4 Reasons To Take More Notes & 3 Ways To Make The Most Of Them

Alignment XVI

There are so many reasons to write! You don’t have to write professionally to experience the many benefits writing can offer you. Remember, while few people write professionally, everyone writes, most often to help them do their work. While you may not consider yourself a writer, you already write. So write more! Even if it’s just a little you’ll find it will help a lot.

Here are four reasons to write.

1          Retention

Writing will help you remember things. Most people can only hold seven things in their minds at once. Many times, if you’re full up, new ideas won’t come, until you make space for them. Other times, when new information comes in, old information is lost. Either way, the solution is to write it down – and there are additional benefits to making notes. You’re 73% more likely to remember and act on something if you write it down. (If you type your notes, this number drops to 39%, which is still much better.) Part of this stickiness comes from finding the words that work best for you, so use the language that you’re most comfortable with and that means the most to you. You probably have a to-do list professionally, so why wouldn’t you use one to help you excel in your creative life too? And there are times when everyone needs a checklist. (Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto shows how doctors used checklists to reduce hospital deaths and complications by more than 33%.)

2          Clarity

Writing helps you see more and see more clearly. Like any creative discipline, writing encourages closer observation. You note more things – more information. Plus you’ll find patterns in the things you note – information about information. You’ll understand your experiences better and you’ll find more ideas. Unlike photography, which encourages observation of things you can see, writing can also help you observe things you can’t see like your thoughts and emotions, interactions within relationships, and processes unfolding in time. When you find the right words to describe something you understand it better.

3          Productivity

Once you see what you’ve written new ideas will come to you. You can accelerate this process by playing word games. Alex Osborne’s acronym SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put To Other Uses, Expand, Reverse) is a mnemonic device for a series of mental operations you can use, each of which is capable of leading to countless new ideas.

4          Organization

Organizing your writing helps you organize your thinking. Often the process of taking notes isn’t linear, you simply let it all out. When you revisit and reorganize your notes you make even more sense out of your observations. Lists help you identify steps in a process, set priorities, and identify more important items. Remember, you can also use size, color, or graphic symbols like underlines and stars to make some words stand out more than others.

It’s important to file your notes in an easily retrievable organized system that you trust, otherwise your mind will continue trying to remember everything, which no one can do, not even the gifted who have a photographic memory.

Audio

What about taking notes with audio? Many apps (like Notes) will turn what you say into text. This can be a fast way to take notes, especially when you’re multitasking.

Audio files that aren’t turned into text take more time to review as they’re played back, as much or more time than it took to make them, so they’re not the most efficient way to retrieve. However, if you are having a conversation with someone and you don’t want to interrupt the flow audio is very useful. Nothing records intonation and inflection as audio does. And there are occasions where you want to note the particular sound of something, which words can’t duplicate.

Take Notes With Images

Some things are better noted visually rather than verbally. If you can see what you want to make a record of then a photograph can very efficiently make a note, often one full of detail that would take more time than necessary to record. If you need to make a visual note and you can’t photograph it, make a doodle instead. Diagrams can be particularly useful for recording processes (vectors, paths, timelines, etc) and relationships (maps, graphs, Venn diagrams, etc).

Go Multi-Media

You can combine text and audio and images. Together they’re even richer and more powerful than they are alone.

Avoid Perfection

Perfect takes time, so for this purpose, it isn’t. Not only is it too much pressure, in the wrong way at the wrong time, it’s a distraction. So satisfice. And above all, enjoy the process. Think of your notes as a place to record and explore your observations – not the way you’ll present them to others. With this realization, you’ll be freer about what you record and how you record it and so you’ll do it more often. And that’s the point.

Make notes, lots of notes, and keep doing it. Developing this habit will help you see more, think more, feel more, do more. You’ll get more out of life.

(Want more on this subject? I recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.)

Read more in my Creativity Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

What’s Your Creative Process? 1 Habit That Will Change Your Life

Alignment IV

Do this one thing and you will transform your creative life.

Watch your process.

If you make this a habit, you’ll develop a better understanding of not only what but also where, when, how, and why do the things you do.

Noting what you don’t do can be an equally powerful practice.

You’ll quickly find yourself flooded with new information and ideas, which you can turn into a creative advantage by taking notes.

When you notice what when where how you do the things you do, after every observation ask, “Why?” Don’t think of the question as a challenge but rather as an opportunity to gain greater clarity about your motivations and what does and doesn’t drive you to action.

First, note what you do and don’t do.

When you watch your process carefully you become aware of every step in your process and everything involved in it. Actions and things that went unnoticed before will become clear to you. Find out if your habits are serving you well by doing what you do in a different order or by adding or subtracting one thing systematically. Make a little time to observe your process like a scientist might and find out what positive benefits that perspective has to offer you.

Second, note where you do and don’t do it.

Do you like quiet places to work without distractions or do you prefer a lot of external stimulation to get your juices flowing? Do you like clean orderly spaces to foster calm efficiency or do you like to spread out and use chaos creatively? Do you need a space away from home or work or do the other people and activities that take place there feed your creativity? Maybe your answer will change depending on a given project or a particular stage of any project you’re in. If you don’t know, mix it up and find out.

Third, note when you do and don’t do it.

Are you a morning person or an evening person? Are there times of the day you find it easier to be creative because you have fewer commitments? Do you work in bursts or do you prefer to do a little bit at a time? Do some things require bigger blocks of time to do? Can some other things be done in smaller chunks of time? Answering these questions will help you make the most of the time you have as well as plan to make the time you need.

Fourth, note how you do it and don’t do it.

It’s likely that you have a choice to do the same thing in many different ways. You may be used to doing things in certain ways, without realizing it. Maybe you’ve made a few assumptions based on what other people do. Are those assumptions helping you? Maybe you’ve developed habits. Which good habits help you get consistent results efficiently? Which bad habits prevent you from getting the results you want? Are you taking shortcuts? Sometimes what works in one situation doesn’t work in another. Do your habits serve or hinder you when things change? Take stock of your habits and you’ll find areas for improvement but don’t forget to give yourself credit for everything you do that works well along the way. You’ve worked long and hard, you deserve it. Keep going.

Fifth, ask why you do what you do.

Behind every action, there’s a goal. You eat, drink, breathe, sleep to stay alive. You photograph to … ? Your most basic motivations may be fairly simple. Some of your other motivations may be much more complex – and it’s likely you do many things for unconsciously for reasons that your conscious mind has a lot to learn about. Realizing this can often be the key to finding out what is most authentic about and fulfilling in your creative life. If you really want to get to the core motivations behind the things you do it can be helpful to ask “Why?” five times in a row. Ask the first question. Then ask “Why?” Respond to that answer with “Why?” and repeat this a few more times. Often our deepest motivations don’t reveal themselves until the third, fourth, or fifth time you ask “Why?” If you find asking “Why?” is getting in the way of your observations while you’re practicing your process, ask it when you’ve finished and while you’re reviewing your notes.

Watch your process. It seems simple. It is. But like meditation, it’s not easy. We quickly fall back into our habits, which is exactly what we’re trying to notice more carefully – and potentially change (whether a little or a lot or sometimes or always).

There are many more benefits to taking notes about your process. Because I write …

I constantly generate new ideas.
I’m rarely blocked.
I’m more productive.
I’ve streamlined my systems.
My technique is better.
I recognize the ideas and practices I’ve inherited from others.
I’m aware of what’s influencing me, when, for how long, and why.
I’m clearer about what works and what doesn’t, for me.
I’m aware of my self-talk.
I’ve identified my goals.
I understand more about the personal reasons behind the things I do and the ways I do them.
My work has more purpose.
I enjoy my process more.

I find I write the same things down time and time again. This has lead me to create a master process list, which I can add to or subtract. (I keep it in the Notes app on my iPhone. I make a lot of notes there about a lot of different things.) Because I’m so curious I rarely get bored. I find there are always new things to observe. Are there new things because I noticed more? Why? Are there new things because I’m in a new environment? Why? Are there new things because I decided to try something new? Why? Are there new things because I’m more emotionally receptive? Why? These are important questions that can unlock new ways of looking, thinking, and working, now and in the future. Keep asking them. Ask a lot of questions!

Watching your process is really a matter of becoming aware of your choices (what you choose to do and not to do) and what you may have missed. With greater awareness, you can choose to do the same things or make other choices. With more choices available to you, you can make better choices. Better according to who? You! Be mindful of your creative process. Make this a habit and you’ll transform your life.

I could write a book about the many benefits watching your process brings. But don’t take my word for it. Try it!

Read my Mindfulness resources here.
Read more in my Writing Resources.
Learn more in my Creativity Workshops.

Let Why You Draw Determine How You Draw

If I’m trying to make a drawing that looks good or one that is good to look at then the hour I spent making this is well spent but if drawing requires that much time I won’t draw often.

If I’m drawing to record ideas, this is a much more efficient way to draw and so I’ll draw more.

“Make things as simple as possible – but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein

 

In their wonderful book Art & Fear Ted Orland and David Bayles share a story.

A daughter asks her father, “What did you do today?”

“I taught my students how to draw,’ he responded matter of factly.

She gasped in amazement, “When did they forget?”

I find that when I ask people if they can draw the number of affirmative responses is directly related to age. The younger you are the more you know you can draw. So what happens when we grow up? We are taught a terribly limiting understanding of the many things drawings can be and do.

With a unidimensional vision of what drawing is, we are trapped by someone else’s limited vision of perfection that is further complicated by comparison to others.

We can all draw. Note that I didn’t say we can or should all draw like Michaelangelo. It takes more time to develop the skills necessary to draw in some ways than others. And you probably draw a little differently than your friends who also think they can’t draw. But if you can read this (possibly even if you can’t), then chances are you already know more than one way to draw.

Drawing is many different things to many different people – and it can do many things for you. For Thomas Edison drawing was a way to visualize what didn’t exist – yet. He handed his team a very simple sketch to help them invent the phonograph. (As a draftsman he was no Leonardo but his limited drawing skills helped him be an even better inventor.) Words weren’t enough and he needed a way to visualize what they had never seen before but soon would in part because he helped his team visualize it with a drawing.

So once we understand that even doodles are just one of many kinds of drawings, we might start to reframe what makes a drawing good based on the purpose we intend it to serve. If all you’re looking for is a way to find and capture ideas, then the time it takes to render them realistically is wasted. (And who wants to waste time?) Moreover, for some purposes, the extra detail added may be distracting or, worse, confusing. (If I ask you where the bathroom is, and you start spouting extended passages of flowery verse, one or both of us might get wet.)

The kind of drawing I want to encourage you to practice as part of your creative toolkit is not about making good-looking drawings; it’s about making useful drawings. Drawing can be useful in many, many ways.

 

1. Imagine The Possibilities

2. Capture The Idea In What’s Picture Imperfect

3. Identify Possible Variations

4. Structure Stories With Storyboards

 

Read 4 Reasons Photographers Should Draw More Often.

Learn more in my photography and creativity workshops.

Use Screenshots For Complex Notes In Photoshop

Adopt a non-destructive workflow. When you can’t, take notes.

Non-destructive Photoshop workflows do more than let you change edits to a file in perpetuity, they also create a record of what you’ve done to an image. For instance, when you reopen a Smart Object, you can simply check the interface to see any and all of the Adobe Camera Raw settings currently being applied. So, if you’re not sure whether the latest detail rendering and noise reduction algorithms are being used for a given file, all you have to do is open the Smart Object to verify this. Or, when you click on an adjustment layer you can see those settings in the Adjustments panel. So, if you’re not sure whether an adjustment layer caused clipping, you can toggle it on and off to verify this; if it is you reset the values; if it’s not you find the real source for the clipping.

Despite Photoshop’s increasingly flexible interface, there are still many times when you need to work destructively. Not all edits can be applied as Smart Objects, Smart Filters, or adjustment layers. Many filters still can’t be applied as Smart Filters. HDR merge settings can’t be applied non-destructively. Adjustments from third-party plug-ins, such as noise reduction with Noiseware or Tonal Contrast from NIK’s Viveza can’t be applied non-destructively. But you can create records of the settings you use with destructive edits, making it easier to see what you did later and helping make future refinements faster and more precisely.

How? Take notes in Photoshop. There are many ways to take notes in Photoshop. There’s the Note tool. You can use a Text layer. You can record information in the title of a layer. For complex settings, all of these can be more abstract and time-consuming than necessary, reducing the likelihood that you’ll actually make them.
There is an easy way to make notes of complex interfaces. Use screenshots. A screenshot takes a picture of your screen, either entirely or partially. Store images of the destructive edit settings inside the file you used them on and you’ll have excellent notes for future reference. Doing this only takes a few seconds. Read More

Take Note of Your Process

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It only takes something to write with to learn a lot about photography and yourself in a little time. It doesn’t matter whether you use pen and paper or PDA. It doesn’t matter whether you finish sentences, spell correctly, or write legibly. Just write. Don’t just talk, using audio recordings, unless you transcribe them later. You need to see relationships – in writing.
One of the assignments I often give my workshop participants on location is to note your process. “First I do this. Then I do this. Next I … etc.” Most don’t follow through. They quickly fall into old habits and return to photographing the way they usually do, without finishing the assignment, without learning. So, to finish the assignment, they have to fill in their lists after they photograph. Then they don’t piece things together in the same way. They miss some things. They forget other things. One of the benefits of noting your process is that things that you ordinarily take for granted or weren’t aware of suddenly become clearer to you.
I do the assignment with my students. (Yes, I do the exercises I assign too.) They’re always amazed at how full my pages of notes are and how many pages I create in a short time. This comes with practice. And it comes with sharing your notes with other people. When you hear each other’s lists, you’ll find other people notice things you don’t. Both the similarities and differences you share with others can be revealing.
I find I write the same things down time and time again. This has lead me to create a master process list, which I copy and modify (add to or subtract from) on location. There are always new things. Are there new things because I noticed more? Why? Are there new things because I’m in a new environment? Why? Are there new things because I decided to try something new? Why? These are important questions that can unlock a new ways of looking, thinking, and working, now and in the future. Keep asking them.
Because I write … I’m clearer about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve streamlined my systems. I have a better understanding of how and why I work. I have dozens of new ideas to try. This is a great thing to do when you first start making photographs after a break or in a new place.
There are many more benefits to noting your process. With practice you won’t need to take as many notes as you do when you first try this, you’ll simply keep a running dialog in your head and note only the most important things or the things that are different. Do make notes. Writing reveals. Writing brings more choices. Writing leads to clear thinking. Writing leads to clear seeing.
Find more online resources in my Creativity Lessons.
Learn more creative techniques in my Illuminating Creativity workshops.

Time the Light

ArabesqueVII_2003_5
During my White Sands, New Mexico workshop, we’ll be photographing in the same area for the next four days. On our first sunrise shoot, I timed the light and how it affected subjects.
5:45    Color on horizon
6:00    Color in sky
6:15    Color bright on horizon
6:30    Highlights on dunes
6:45    Strong texture    Large areas of shadow
7:00    Less            Less
7:30    Less            Less
8:00    Less            Less
8:30    Dark sides of dune affected by substantial fill light
12:00  No shadow
3:30    Long shadows
4:00    Substantial shadow
4:30    Fifty percent shadow
4:40    Highlights are accents only
4:50    Sun below horizon, definition falls, pink mountains to east
5:00    Color in sky blooms
5:30    Color in sky largely gone
5:45    Dim light in sky
Now I know what the light will do and when. I’ll use this information everyday for the next three days. So will everyone else. Making notes on site can really pay off. And this is just one kind of note you can make.
Find free Creativity ebooks here.
Find out about my 2010 White Sands Workshop here.