book - zen habits - sketchnoting, visual note-taking, doug neill, leo babauta

The Balance Of Practicing And Producing

I’ve been reading a great book lately. It’s called Zen Habits, and it was Kickstarted by long-time writer and blogger Leo Babauta.

I’ve been a fan of Babauta’s work for a while now. His writing over the past few years had a role in my decision to focus on mindfulness throughout 2015.

I’ve been reading his book on my back deck, usually during my morning break, after I’ve done a few hours of sketchnoting and writing.

the habit sprint - zen habits - sketchnoting, visual note-taking, doug neill, leo babauta

It’s a book about developing habits, and Babauta encourages you to actively work on a specific habit while reading the book. The chapters are short, and each ends with a task, one that will move your a bit farther along in your habit development.

When I first picked up the book, I didn’t know what one habit I wanted to work on. I’ve got lots that I’m trying to develop – meditation, playing music, reading.

What I ultimately landed on surprised me a little. I decided to develop a drawing habit.

Don't miss two days in a row - zen habits - sketchnoting, visual note-taking, doug neill, leo babauta

Considering that I spend most of my days thinking about, producing, and working with visual information, the need for a daily drawing habit might surprise you, so let me explain.

I’ve been in heavy production mode lately, producing 3-5 video lessons a week for The Verbal To Visual Classroom, on top of a bit of freelance work as well.

When I dive that deeply into production mode, it’s easy for me to forget to make time for intentional practice. I use work as an excuse not to.

minimum viable habit - zen habits - sketchnoting, visual note-taking, doug neill, leo babauta

There is of course value in applying your current skills in a work-like setting. With each new video I make for the classroom, and with each new sketch I produce for a client, I learn something new, and grow a bit in the process.

But that’s game-time learning. I also need practice-time learning.

And not just to build my skills, but also to build my confidence and allow me to have more fun with the process.

More often than I’d like, sketchnoting can be a stressful activity.

For me, that’s because the sketchnoting process is tied to things that I care about: internalizing ideas that are important to me; producing an engaging and worthwhile course for my students; delivering high-quality sketches to my clients.

process - zen habits - sketchnoting, visual note-taking, doug neill, leo babauta

If you’re stressed about the quality of your sketchnotes, it’s probably for the same reason that I am: you care about the ideas on the page and the people those ideas are intended to serve.

Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful in alleviating that stress while simultaneously building your skills – set aside some time early in the day to warm up the hand and the pen and to do some intentional practicing.

That’s the habit I’ve been working on while reading Zen Habits: a daily drawing practice to ensure that I’m continually improving my sketchnoting skills.

Sketchnoting inspiration - magazines - visual note-taking

For me, the habit fits nicely between my morning pages (handwritten stream-of-consciousness journaling) and my first morning work session.

With the morning pages I warm up the verbal side of my brain while I recall and process the events of the previous day.

With my new daily drawing habit I warm up the visual side while practicing new fonts, adding new elements to my visual vocabulary, testing out new layout ideas, or playing around with color.

Sketchnoting inspiration - magazines, watch this - visual note-taking

I keep the materials simple – nothing more than some 3 x 5 note cards, a Pentel Energel pen, and whatever source of inspiration strikes my fancy (last week it was magazines, this week it has been Calvin and Hobbes).

Sketchnoting inspiration - calvin and hobbes - visual note-taking

Sketchnoting inspiration - calvin and hobbes - visual note-taking

Sketchnoting inspiration - calvin and hobbes - visual note-taking

As with any new habit, you’ll likely face some resistance while getting it started. Having Zen Habits as my companion during the habit-forming process has been invaluable.

Via this new habit, I’m now able to start the drawing portion of my day in a relaxed, low-pressure way. That relaxed attitude, along with a growing sense of confidence, bleeds into my more-focused morning work session. What used to be stressful is now something that I’m warmed up and ready for.

How might you incorporate a similar habit of practice into your life?

Start with something small, something that you do just once a day. Make it fun. Make it useful. And tie it in to the other parts of your day.

Good luck, and happy habit forming.