To say that I “discovered” commonplacing, commonplace books, is a lie. It has been there, always there, nagging at me when I stared into the darkness. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do or have tried numerous times times with varying degrees of failure for years. It is my LiveJournal, the quarter-filled blank books of poetry with stickers reading “people are dumb” on the cover, the books done up in leather that elicit guilt for ignoring them because sure that w all I needed- a sexy facade to keep me writing.
Have you seen my handwriting? No wondering didn’t keep up writing by hand when, at my best (or most drunk) I couldn’t fathom that scrawl.
I was reminded of the idea of “commonplace books”, and given the language to explain it and these urges, from Steven Johnson’s ‘Where Good Ideas Come From” (Chapter 3- The Slow Hunch) which discusses the way that Darwin and John Lock kept journals of Everything, books where they would catalog pretty much anything that mattered to them. Research. Quotes. Phases. Drawings. Everything.
And I wanted to try again. The neat thing, of course, us that technology has advanced a wee but since Locke’s time – crap, a ton even since I last dumped a note book – and I figured I could leverage tools I had, tools I had with me every day, to better increase the likelihood I actually do this.
I considered a few issues from previous attempts:
First, I decided that I had to use the same system for Work and Play. If I had anything different, I wouldn’t keep up. I was pretty successful at work most of the time but I kept changing how I took notes and stuff fell into disarray.
Second, I needed a single bucket into which to dump all the stuff I cared about. This, I figured would help diligence and fight fragmentation.
Third, i needed to capture all the weird crap I do online for processing. This would encourage thoughtfulness with things like Tweets, blog posts, or articles read and shared.
Fourth, I needed to keep everything with me all the time.
To solve One and Four, I could use my iPad. I’d already bee pretty good capture game notes abs had been seeing he sort of results I wanted for Work and Play there.
To solve Two I created a special bucket for processing at work since Outlook is better at that sort if thing than Gmail.
To solve Three, IFTTT.com. Dude, this site rocks. It watches all of my Internet tubes and chucks things into my process bucket for me. Tweet a link? Into the bucket. Post a photo to Instagram? Into the bucket. Insult your mom? INTO THE BUCKET.
- So my work flow looks like this generally:</p>
- Take notes in email
- Tag title with @process to get it in my process bucket
- Read process bucket on iPad
- Transpose notes/links/photos into note app on iPad.
So nice. And surprisingly little effort minus the processing part. Which is a benefit, actually, as I have to reconsider if I care and, if I do, what I care about with all notes and links and such when I process it into my notes.
So far the only issues I’ve encountered are with categorization. I have a Reading List, Instagram, Photo projects, Brainworms, Reading Notes, House Stuff, and Other section so it us sort if unorganized. The good thing is that I can reorganize pages in the app pretty easily.
I do lose the chronology too but I’m unsure if that matters. I think so long as nothing is terribly time sensitive, it’s a problem. I will not that I have far more structure to my work notes with time stamps, though, to be a responsible manager though.
But yay! Do you Gus journal like this? Or grab stuff like quotes or picture scraps in something? Scrap book?
Library ad infinitum- Commonplacing and the modern Longue Duree
Information overload- Overconsumption Diet
An example from my commonplace book.</p>