Sketchnotes are a Message in a Bottle


I was on Twitter not too long ago and an interesting idea came my way via James Williams, who tweeted the following: “Sketchnotes are like a message in a bottle for future you and help amplify good content.”

I like that idea and I want to explore it a bit.

I think that the statement “sketchnotes are a message in a bottle” is true on two levels.

Let’s take a look at each.

A Message to Your Future Self

On the first level, as stated in Williams’s tweet, they’re a message in a bottle for your future self.

When you take sketchnotes, what you are creating is an artifact that represents what you were learning and thinking about at a particular moment in time.

And even though what you capture on the page is a relatively small subset of all the ideas you were exposed to, it’s likely that those that you do capture will trigger others in your mind – other ideas from that single source, other things that were going on in your life at that time, the reason you chose to capture those ideas in the first place, and maybe even the setting in which you put pen to paper.

So by storing your sketchnotes in a way that you might stumble upon them at some point in the future, you’re creating a time capsule, and with it the opportunity to teach your future self something that you might have forgotten, to remind yourself of ideas that you once found valuable enough to put onto the page.

Enough happens on a day-to-day basis to make it easy to forget what you learned last week, let alone last year.

But sketchnotes can help you preserve some of that learning, kept safe from the sea of passing time, in a corked bottle, waiting for its moment to float back your way.

A Message to Others

There’s a second, equally-interesting way in which sketchnotes are a message in a bottle: when someone searching the seas of the internet happens to stumble up your sketchnotes – the ones that you decided to publish in a blog post, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Months and even years after you created and posted and your notes, someone else might type just the right combination of words into Google to find them, and to learn something from them.

One of the reasons that I chose to share my sketchnotes online from the very beginning of my sketchnoting journey is because I wanted to be able to connect with others who were interested in the same topics that I chose to explore.

By sharing my sketchnotes I was creating a public record of my learning, and I knew (and still know) that each image that I share (and now, each video that I publish) is one more bottle that I’m throwing out into the sea, knowing that the vast majority of the people in the world will never get anywhere close to it, but also knowing that one month from now, six months from now, five years from now, someone will stumble across a video like the one above or a sketchnote in a blog post.

And maybe you’ve already been tossing out bottles of your own, waiting for someone else to find them and look at the message inside, see if it resonates with them, and then chose whether or not to do something about it.

In some cases, it will lead that person down a rabbit hole of ideas, following the path that you created. In other cases (as I’ve heard from many sketchnoting friends of mine), it might lead to a freelance gig  request for you to sketchnote something else. And it just might lead to that person picking up a pen and giving this sketchnoting thing a try.

This is all to say that in addition to the in-the-moment value of engaging with ideas in a verbal and visual way while you’re sketchnoting, there’s also this future value that’s a lot harder to predict. Each sketchnote that you take and throw out into the world might come back to you when you least expect it, or it might make its way to someone else right when they need it.

Or it might float in the waters forever, never to be found by anyone. But the more you make and the more you toss out into the world, the more likely they’ll come back to you.

Keep the Bottles Flying

So keep on sketchnoting. Keep filling pages, rolling them up into a metaphorical bottle, and tossing that bottle out into the world for someone else to find, even if that someone else is just future you.

If you enjoyed these ideas I want to mention two ways you can follow up on them.

If you’re relatively new to the world of sketchnoting but excited about the possibilities of developing this skill, then check of my course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking, which will give you a solid foundation and help you create a tailored note-taking process based on your own context and your own goals.

And if you are intrigued by the public sharing of your sketchnotes, then check out Learn In Public, which will help you develop a strategy for documenting online your skill development in any field – maybe it’s the building of your sketchnoting skills, or maybe it’s the use of sketchnoting to explore a completely different field.

Thanks for following the path that lead you to this bottle of mine. I hope you enjoyed the message you found inside.

Cheers,

-Doug