Ever since my co-founder Nick introduced Anki to me from this article by Michael Nielsen, I've been Anki-ing everything. Stratechery, books, articles, even movies and TV shows. For those unfamiliar with Anki, it's basically glorified flashcards with scheduled reviews. The scheduling is based on some science, so it'll show cards you struggle with more often and increase the interval between reviewing cards over time.
I've long felt I had a bad memory. I'd read an interesting article and the following day, I wouldn't remember the details well enough to discuss it in a conversation. I'd watch the next James Bond movie or Mission Impossible and I wouldn't remember a thing about the previous movie.
I've tried everything to fix this. Taking diligent notes, logging movies and books I read with a one sentence takeaway, writing recaps of books, writing essays synthesizing what I've learned. I switched from typing notes to handwriting them and then transcribing them to Notion. I'd actively try to bring ideas I've learned in conversation. Nothing worked - my working memory was only the few things I actively discussed and thought about on a regular basis.
Then I started to Anki everything. I've developed some good habits after graduating from college around learning and self-improvement, but this feels like the most important one I've picked up since graduating college.
Why read a book or article if you can only remember a handful of details you could pick up from a SparkNotes or a tweet? With Anki, I've been able to read once and remember forever (granted I've been only doing this for a little over a month).
From memory, here are a few things I can recall off the top of my head:
While remembering all this random knowledge seems useless, I believe the benefits of Anki-ing everything is improving your ability to synthesize ideas. Here's the progression I've felt with Anki when consuming any content.
For example, my thesis around Twilio's upside was a synthesis of discussions with Sarah about what ServiceNow does, multiple Stratechery articles on Twilio's Segment acquisition plus another set of articles on the evolution of digital advertising, interviews with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson, and learning how to use Segment.
Without remembering all the various things I've read and understanding them to a reasonable degree, I don't think I would've been able to come up with my own coherent opinion on Twilio and their Segment acquisition.
To facilitate my Anki-ing, I've made a Notion page called Brain with lists for various types of content I consume - Stratechery, books, engineering articles, normal articles, movies, podcasts, and TV shows.
Anything I feel like I want to remember for a long period of time, I make a page with question-answer toggles, like this one I made this morning from an article by James Allworth on Apple's disruption of Intel.
I'll export these pages as HTML and then upload and convert them to Anki files at 2anki.net and add them to my personal Anki deck. It's a fair bit of work that I might find a way to streamline in the future, but the investment is worth it. I generally spend about an hour a day on Anki - usually in the morning after finishing my morning routine.
My thought is if I'm going to spend any time reading a book or listening to a podcast, any time spent Anki-ing to remember it is worth it. It's also a fun way to practice presentational skills, as I'll often answer my Anki questions out loud like an interview.
So at this point, you can probably tell I'm a big fan of Anki. Hope this article helps you pick up your own Anki process and habit, and would love to hear if it works for you!
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