purposeful rest.

Time Management

Page 95 – Guard Your Time

“Whatever decision you have made, the chosen moments must be carefully secured, and you must take all personal precautions so as to use them to the fullest. You must see to it beforehand that nothing happens to crowd up, waste, shorten, or interfere with this precious time. You want it to be a time of plenitude; then shut remote preparation out of it; make all the necessary arrangements beforehand; know what you want to do and how you want to do it; gather your materials, your notes, your books; avoid having to interrupt your work for trifles.”

Analysis: It seems like everything and everyone is after the small amount of time that I have. I know I’m not unique in this problem. I love this idea of being more vigilant about guarding the time I carve out for intellectual work. This is more than making an appointment with myself to read – this is sword in hand, get out of my office kind of stuff.


For me, the most valuable sections of this book have to do with guarding my study time and taking fewer notes. I’m guilty of letting quality time slip through my fingers, and when I do start a study session, I highlight ALL the things. I need to be more judicious about knowledge that’s valuable and useful to the work I do.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in become a better thinker. It’s worth the time to read, and it’s an easy book to work through. I spent a good month on it, taking notes and applying the ideas it held. It’s because of this book (and How to Take Smart Notes by Sōnke Ahrens) that my Obsidian workflow was born from the ashes of my old system, a platform I built called Highlightish.