My mind wanders and wonders constantly. If you ever asked me “what are you thinking about?” the answer would be surprisingly different or unexpected every time. I don’t have a problem focusing, but I do have a problem remembering things because I’m jumping around from idea to idea. I often get ideas but don’t write them down, which unfortunately means the idea is often forgotten. When I hear information in a learning environment, I immediately start thinking about how to implement it, what it means for me, how it applies to others… but before I know it the speaker has moved on and I’ve missed something important.
What I described was a frustrating situation- to love learning new information but not being able to capture it all or remember it. I say WAS because I’ve found a solution: sketchnotes.
Sketchnotes solve the problem of loving information but not being able to remember it.
With sketchnotes I can hear information, capture it, learn it, and remember it later. The best part? Anyone who can write can do it.
Memorable Over Masterpiece
Sketchnotes are a visual catalogue of an event, experience, lecture, travel (or anything really) that are comprised of text and drawings.
If you saw the word “drawings” and immediately thought “nope, never mind. Not for me. I can’t draw.” STOP! I believe you can. With sketchnotes, it’s not about amazing drawings- it’s about “good enough” drawings that you and anyone else can recognize. You want them to be memorable over masterpieces. The purpose of the drawings is to bring a visual element to information, engaging another area of your brain for better retention and recall later. Studies show that handwriting, drawing, and doodling are huge factors in memory and even intelligence.
Your sketchnotes are for YOU first. Your sketchnotes don’t have to be for anyone to see but you and you alone, so you have nothing to fear or lose by taking notes with your “bad” drawings.
Concept Over Literal
Taking sketchnotes requires a different kind of listening. Instead of thinking about how to apply information for yourself, think about the information objectively. What does it mean? Is there a metaphor you can represent it as? This is called Active Listening.
If I hear a speaker talking about struggles as a mom, I can take literal notes and drawings such as a stressed out mom with work and school and kids and carpool and… See? That’s kind of complicated. If I simplify and find the deeper, overall concepts, more people can relate. Instead of focusing on her stories of being stressed out about constantly driving her kids to soccer, focus on the parts that everyone can relate to, like being stressed out. Maybe it’s a stick figure pushing a giant boulder up a hill. Hmm, maybe that giant boulder looks like a soccer ball. Or maybe you can draw a mom getting crushed by a giant soccer ball!
See the drawings above. On the left is a stressed out mom driving her kid to soccer practice, but if I didn’t tell you that’s what it was, you wouldn’t know that. This picture could be road rage! The overall CONCEPT of stress about constantly driving to soccer practice isn’t even here. Instead, see the picture on the right. The image is simpler, and you immediately know that someone is getting crushed by soccer, but you aren’t exactly sure why or how. When you approach your drawings as concept over literal, your brain can fill in the gaps and remember the specific story later on. The drawing serves as a memory trigger and your mind does the rest of the work.
Your Brain Wants To Fill In The Gaps
When you simplify, your brain latches onto the concept, not the specific story. When you can pick out concepts, you can remember them and apply them more easily.
Simplification and metaphors can be used for anything. If you’re talking about success, what can you draw to represent that success instead of the literal thing accomplished? Maybe it’s a winner’s podium, a trophy or ribbon, a stack of cash, a finish line, an excited person with hands in the air… There is always more than one way to draw a concept. It’s your job when taking sketchnotes to think of the high level ways to do it.
Level Up Your Drawings
If you’re familiar with my work, you know they’re far from simple shapes and stick figures. Even though I’ve personally taken my sketchnotes beyond simple drawings, they would be just as effective with stick figures. It’s not about the art- it’s primarily about the information and memory. Remember: memorable over masterpiece. However, if you can level-up your art over time, why not? Once you’re comfortable with concepts and simple drawings, only then should you level up and draw more complicated things.
- Prioritize making your drawings memorable over making them masterpieces.
- Drawing the concept over the literal word opens up more possibilities
- Anyone who can write can take sketchnotes
Illustration is for Everyone
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