From the zine

Three simple steps to start better understanding your thought process

Keeping track of my thought process is something I've always struggled with. It's probably the main reason why I wanted to explore better ways of making sense of it. I've tried a lot of different things and gotten better at it, but I don't think I'm close to perfecting it (if that is even possible).

I usually find that the things that worked for me a year ago, no longer work, and that's when I need to adapt my strategy. While the core practice of keeping a log or writing things down remains the same, the way I structure and organise my entries will change. It's like a garden that you need to water, de-weed, and prune consistently to reap the rewards.

In this post, I want to talk about three simple steps to start better understanding your thought process. Everyone is different, so they may not work for you, but I've found them really helpful.

Write them down

A lot of the time, appealing thoughts and ideas come to us when we have little time to explore them more deeply. When this happens, it's easy to put that nugget to one side, forget about it, and return back to what is more pressing.

Whether you have the time to explore what you're thinking about right then and there, or you need to put it down for later. The easiest thing you can do to better understand your thought process is to write it down. Not only will the simple act of writing something down give you something to come back to later, but also help commit it to your memory.

Here are a few things you can start doing today:

  • Create a dedicated space to log your thoughts. It could be a beautiful sketchbook or a single page in a simple note-taking app.
  • Build a habit of writing things down. Get into a cycle of writing down your thoughts and ideas until it becomes second nature.
  • Make time to read over your log. It's all good building a log of your thoughts, but if you don't take the time to ever return to them, you won't see any benefits.

Get organised

As you get into the practice of recording and reviewing your thoughts, you'll presumably begin to see themes and patterns emerging. At this point, you can take your habit to the next level and begin to create allotted spaces with your log for each of your themes.

By grouping notes into themes, you're able to get a deeper understanding of your thinking on any given subject. This gives you the fantastic ability to access that knowledge and thinking anytime you need it (for example if you want to write a more substantial document about any particular topic).

A few things you could do to evolve your note-taking include:

  • Look for patterns and themes in your thoughts. Review the notes that you've taken to date and identify broader topics that you can group thoughts into.
  • Create individual spaces for each of your themes. Once you've identified your topics, create a dedicated resource for it and begin to transition your existing notes to their new homes.
  • Build a habit of organising your log. Continue to log things into a shared space, but extend your habit of reviewing to keep things organised. Whether it's daily or weekly, take the time to read through your notes and organise them into your dedicated theme spaces (creating new spaces as required).

Add contextual links

After creating themes to help organise your thoughts more cohesively, you'll most likely start to see overlapping areas of interest and thoughts that could really benefit from being related. This is where creating contextual associations or bi-directional links between pieces of content.

Until recently, I had been searching for a tool that handles bi-directional links well. In recent years, a plethora of tools has emerged to help you connect your content until your heart's content. I'm not going to dive into that world, but if it interests you, there are some great articles from NessLabs on the subject.

By creating contextual links between your notes, you're able to jump back and forth through your thought process. One fantastic example of this springs to mind. Andy Matuschak has created a site where you can explore his working notes (it's so easy to get lost as you keep diving down the rabbit hole of his connected links).

Maybe, you should give contextual links a try.

Next time

Recently, I've been thinking about how people collaborate while exploring something new, particularly during the ideation process. Over the next week, I'm going to be looking exploring the ways we could visualise and track the knowledge generated during that process.

I'll leave you with a question; How do you keep track of idea developing within a group setting? What are any useful tactics for driving engaging conversations? If you have any thoughts, hit me up over on Twitter.

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