How a Note-Taking System Can Make You Look Like the Smartest Person in the Room

You don’t need an off-the-charts IQ score

Barry Davret
Published in
4 min readNov 12, 2019


Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

OOnce, at a party, I was discussing 80s music with a few other people and happened to note that it was Los Angeles punk band Wall of Vodoo that sang the hit song “Mexican Radio.”

A few people stared at me, stunned. “How do you know this type of stuff?” someone asked.

This happens to me often: I’ll find myself in the middle of a conversation, a piece of information from years or even decades ago will pop into my head, and I’ll think, “This fits!” It’s a nifty party trick, sure, but it’s also much more than that.

I don’t have a genius IQ score or a superhuman memory. But I do have a secret weapon. For the last four years, I’ve honed a note-taking system, one that has sharpened my ability to discover connections that help me solve problems, think creatively, and fuse old ideas into new ones.

Here’s how to recreate it for yourself:


Before you begin, create six or seven categories into which you can sort your information. Choose categories that are broad enough to squeeze in ideas and concepts from different domains. Then give each category its own folder — you can either use a digital organizer such as Google Drive or physical folders.

How I set up my folders:

Credit: Barry Davret

By limiting the number of categories, you’re thinking critically about the type of information you want to retain versus what you’re comfortable discarding. This forces you to consider what really matters.


You can learn from books, articles, podcasts, videos, and seminars, and simply observing the world around you. The most important thing is that you actively engage with whatever content you consume.

You might take notes in your favorite note-taking app, or email yourself the most salient points. When I read a book, I make small notations in the margins and then review them after I’ve finished…



Barry Davret
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