On this page:
  • Mapping what I’m learning
  • Mohiomap: A visual way to browse your Evernote notebook
  • My digital sketchnoting workflow
  • What do I want to learn? Making a map

Mapping what I’m learning

I want to learn about more than I can fit into my working memory, so I need to take notes and I need to relate those notes to each other. My sketches, blog posts, and Evernote entries are great for remembering things, but I also want to see overviews so that I don’t miss the forest for the trees. This is where mapping comes in. Mapping is about organizing topics so that I can see the relationships, find the gaps, and keep moving forward.

Mapping what you know

For example, I mapped out what I wanted to learn about learning, and I frequently refer to it while planning my next steps. 2013_10_09_17_05_50_005

I also have a few other maps at lower levels of detail. For example, this is a rough map of topics related to taking notes:

Note-taking techniques

Mapping helps me look ahead, and it also gives me a framework for connecting what I learn to what I’ve learned before.

One way to practise mapping is by mapping what you know. This helps you review your notes, identify any gaps, see how far you’ve come, and connect ideas (and discover interesting relationships you might not have come across before). Your maps can also help other people learn.

To map what you know, you can start from the bottom level (detailed notes answering specific questions) and work your way up to overviews. Alternatively, you can start from the top (an outline) and then work your way down to the specifics. Combining these strategies can help you get around mental blocks.2013_10_14_23_12_00_003

I’ve been working on mapping what I know. I’m still trying to find a good set of tools to help me do this. Instead of getting intimidated by the task, I’ve decided I’m going to start in the middle, mapping out things I recently learned and things that I’m learning next. Once I get the hang of doing that, I can start adding older entries like my blog posts.

I haven’t quite found the perfect tool yet. Evernote is great for personal notes, but even though it has public notebooks (see my sketchbook and my sketchnotes), people aren’t used to following or discussing new notes there. Flickr is good for exposure and a little discussion, but it’s not as easy to search or back up. Neither tool is good for overall non-linear organization.2013_10_15_21_39_36_004

Most note-taking systems focus on indexes for paper notes, either with straightforward tables of contents or mindmaps that refer to pages by IDs. Evernote and OneNote have been around for a long time, so I’ll probably be able to find people who have thought about how to organize lots of information using those systems. In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with using mindmaps to organize hyperlinks and next actions. I’m testing Mindjet MindManager, Xmind, and Freeplane. So far, I like Freeplane the most because:

  • the GTD add-in lets me quickly get a list of next actions
  • customizable keyboard shortcuts let me tweak the interface
  • filtering lets me focus on a selected branch
  • and hey, it’s free and open source

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To make this, I added each item in my current public and private sketchbooks to my map, creating nodes when necessary. I don’t have a lot of topics in my sketchbook yet, but if I find myself with more than twenty or so items in a single category, it’s probably time to split that. I’ve split the categories in my blog index a few times, and I’m long overdue for splitting some of the others. It’s much easier to reorganize things in a map instead of editing each item, although I should come up with some kind of bulk interface so that I can update the categorizations.

The arrows are hyperlinks to either my blog posts or my Evernote entries (using evernote:// URLs from Copy Note Shortcut). I included private notes as well, so the map works only for me. Sorry! In the future, I’d love to make a version of this that omits private URLs and information. Freeplane supports lots of export formats, so maybe I’ll be able to process XML or HTML and make something that’ll help people browse too.

I’d like to get to the point of having a smooth workflow for drawing, scanning, publishing, organizing, browsing through, and following up on these thoughts. Do you know of anyone who’s doing something similar to this? This kind of visual thinking isn’t quite like the visual recording that most sketchnoters do. There are plenty of mindmaps at Biggerplate, but they look more like templates rather than thoughts-in-progress.

Reaching further back, parts of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are online, and Prof. Carlo Pedretti’s introduction to the Codex Arundel has some notes on the structure: unnumbered loose sheets, usually one page per thought. That’s encouraging, although it doesn’t tell me much about overall structure. Part of Galileo Galilei’s notebooks are online, too. He numbered his pages and usually left plenty of whitespace. There are plenty of examples of note-takers throughout history, but it’s hard to find ones explicitly talking about how they map the connections between ideas. How to Read a Book briefly mentions building a syntopicon, so I checked out the resulting volume (A Syntopicon: An Index to The Great Ideas). It’s a huge project, but it didn’t give me a lot of clues about the process of building such a thing. More recently, there’s How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think, which described the process of making and updating a global subject map of contents. Books on study skills also talk about how to condense a lesson into successively smaller cheat sheets until you can fit everything onto one page (or an index card, or whatever the teacher permits), and that’s somewhat related to the kind of summarization and overview I want to do.

On the non-graphical front, I’ve also had fun making a huge outline of blog posts I want to write (and therefore things I want to learn about). Org Mode outlines work better than Freeplane maps for large amounts of text or fine-grained detail, so I’ll probably switch over to outlines when I’m drafting the post and then update the map with the hyperlink to the post when I’m done. It’s all tied together.

Anyway, here we are. I think the sketches and maps I’m making are promising, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper. If you happen to have put a lot of thought into a similar system, I’d love to hear from you!

Mohiomap: A visual way to browse your Evernote notebook

Evernote is a great tool for taking notes, but sometimes searching and browsing those notes can get unwieldy if you have thousands of items. For example, searching my notebooks for “evernote” gets me >130 results, which look a little like this in Evernote’s desktop application:

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This is great if I can narrow things down with notebooks, keywords, and tags, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to explore better?

Christian Hirsch (who has been working on quite a few visual interfaces to wikis and knowledgebases) reached out to me about Mohiomap, which links up with your Evernote notebook and lets you see it as an interactive map.

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You can click on notes to navigate further and to see a preview in the left sidebar.

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You can expand items without closing the previous ones, so it’s a handy tool for exploration. I like the way that they indicate number of other entries with both a thicker line as well as a larger circle – the thicker lines are easier to follow when you’re starting from a node.

The trick with new tools is to figure out how you want to fit them into your workflow. Right now, Mohiomap is a visualization and search tool. What new questions can I ask with this interface? How can I use it to learn more?

  • Use Mohiomap to find related notes: I like the way it displays links to related notes. The notes are determined using the Evernote API, which seems to take the note source and tags into account. Related notes are difficult to find using the desktop application, so this might be a good way to explore when I’m writing blog posts.
  • Use Mohiomap when searching for something that will have hits in multiple notebooks, if I want to group by notebook: Mohio’s search interface organizes the first layer of results by notebook. If I used notebooks more, then this might be a good way to browse through my search results. I tend to use tags, though. Oh well!
  • Use Mohiomap to encourage myself to tag more, and to fix my tags. Mohiomap shows tags that are connected with each other, so that might be a way to identify overlapping tags. This is slighly less useful with a small result set (30 notes don’t have much overlap), but maybe it will become more useful later. It also lets you draw lines from notes to tags in order to add a tag to a note, and maybe this will evolve into more tagging features.

It looks like the first use (browsing through related notes) might be the most relevant for me. Let’s see how well Evernote’s recommendation algorithm works!

Other thoughts: Plus points for making the back button work and keeping graphs individually bookmarkable. =) I’d love to be able to add more search results, like viewing 50 or 100 at a time – or viewing a graph of the tags in my entire Evernote knowledgebase, which would be nifty. Dynamic force-directed networks can be disconcerting because of the motion. It might be great to have different views of it in addition to the current interface – maybe something more constrained like the way FreeMind or thebrain.com work?

UserVoice appears to be the place for suggestions related to Mohiomap. Looking forward to seeing this grow, and any other apps that visualize your data!

My digital sketchnoting workflow

2013/07/29: Update: Watch the episode or read the transcript!

Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook (see my sketchnotes of it) focuses on pen-and-paper sketchnoting. I really enjoy digital sketchnoting, although there’s a bit more of a barrier to entry in terms of hardware. I’ve figured out a pretty sweet workflow for live-publishing conference/event sketchnotes so that you can catch people while they’re looking at the Twitter hashtag. Mike and I will be talking about digital workflows and tips for one of his podcasts, and I wanted to sketch my thoughts/talking points in preparation.

Click on the image for a larger version of the sketchnote.

20121212 My digital sketchnoting workflow

Not specifically mentioned there because it’s more of a blogging setup, but WordPress + NextGen Gallery + Windows Live Writer + Text Templates plugin = great.

Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence.

Like this? Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes. Want me to sketchnote your event? Know of any interesting tech / business talks coming up? I’d love to hear from you!

What do I want to learn? Making a map

It’s a good idea to plan what you want to learn. One of the good things we do at IBM each year is to put together an individual development plan, which combines formal learning, informal learning, and on-the-job experience.

I’ve written about some of the things I want to learn at work, such as facilitation skills. I’ve also written about some of the things I wanted to learn in life: getting better at storytelling, helping new hires connect, sharing what I’m learning, helping people change, nurturing relationships over a distance, and being more practical. What I hadn’t really done before was to make a map. (Or if I did, I forgot about it, and what use is that? ;) )

So here is what I want to learn, and now I can take that and translate the work parts into an individual development plan, and add next actions for work and life learning to my to-do list. =D I definitely recommend going through the process of thinking about what you want to learn and sharing that with other people. I’m sure that I’ll add or remove things from this, but it’s a good start!

Thanks to TerriAnne Novak for the nudge to think about this.