Catch the Butterflies: How to Turn Knowledge Into Application

Teddy and I listened to the Audiobook of Undistracted by Bob Goff on our 3,000+ mile road trip through the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho this last summer. I normally don’t enjoy books where it’s a lot of storytelling and then a lesson after each one but somehow when Goff does it, I appreciate it and found nuggets of wisdom throughout that I’ve thought about in the few months after reading the book. One idea that stuck out to me was his illustration about catching the butterflies. I thought about how I already apply the idea while also considering how I can do an even better job of it in the future.

Catch the Butterflies

Bob says, “Writing notes is a great way to avoid distractions, not just because they help us remember things that resonated with us but because they help us curate our points of view. Take notes while you read this or any other book. Write down how you are going to apply the parts that make sense to you. If you don’t net those butterflies immediately, I promise they will fly away. Do this, then study and refine those notes, and you will find connections between the ideas you have scribbled down in the middle of the conversation and the ones you had in other conversations. You will capture meaningful, partially developed, and applicable ideas you can incorporate into your life.”


Bob shares that while George Lucas was writing Star Wars, he was also scoring American Graffiti. Back then, the way you found a scene was to locate the roll of film that it was on by roll and then dialogue. During that time, George had been thinking about the name for a droid, and in his notes, he had written “R2D2” in his notes – roll two, dialogue two.

In addition to George Lucas, many others have relied on notes to capture their thoughts and as an outlet for creativity. Mark Twain, Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Jefferson, Leonardo DaVinci, Virginia Wolfe, and Ryan Holiday are just a few that are known for their note-taking. Some use the system known as a Common Place Book to capture their learning and ideas while others use different methods for their notes. They all used something and I’ll be you recognize at least a few names on the list.


I try to be diligent about highlighting or taking notes from a book or podcast when I listen but there are times when I miss the opportunity. When I do take notes on my phone or in my notebook, I try to go through them a day or so later and refine them further. Because I tend to learn and remember best visually, (and because I think in pictures) I’ve found taking my notes and turning them into an image helpful. Sometimes it’s just the quote with emphasis on certain words whereas other times I’ll actually draw out a picture of what comes to mind in my brain while I think about it.

For example, while Teddy and I were driving across the state of Montana listening to Bob’s book, I took some notes on my phone. Once we got to our destination I took about 15-20 minutes and went through the notes and found ways to take those that were most meaningful (those you see below) into my notebook. I drew various pictures to go along with them – like the butterfly as the reminder to catch butterflies. I drew a campfire to remind myself to burn the oak. And now, I’m taking those notes and refining them further, and turning them into a blog post to share.

If you’re not someone who likes taking notes, just try it. My excuse for not doing it is that I’m too busy, too distracted, I don’t have a notebook with me, or I’m more focused on finishing the book than I am remembering the contents. The reality is that the journey is more important than the destination and I can have either results or excuses, not both. So if I want to absorb others’ perspectives and learn and grow as an individual, finding a way to take notes on my phone or bookmark in the audible app, or just highlight in a book is a good starting point. And then on a weekly or monthly basis, going back over those and refining them further will help me review the content and refine it further.

One of my intentions for next year is to read less but refine more. While I used to have a reading goal of about 1 book a week, so 52 a year, I’ve tried to intentionally read less. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading or want to read all the book, I’m just more focused on refining what I learn and applying it than I am just learning it. So in 2023, my intention is to build upon the system I’ve developed for note-taking and idea refining. I have a bunch of blank canvas paper notebooks that are great for notes and drawing. And so after each book, I intend to pull out the most impactful pieces and find a way to get them on paper so I can better reflect on my learning. Then at the end of the year, I’ll have a notebook of the best quotes and ideas all in one spot.


What is 1 thing you can begin doing to absorb more of what you learn?

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