How to organise your learning notes, ideas and reflections for maximum insights

Having a good organizing and reviewing system for your notes is key to getting the most learning out of your writing efforts.

For years I took many notes but my insights and ideas were scattered in different journals, not allowing me to gain a deeper understanding of what I learned nor to develop my ideas further. That was until I got clarity around what type of notes I was taking and how to best organize them into different journals, each with a specific purpose.

In this post I aim to explain the type of journals I use and how they work together to maximize learning and idea development.

The first type of journal is what I call a “Consumption Journal”. The main focus of a consumption journal is to capture information consumed from external events or things. For example, notes from lectures, trainings or books all belong in a consumption journal. All notes in a consumption journal are aiming to document what was said in order to help understanding and retention. It’s not the intention to edit these notes afterwards but only to review. Therefor it’s important they are tagged and categorized so they become a convenient collection of reference material to refer to when needed.

The second type of journal is the “Creation Journal”. A creation journal is a journal intended to document your own ideas and reflections. A selfreflection diary, learning journals for different topics, and idea gardens are all examples of creation journals. By writing in a creation journal the main objective is to gain additional insights, to see the big picture and to develop ideas. These notes are ideally reread and updated with new insights regularly.

Having different notebooks for information consumption and idea creation makes it easy to focus in the mindset of the moment. For example, when I learn something new at a conference I take notes in my conference journal (a consumption journal) and note down what is said so I can continue to pay attention to the speaker and don’t get lost in my own thoughts. But when I review these notes afterwards and understand how I could apply something that was said to a problem I’m working on, I would elaborate on that idea by updating my learning journal for that topic or my idea garden (a creation journal). Now I can give my full attention to the development of the idea and how it relates to other notes in that learning journal.

Next to the consumption and creation journal there is also a third type of journal; the “Inspiration Journal”. The inspiration journal is a journal to document things that inspire you and is ideally pretty and fun to look at often. A quote journal, a gratitude journal, a “picture a day” journal are all examples of inspiration journals.

Being clear on these three types of journals and how and when to use them has helped me in optimizing the number of journals I was using and, most importantly, in improving how my notes support my learning.

Looking forward to read about what you think about these types and which journals you use to maximize your learning in the comments below.

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