Thinking through pencils

Disclaimer: this post is a navel-gazing reflection on my note taking practices inspired by this great 10 minute talk on the importance of using different tools for thinking and expressing ideas: click here

In theory:
You retain more if you take notes by hand, and it’s even better if you doodle while doing it.
You get your ideas out best by typing, especially when you type faster than 24 words per minute. The key with fast typing is that you can keep up with the rapid flow of ideas.

In practice:
This is true for me. At the Smart Growth conference last month I took about 50 pages of notes with a pencil in a Moleskine Sketchbook. It was a physically satisfying experience with those two tools–I used .7 Pentel hi-polymer lead, which flows so nicely in the thick smooth sketchbook pages, I could keep up and synthesize at the same time. The Blackwing pencil is equally awesome. Note taking like this forces you to grasp the key points, and using a pages without lines encourages me to draw connections between ideas. My notes have circles and lines connecting different parts, words go in all directions, good ideas get boxed letters by them, and when I recognize building blocks for innovate concepts, I mark them and put a small note to myself about what to do about it later, what design question should be addressed as a result. After the events were over for each day, I spent dinner iterating through new concepts, asking more questions of myself and my notes, drawing new connections.

I run design sessions the same way, I just do it in public in a whiteboard–it actually makes for good performance art. When it comes to the typing stage, I can transcribe quickly but also get into thinking through the details. I iterate through more handwritten notes and sketches, then back to typing and continue the cycle until completion.

If I don’t take notes, my mind wanders to all sorts of questions I am working through. That’s sort of a shame. I love the BBC radio show In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. I am always informed and inspired by it, but recently I’ve been unable to make it through an episode without my mind wandering off onto various problems I am trying to solve. I should really listen deliberately with a sketchbook and pencil in my hand. That’ll help me get through the episode on phenomenology.

I did start on some more painting, and I will post on that tomorrow. Thanks for reading.


One thought on “Thinking through pencils

  1. laber1 February 13, 2015 / 9:52 pm

    I totally relate to what you are saying here. I will try the handwritten note taking to keep from wandering. As always, Corey, good thinking, good exploring, good sharing. Thank you!

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