Having changed jobs recently I was faced with a pile of old notebooks. Pages of written text with no visual clues regarding the content, often lacking headings and dates. I’m sure this reveals something about my unsystematic approach to dealing with notes but I’m hoping this may resonate with others because if you are studying or conducting research you will take notes, lots of notes.

The question I have been exploring is, is there a better way of making notes more accessible? Over the last few years there has been a growth in the utilisation of visual note takers to summarise and communicate key messages from workshops and meetings. If you haven’t come across them have a look at the website of Morethanminutes.

I have watched Claire and her colleagues at work in awe not only of their artistic talent but also of their ability to listen, distil and draw at the same time. Something which has felt unobtainable to me as my inner critic tells me constantly that I cannot draw.

Over the last month I have started to follow Tanmay Vora’s blog which is focused on ‘Leadership, Learning and Raising the Bar in a Constantly Changing World’. If you are seeking to develop your leadership skills this blog is well worth exploring. Recent posts include Leadership: start with trust exploring how leaders need to connect with people before they can lead, When does real learning happen which explores exactly that and Leaders need 3 kinds of focus which identifies 3 foci for leaders, the needs of the context, their own needs and the needs of others.

What you will see if you explore these posts is that the written content is fairly short but the visual note at the end of each post summarises and communicates concepts and ideas very effectively. There is something compelling in the way the visual notes invite you to think in a different way.

Looking at Tanmay’s visual notes, and reading about his journey into visual note taking, made me think more about this approach and how my pages of notes would have been more accessible and probably more focused if I had included visuals.

Feeling a little more confident I have been exploring ‘The Sketchnote Handbook. The illustrated guide to visual note taking” by Mike Rohde, one of several introductory texts on visual note taking. Whilst contributors include professional skektchnote takers, the basic premise is that if you can draw a circle, square, triangle, line and dot you can draw sketchnotes. The book provides an insight into the theory behind sketchnotes, the processes involved in taking sketchnotes and practical exercises to help you develop your skills.

The focus of the book is on sketchnote taking in presentations but as you can see in Tanmay’s blog the technique can also be used to summarise texts and convey your thought processes. I also think it would be helpful in analysing qualitative data.

As part of my coaching practice I keep a reflective diary and have started to experiment with including sketchnotes. It certainly makes my notes more accessible and quicker to reference and it has made me think more about the key points I want to highlight. Before supervision it is now easy to pick out the focus for discussion and, when preparing for new coaching sessions, I can connect with things far more quickly. How am I getting on? Well I am not about to launch my sketchnotes on the world but they are definitely improving.

Maybe sketches and leadership appear as strange bed fellows but this is how different things connect when you go exploring.