Category Archives: sketchnotes

Notes from Quantified Self Toronto, October 27, 2010

Bits from the meetup: automated tracking of computer activity, for aggregated health self-reporting of conditions and treatments, and the oddly popular desire for a statistical silver bullet that will crunch your data and tell you what’s potentially interesting about you, instead of you coming up with questions and designing proper experiments. This makes me think about t-tests and how you can do too many tests for significance (PDF). Intentional experiments may be slower, but I think they’re worth it.

Anyway, here are the notes!

I took these notes using Microsoft OneNote 2007 on a Lenovo X61T tablet. I then exported the graphics to the Gimp, did a little bit of editing, and uploaded them to Gallery2 on my blog. See my other sketch-related blog posts, or check out my other sketches in the gallery.

Sketchnotes: Why I do them, how I do them, and how you can get started


Why do I sketch my notes?

A few years ago, I sketched a presentation just for fun, to see if I could do it on my Nintendo DS. The Gen Y Guide to Web 2.0 at Work has been viewed more than 50,000 times. People told me they liked the style. So I sketched more, inspired by books such as “Back of the Napkin”, and videos like Common Craft and RSAnimate’s work.

I have a hard time sitting still and listening to lectures. I used to fall asleep in class. Writing and sharing helped me stay engaged. It also helped me continue the conversation and meet interesting people.

Combining sharing with drawing was natural, and it kept me focused on listening instead of distracted.

So, why? It makes me happy, others too.

How do I sketch my notes?

Mostly on a Tablet PC (Lenovo X61T) using Microsoft OneNote 2010 (good handwriting recognition) or the free Inkscape. I export using The Gimp (free) and upload it to my website ( That’s all there is to it.

Once in a blue moon, I’ll draw on paper and scan it in (Samsung SCX-4828FN), but it’s easier to fix my drawings on the computer: change size, add colour, move things around.

How can you get started?

Forget what you’ve been telling yourself: “I’m not an artist. I can’t draw.” Just take notes and have fun along the way.

Draw on paper. Take a picture, or scan your work.

Get a basic drawing tablet, digital pen, or tablet PC.

Learn from other people. (Search for visual notetaking, visual thinking, graphic recording, etc.)

Experiment and enjoy.

Quantified Self Toronto: Second Meetup

I went to last night’s Quantified Self Toronto meetup, a get-together for people who are interested in tracking data about their lives. It was good to hear about people’s projects and questions. I shared what I’d been doing with my new Android phone, too. Here are my notes:

For me, the most interesting point was that of analyzing the data you already have in order to understand your patterns.

Correction: I haven’t just had my phone for three days, I’ve had it for a week. (Ah, time flies when you’re having fun.) I’ve only been tracking activities for three days, though, so I guess that’s why that number got stuck in my brain. =)

What do I track, why do I track it, and how do I track it?

I want to experiment with getting up earlier, and to see if I still get enough sleep. I knew that tracking would help me stick to my alarm clock, like the way that tracking time helps me stay focused. I’ve written about tracking my sleep, so you can check out the detailed screenshots there. So far, I’ve been waking up within a few minutes of 5 AM, getting an average of seven hours of sleep, and feeling reasonably awake and energetic.

I want to capture and share as much as possible. On my computer, Org-mode is working well for me – big text files that I dump notes into, with a bit of structure along the way. I’d like to have a structured way to capture notes on my Android, particularly if I can pull those notes into my Org-mode text files. I haven’t settled on any one application yet, although I’m working on tweaking MobileOrg to fit me better. I’m also playing around with mindmapping (Thinking Space supports Freemind maps), and I’m looking for a good way to keep outlined lists.

I want to track how much time I spend on different activities. This will be useful for calibrating my time estimates, comparing my time with my priorities, and identifying opportunities to improve. This definitely has to be a mobile app, as I do things away from the computer too. Time Recording has been working well for me so far.

I want to track my finances. I do this on my laptop so that I can take advantage of all the wonderful reporting tools that the ledger command-line tool gives me. I’ve figured out a virtual envelope-based system that works for me, and I enjoy balancing my books. I don’t particularly feel the need to use my Android to capture this data, as I try to keep my transactions electronic. The occasional note about cash expenses can be handy, though.

I eventually want to get better at tracking my contacts. I like the way Gist gives me a dashboard sorted by importance or filtered by tags. I want to get to the point of deliberately reaching out to people on a regular schedule.


Monthly review: October 2010

Sketchnotes from Quantified Self Toronto meetup #3

Click on the image for a slightly larger version.image

Topics: neurotropics, step counting, tracking through low-cost devices ( doesn’t seem to work – correct URL?)

I also shared my time tracking, grocery tracking, and price book. People found the batch cooking stuff interesting. =) Here are the slides I used:

See past notes: second meetup, first meetup. Check out more sketchnotes, more sketches, or more things about the quantified self. Learn about upcoming Quantified Self Toronto events on Meetup – see you at the next one!