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University of You: Path To Self-Education (Part III)


University of You + Evernote

Recording Your Self-Education

Michael Faraday was born in Newington Butts, a suburb of London, in 1791. His family was not well off. Having only the most basic formal education, Faraday had to educate himself.

However, Faraday loved to learn.

At fourteen, he followed his passion for learning by becoming an apprentice under a local bookbinder.

By day he bound books and at night he read feverishly. One book in particular, “The Improvement of the Mind”  by Isaac Watts, had a strong impact on him. The book taught him how to focus his attention and effectively record the vast amount of information he was consuming.

In 1812, at the age of twenty, Faraday expanded his learning by attending scientific lectures put on by the Royal Society in London. Faraday then used the skills he had learned from Watt’s book and the bookbinding apprenticeship to create a three-hundred page bound treatise from the notes he had taken on the famous lectures.

Faraday selflessly sent the book to his scientific idol Humphry Davy.

Impressed, Humphry invited Faraday to his lab. When a botched experiment with nitrogen trichloride damaged Davy’s eyesight, he decided to employ Faraday as a secretary.

Less than a year later, Davy had Faraday fill an open lab assistant position at the Royal Institution.

As time passed, Faraday became a vital aid to Davy. At the same time, Faraday gained an apprenticeship that would allow him to become one of the most influential scientists in history. His contributions to the fields of electromagnetism and chemistry where discoveries Albert Einstein built of off when formulating his ‘Theory of Relativity’.

Let’s talk about how to take Michael Faraday’s approach to recording his self-education in order to develop expertise in the subjects that matter to you.

Here’s the deal…

You have the opportunity no previous human society has ever had before. The opportunity to access the entire spectrum of human knowledge in just a few clicks.

You are 10 steps a head of Faraday in terms of access to information that can change your life.

You do not need to become a bookbinder for 7 years to continue your education. In fact, here’s a link to the full text of Faraday’s treasured book, “The Improvement of the Mind.”

Also, you didn’t come from a town named Butts. That has to be an advantage somehow.

Part 1 and Part 2 of Asian Efficiency’s self-education series covered strategies and resources for finding your own education path. In this final post, we’ll go over how to easily capture and organize your self-education.

If you’ve ever read a book and forgotten 95% of it a few months later, this article is for you.

You will see how you can keep all of your hard earned knowledge by creating a depository for all of the ideas, quotes, anecdotes and lessons you don’t want to forget.

This will be done using an old school idea for collecting ideas called a Commonplace book with the new electronic capturing technology of Evernote.

What It Looks Like: Capturing Your Self-Education

The other day I was reading the psychology and marketing book, “Influence.”

The book is about how marketers take can take advantage of certain automated human responses – such as reciprocation or the need to behave consistently – in order to influence potential customers to purchase their products or services.

When reading about how to overcome my biological need to act in rigid accordance with prior actions, a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson was used.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

As soon as I read this quote it resonated with me, so I began a ritual I’ve done many times before and others have done for centuries before me – I marked down (highlighted it on Kindle) the passage and later transferred it to my Commonplace book (a note in my Evernote Commonplace notebook).

My Common Place in Evernote

Not finding the perfect category, I created a new note and named it Habits . This is where I wrote the quote and its source.
Habits Quote Evernote Example

Why Evernote Can Be The Most Valuable Tool For Your Self-Education

Most regular readers of this site will be familiar with Evernote, if not avid users of the software. For those who are less familiar, Evernote’s makers call their application “the path to a superhuman memory.” The reason they call it that is because it can capture virtually every form of media in seconds, including:

  • video
  • audio
  • plain text
  • rich text files
  • images
  • pdf
  • screenshots
  • scanned documents

This superhuman vault of multimedia memories can become a jumbled mess without a bit of structure which will be gained from using the Commonplace book method, but first lets dig into why I believe Evernote is the best place to store all of the thoughts and ideas you do not want to forget.

Why Evernote

There are a lot of choices for capture. Everything from the ‘hipster PDA’ comprising of nothing more than a stack of notecards and a clip.

A completed Hipster PDA_3

Hipster PDA from Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders blog. Click image to see more.

To the equally hipster Moleskine notebook, to the myriad of text capturing applications on the market.

However, I believe Evernote is your best option from the following reasons:

  • It works on both Windows and Macs
  • It has mobile device versions, including iPhone, Android, Palm, Windows Mobile, Blackberry,
    iPad and even iPod Touch
  • It’s completely free (even your online account part)
  • It stores cloud-based version of all your notes are stored for fast complete syncing among each device
  • It can easily and quickly capture information using a number of different methods
    • email yourself an Evernote
    • pull information off of the internet with the Web Clipper
    • annotate screenshots for multi-media storage
    • use built-in keyboard shortcut that allows you to quickly add a new task/note, regardless of what application you are in
    • record personal voice memos from your computer or mobile device
  • You can easily share notes and whole notebooks with classmates, coworkers and family
  • You can attach files (spreadsheets, docs, images) to any note
  • You can access your information when offline
  • You can cross reference with note-to-note Evernote links

For me it really all comes down to ease of capture, portability and organization. For portability and capture, Evernote’s multi-platform syncing stands out from the crowd. You can create and find your notes on virtually any computer, web browser or mobile phone.

This means that you can clip a Zucchini Fritter Cup recipe to your “Paleo Diet” Commonplace note from the web on your Mac, read it on your iPhone when you’re at the grocery store buying the ingredients and look it up from your friend’s Windows PC when you’re at his house preparing to bake the dish.

I use Evernote almost exclusively for creating Commonplace notes and journaling.

Contacts should still go in your in your contact manager, todo’s should still go in a more robust task manager, random articles are still best stored in Pocket or Instapaper.

So that’s Evernote.

We are going to use the app a specific way to create a Commonplace Book.

So What is a Commonplace Book?

A Commonplace book is simply where you record all of the information you do not want to forget. It is a depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes and other information you come across during your life and self-education.

Having a central resource you can reference and share at anytime will allow you to use the information rather than just having it wash over you – with as great of an impact as reading Shakespeare (or at least the Cliffsnotes) did for you in high school .

While the Commonplace book is not terribly common these days, it was incredibly popular in the 1800s and early 1900s. One of the most famous and oldest example of a Commonplace book was the one Marcus Aurelius kept – which became his famous philosophical treatise “Meditations.” Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon and Bill Gates are a few other famous Commonplace book keepers.

To get started, create an Evernote notebook and label it My Commonplace Book. Then create a individual notes on topics (or categories) that interest you.

For example, my Commonplace book currently has 43 notes with different topic areas. The categories include:

  • Broad Topics: Spirituality, Art, History, Psychology
  • Specific Projects: Elevator Pitch, OmniFocus, Writing Memorable Headlines
  • Personal Memories: Dad-isms for silly quotes from my Dad (Latest Entry: “Does somebody have a Google.”)

How To Organize an Evernote Commonplace Book

Currently, I have an organizational hierarchy that is only two deep. This has the benefit of simplicity.

My entire self-education goes into My Commonplace notebook. I organize the information by categories. Each category gets its own note.

I did begin to tag, but I have not been too religious about this because the search function on Evernote is so strong.

I have found it beneficial to form connections by linking notes to each other that have corresponding ideas. For example, I might reference a Psychology note in my Networking notes and use a hyperlink to connect the ideas.

However, there are other ways to go about organizing your information in Evernote.

The three most common organization methods are:

  • Naming Conventions
  • Structured Hierarchy of Notes, Folders and Stacks (groups of Folders)
  • Tags based off of keywords, sources, topics and geo-location (where you wrote the note)

I imagine I will eventually start to migrate toward heavier use of tagging as my Commonplace grows because tagging is the only way to get more than 3 layers of sub-categories.

tagging in evernote

If I do decide to change my current Commononplace organization system, I’ll likely look to use IFTTT, Hazel or some other automated system to organize my Commonplace book for me.

And that’s all it takes.

Action Steps:

  1. Download Evernote on your phone and computer (it’s Free)
  2. Create a notebook called My Commonplace
  3. Create notes based on your various interest.
  4. Learn 1 or 2 Evernote capture shortcuts.
  5. Get in the habit of saving lessons learned throughout your self-education.
  6. Never forget another brilliant insight, life lesson, quote or idea again!
  7. For more tips and tricks on Evernote, check out Evernote Essentials.

In Closing

Learning is part of what it means to be human.

I hope you take advantage of something no other humans have ever had, free and abundant access to information. I hope you are open to pursuing learning everyday. I hope you never stop challenging assumptions – even your own. And most of all, I hope you make a difference by leading those around you and solving interesting problems.


Part of the joy of learning is that it puts you in the position to teach. Please share your own self-education journey and any awesome resources you’ve found along the way in the comments below.

Start now. Start small. Try to get into the habit of keeping and organizing just one lesson week week.

This is a lifelong journey.


I was talking about the idea of self-education to a number of entrepreneurs at the World Domination Summit in Portland.

Here were some of the answers I received:

“Knowledge, connections and pedigree doesn’t have value in itself. It’s what you do with it.” – Stephen Warley,

“All of the stuff [information] is available. You know where to find it. You may even know how to do it [create something valuable]. But the key is getting yourself to do it.” – Achim, Nostalgic Art 

“You’ll learn more and save a sh*t load of money by skipping school, finding what you are passionate about and start working on it.” – Chris Wilson,

“The traditional school format is not conducive for the way the human body is designed to learn. We were not meant to sit at a desk all day.”

“Asking an adult to conform to this setting is difficult, and asking a 6 year old to is nearly impossible. This may seem like a little thing, but it makes a huge difference and as a parent this alone is reason enough to consider homeschooling.” – Mike Schmitz,

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