Today I would like to share with you a sketchnoting process that I think might help you fit a bit more good ideas (and a bit more processing of those good ideas) into the white spaces of your life.
Chances are, you don’t have as much dedicated learning and note-taking time in your days as you would like.
So the context for this method involves you being out on a walk, and while on that walk you’re listening to a podcast.
At the very least the walk is an opportunity for you to get some exercise, and you might even be doing double-duty by making it part of your commute as well.
In either case, it’s an opportunity to get the blood flowing a bit, which can be helpful when you’re taking in interesting ideas from the podcast you choose to listen to.
I’ve found this to be a great combo because you get that benefit of mild exercise and on top of that you’re exposed to new stimuli. You’re not in the static well-known environment of your home or office, and I think that can help spark ideas.
So that’s the situation we’re starting with.
From there let’s look at the first stage of the note-taking process: filtering and organizing.
Stage 1: Filtering & Organizing
For this stage I like to use my phone as my note-taking tool since that’s what I’m already using to listen to the podcast.
I pull up my go-to note-taking app (Evernote), get a new note going, and then as I’m listening, whenever an interesting idea comes up, I capture that in text form with a short title and a bullet point list to capture a few of the details.
Sometimes those details are the specific things that I’m hearing, other times those details are my own ideas that are sparked by the conversation I’m listening to.
So what I’m doing in this first stage of note-taking is filtering and organizing.
I’m filtering by not capturing every single idea from the podcast, but only those that feel interesting and relevant to me and my work.
Sometimes I’ll go in with a specific question in mind and that’s what serves as my filter. Other times I’ll just wait to see what I have a strong reaction to and that becomes my filter.
The organizing piece comes in when, in the second half of a podcast conversation, it ends up circling back to topics from the first half.
When that happens I just scroll back up and add a new bullet point to the section I’ve already started.
Here’s what this actually looks like on my phone:
Notice the simplicity here: super short titles, a handful of bullet points below each.
What this process looks like, then, is a back-and-forth between listening and note-taking.
I pause whenever an idea passes through my filter, and jot down a few notes.
Then I hit play again, keep walking and listening, and wait for the next idea to stand out.
That’s the back-and-forth cycle that I go through until I’ve listened to the whole podcast.
Sometimes I’ll get through that on a single walk. Other times it’ll take a few different legs, maybe even over a few days, depending on the length of the podcast, how long my walks are, and how many times I stop and take notes.
What I like about this starting point is that the barrier to entry is low, which makes it easy to go in and out of this process, to fit it into the gaps in your day-to-day life.
Once you’ve finished the podcast episode, then you get to move on to stage two: at-your-desk synthesizing and sketchnoting.
Stage 2: Synthesizing & Sketchnoting
This is where we get to bring in the visual processing.
For this stage I like to use my small Moleskine notebook–I like the size constraint of those pages.
My general approach is to take each set of title and bullet point list, and fit one on each page.
This is the point when I take those ideas that I’ve captured so far only in text form and create a sketchnote summary.
For the visual component I rely a lot on icons, scenes, and diagrams, and I add to those visual elements just enough text to remind me of the specifics of the idea.
Here’s an example of what those sketchnotes can look like:
I’ve shared some high-quality images of those sketchnotes (along with a bit of text recap and my own commentary) in this blog post, so check that out if you’re interested.
Some Optional Additions
So that’s an overview of this process.
Let me next share a couple of optional pieces that I tend to lean on but that you don’t necessarily have to.
One piece that you might add in is some quick drafting in between stage one and stage two.
That’s what I did for the notes that I just shared, primarily because I knew that I would want to share those ideas publicly.
So I had two goals in mind with my sketchnotes: my own personal learning (ideas that I wanted to take away and start applying to my life and business); and I also had the goal of sharing those ideas with other people.
So for me it was important to be able to communicate those ideas clearly to others. That’s why it was worth it to go through some quick drafting before I put pen to paper in the Moleskine sketchbook.
But if you’re just taking sketchnotes for yourself, I don’t think that drafting is necessary.
You might also consider sharing the sketchnotes that you take in this way, both to give you another chance to process the ideas and also as an opportunity to add your own commentary.
I think that no matter how simply you choose to share your sketchnotes (from posting them to Flickr or Twitter or Instagram, to creating a full-on blog post), that gives you another opportunity to work with the ideas again as you communicate those ideas to others.
But even if you don’t do any drafting and you don’t share your sketchnotes, I think this overall process can be a great way to fit a little bit more deep thinking and deep work into your day.
I encourage you to give this process a try for yourself, tweak it as needed, and let me know how it goes.
If you’d like a bit more support on the visual side of things, on the developing of your core sketchnoting skills, then check out our course An Introduction to Visual Note-Taking.
It will walk you through the steps of developing those foundational skills and then applying those skills to work that’s meaningful to you.
You can also view our full course library here.
Thanks for exploring this topic with me. I hope you enjoy merging a bit of exercise with some good podcasts and hopefully some useful sketchnoting.