Great life advice: Write stuff down

On Hoovers World today, Gary Hoover published a great bit of life advice (or call it a lifelong “best practice,” if you want to couch it in businessspeak). His advice is deceptively simple:

Write everything interesting down.


If you don’t know who Gary Hoover is, you probably should. It would be ‘way oversimplifying him to say he’s a serial entrepreneur, but that’s one easy way to put it. Gary is the founder of the superstore Bookstop (later purchased by Barnes & Noble) and the Hoovers business information service (now owned by D&B).

Lately I have been enjoying his Hoovers World blog because he is a voracious consumer of books and writes excellent and useful reviews of extraordinary books I have never heard of.

But today he published the entry “Two Small Practical Tips That Could Change Everything For You,” which included the advice to write down everything interesting that comes your way.

I started doing this about 20 years ago as a result of reading the wonderful little book “A Technique for Producing Ideas,” by James Webb Young. I have found that I never know when a useful idea, large or small, will come my way, whether from the external or the internal world. So I always carry a pen and pocket-sized pad with me, so I can capture information or ideas even when I am not in front of my computer. (I also never buy a shirt that does not have a pocket.)

One of the most interesting things Gary says in today’s entry, though, is that you might not ever need to actually read what you have written down:

I don’t care how smart you are or how good your memory is, 80-90% of all the good ideas you hear or think of in your life will slip right through your fingers if you do not write them down.

You do not even have to go back and re-read them; the kinetic process of having the idea flow through your mind and down your fingers through the pen onto the pad has a significant impact on your memory. [Underlining mine.] Of course, you can always reread them if you want or need to.

I also find that writing stuff down – from the book recommendations of friends to music I want to buy to business ideas I have while walking down the street – takes a burden off me. I can forget about it, I know the thought or information is securely stowed away.

I have found this point about memory retention to be true as well, and have found that what leads to even greater retention is making my notes in visual form — also know as idea mapping — see my previous blog entry “Doodling is good for thinkers.”

As a result, I seldom use lined paper for any purpose other than financial tasks. When I am planning, taking notes in a meeting, preparing an outline for public speaking, leading a group process, or just thinking, I use an unlined sketch pad or a white board to give myself space to lay out the idea I’m working with and to go in multiple directions on the page if I need to. I have even purchased custom-made pocket pads without lines on them — it’s not hard or expensive to do this through the printing department at any of the large office superstores.

Oh yes, you might have noticed that Gary’s post mentioned “Two Small Practical Tips That Could Change Everything For You.” The other tip is also simple, and maybe deceptively so, as with the first. The second tip is:



AB — 25 May 2009


Doodling is good for thinkers

I just saw an interesting study (mentioned in Wired — see “A Sketchy Brain Booster: Doodling”) published in Applied Cognitive Psychology concluding that doodling actually aids in concentration.

The article, “What Does Doodling Do?” by Jackie Andrade of the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, UK, found that participants in an experiment could better remember a list of names read to them if they were performing a simultaneous task that simulated doodling.

What might be the underlying mechanism at work here? Andrade suggests two possibilities:

1. “that doodling simply helps to stabilize arousal at an optimal level, keeping people awake or reducing the high levels of autonomic arousal often associated with boredom”


2. “that doodling aids concentration by reducing daydreaming”

Both are interesting ideas and make me think of two current interests I have:

1. Idea mapping, sometimes called Mind Mapping (as propounded by educational consultant Tony Buzan). I have been employing this visual approach for several years now in note-taking, public speaking, writing, consulting, and group processes and have become convinced that drawing and mapping is a memory aid.

2. The language teaching methods of Harry Cotton of the Canadian Institute of English. Dr. Cotton advocates involving body movement to aid retention when learning to speak a foreign language.

AB — 27 February 2009

Idea Mapping — basics and some resources

For several years, I have been using a process called idea mapping as a thinking tool. This is related to Mind Mapping, the brainchild of Tony Buzan. (See this page for some great examples of Mind Maps.)

I would describe idea mapping as a set of visual methods for thinking. I employ idea mapping in many kinds of settings — planning, outlining, note-taking, public speaking, writing, consulting, and leading group process. When working alone, I use unlined drawing paper and colored markers. When working with groups, I use a white board or large sheets of paper with colored markers.

Here are some books I recommend on this topic:

The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential, by Tony and Barry Buzan

Mapping Inner Space: Learning and Teaching Visual Mapping, by Nancy Margulies and Nusa Maal

AB — 27 February 2009