How Does Sam Altman Take Notes? - Senstone

How Does Sam Altman Take Notes?

4 Jun, 2024



If you want to know how Sam Altman takes notes, you’re in luck. The famous CEO of OpenAI loves to share productivity tips with other people, including strangers on the internet. In fact, we have a pretty good insight into his approach to work and note-taking.


This is how the magic happens.


“I highly recommend using lists. […] I prefer lists written down on paper,” Altman says.


The old pen and paper method sounds like a strange choice for a person responsible for the development of a cutting-edge AI. However, Sam Altman has some very good reasons for sticking to the classics and not using, say, a wearable AI recorder.

1. Taking notes as an excuse to think.


Altman is a self-professed multitasker. He needs to constantly reassess his tasks and look for new perspectives. Not only does he write lists, but he also re-writes them by hand.


“I re-transcribe lists frequently, which forces me to think about everything on the list and gives me an opportunity to add and remove items.”


Besides, several studies have confirmed that the information we write down is memorized more effectively than what we type, so that’s one more advantage to consider.

2. Politeness.


Staring at your phone or laptop in the middle of a meeting is disrespectful. It creates the impression that you don’t pay attention to your co-workers and would honestly rather leave. Sam Altman feels that checking your paper notes is better for the morale.


“I can access them [lists] during meetings without feeling rude.”


3. If it works, it works.


And the main reason,


“Many people spend too much time thinking about how to perfectly optimize their system, and not nearly enough asking if they’re working on the right problems.”

So… How Does Sam Altman Take Notes?


Sam Altman takes notes in the form of lists. He uses pen and paper. The most important tasks are marked with a star. Altman often re-writes his lists, which helps him focus and remain efficient.


Interestingly, he does not prioritize the items on his lists conventionally. There is no color coding, no system, and no discernible structure. (Bill Gates wouldn’t stand for that.) The items that make Altman feel good about his progress get done first and last. The sense of accomplishment is vital.


“The more I get done, the better I feel, and then the more I get done. I like to start and end each day with something I can really make progress on.”


If Altman finds a task too boring, he usually skips to one that is more interesting – unless it’s important, and that label applies to everything on a good list.


The main takeaway can be summed up in Altman’s own words: “Make sure to get the important sh*t done.” If you can get away with scribbles on a napkin, and if the scribbles work for you, keep it up. Focus on results, says Sam Altman. As we all can see, the technique pays off.


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