“I don’t use digital notetaking tools. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve noticed that some of the most innovative techies in Silicon Valley do the same, whether with day-planner calendars, memo pads, or just simple notecards with a binder clip.“ – Tim Ferriss, How to take notes like an alpha geek (author of 4 Hour Work Week)
As readers here know… I’m an advocate of pocket sketching, a source of success for many. I use my pocket sketchpad for sporadic notes, collecting random thoughts & experiences, thinking through a problem, life-reviews, and more.
Today, I have a variety of sketchpads. They’re filled to the brim, sometimes wrapping around the back cover with content when I didn’t have a blank one handy. I can revisit them whenever I’d like, however, I often have difficulty finding certain notes from months back…
Tim Ferriss’ quote above inspired me to create the following simple organization system to help maximize the value of thoughts that arise in a sketchpad, to find what you need, when you need it.
Track the date and context for entries.
When did I draw this? Tracking the date allows you to play anthropologist when you’re going back through your journal. To see how thoughts overlapped, and how they related to emails, events on your calendar, or loose notes you’ve taken outside your sketchpad. (Old habits die hard.)
Where did I draw this? By summarizing the location or experience that created the entry… you’ll be better able to take yourself back to the moment you created the entry. Just the act of drawing aids memory by 29%.
Create a graphic summary on the cover. (See image above.)
I have so many notebooks… which one was it? The graphic takes me back to the times when I was carrying that specific sketchpad. I can remember creating the cover or seeing it each time I was drawing an entry. This allows me to more quickly flip through a pile of sketchpads and find the right entry.
You can create this summary with a new sketchpad, or once it is complete. Whatever suits you or the work you’re doing. Creating it early serves as a focus, a guide for what content you’ll strive to include. Creating it later allows you to summarize your work. In a recent post after creating a late summary, I wrote about how I realized I was very unfocused.
Create a list of recurring topics, not a table of contents.
A table of contents works for something you’ve edited… something you had the opportunity to organize into neat categories. Pocket sketching doesn’t work that way. Track a list of recurring topics instead of a table of contents. (This was inspired by Basecamp, a fantastic project collaboration tool Amy and I use to work on Drawing Down the Vision.)
As a topic comes up, add it to the inside front cover of your sketchpad. (It’s more difficult to lose than the inside first page.) As it comes up again in the future, just note the date which it was entered. (If you backfill old pages with newer notes, use the date on which you started the page to maintain chronology.) Slowly, you’ll build a list of topics and dates on which you wrote about them, to track the evolution of a thread over time.
Cream rises to the top.
Even if you create the best system… and you still can’t find what you’re looking for… don’t fret. Maybe you don’t need it.The cream always rises to the top. You’ll repeat a thought that is valuable to you.Throughout my time sketching, I’ve learned to respect every entry as a potential new starting point or tangent in my career. By reviewing enough sketchpads, you see that important ideas come to you before you even know they were important. (See a previous entry on how Dan Wallace generated valuable business ideas.)
Go try it out… let us know how it works for you!
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