How to Capture the Flow of Information while Sketchnoting

Even though you might think of sketchnoting as a single activity, it actually involves a lot of different tasks going on at once.

You’re taking in some information source (maybe a book, or a podcast, or a live presentation) while deciding which ideas are worth getting down onto the page, where to put those ideas, and how to represent them with some combination of words and visuals.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that one challenge sketchnoters face is keeping up with the flow of information. Sometimes the ideas come more quickly than you’re able to capture visually. What do you do in that situation?

In order to keep up with the pace of information while sketchnoting, you might need to separate the chunking phase (identifying the parts) from the combination phase (identifying the whole).

Here are two ways that you might do that.

Keep it Modular

When I speak of the chunking phase, I’m thinking about the task of deciding which information is worth capturing, as well as how you might capture that single idea.

One tool that’s helpful in capturing single ideas at a time is the simple index card, which is at the core of a modular approach to sketchnoting.

One option for separating the chunking phase from the combination phase: start with individual ideas on index cards.

On each card you capture a single important idea, sometimes with a phrase, other times a simple image or diagram.

Then, either in a lull in the conversation or after you’re done taking in new ideas, you can decide how to arrange all of those individual ideas into a structure that makes sense – that’s what the combination phase is all about, giving a helpful visual structure to the set of ideas that you’d like to remember.

I’ve documented that process in a few different videos, first this one in which I took notes on The Story Podcast with guest Todd Henry in a video titled Two-Stage Sketchnoting with Index Cards:

I used the index card first approach while taking notes on The Story Podcast with guest Todd Henry (video here).

And then also in this one, From Index Cards to One-Page Sketchnote, where you get to see me taking notes on Elizabeth Gilbert’s interview on The Chase Jarvis Live Show:

I also started with index cards while taking notes on The Chase Jarvis Live Show with guest Elizabeth Gilbert (video here).

I hope those examples show you what the modular approach might look like in practice.

Bullet Points First

If sketching out ideas on index cards still feels a bit too daunting as a first step, you might instead go with a bullet points first approach.

During the chunking stage, you simply take text notes in bullet point form, perhaps grouping those bullet points into different sections or topics.

In the past that’s how I’ve started the sketchnoting process while listening to podcasts during long walks. Whenever an interesting idea comes up, I pause the podcast and jot the idea down using Evernote. When multiple ideas fall under the same topic I give that set of bullet points a title.

A second option for separating the chunking phase from the combination phase: start with a bullet point list.

Then, once you’ve got your full set of bullet point notes, that’s when you turn your eye (and hand) to visualizing those ideas, perhaps with a flowchart or mind map or visual metaphor. As with the modular approach, the question at this stage is the same: what’s a helpful overall structure that you can give to this set of ideas?

Seek that out, and then get it down on paper.

I shared an example of the bullet point first process in the video On-the-Go Podcast Sketchnoting, which features notes that I took of Tim Ferriss’s interview with Jim Collins:

Here’s an example of taking bullet point notes first while listening to a podcast during a walk, then sketchnoting it back at the office (video here).

Do either of those processes sound like a good fit you? Try it out, and keep tweaking it to better meet you needs!


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