Do This, and Transform Your Day

(co-authored by Samantha Shaibani, sketchnoter extraordinare)

You might spend your days in meetings, in class, on a desk, at a table, in front of a laptop, on a plane, train, bus, car, uber, or carriage (hey, I don’t know how old school you might be. This is a judgement-free zone.) Regardless, here at General Assembly, we learned a new practice that transformed our experience within the UX bootcamp we are in, and furthermore- rather unexpectedly- our lives. So you should, too! Add this one new practice to your day and watch your entire day transform:

Sketch.

That’s right, regress back to age 5 when you drew everything you saw, no matter how horribly. You’d be surprised how good it is for you, for your ideas, and for your life. Here’s why:

Sketching is serious brain exercise.

The left sides of our brains are strategic, scientific, and methodical. They recognize and appreciate process, logic, and practicality. The right sides of our brains are creative and free: they are imaginative, exploratory, and visual. Sketching is the marriage of these two sides. It works your brain by forcing you to draw what you are thinking: to make sense of the thoughts in your brain, no matter how logical they might be, through a visual means. It has also been shown to improve your reasoning skills, writing, and reading, because by artistically visualizing otherwise difficult concepts, you not only increase your investment into an idea, but also because the faculties from your brain that appreciate art are also the same faculties that are used to further your future learning experiences.

Sketching is easy.

What do you need to begin this journey? A paper and a pen. That’s it. A dollar worth of materials to begin to physically manifest the thoughts in your brains, giving them permanence in a way keeping them in your head can never do. It’s also a super easy way to communicate ideas to not only others, but even to yourself. Sometimes you don’t even realize the scope of your idea until you put it on paper. And really, anyone can do it- actually, you don’t even need a paper and pen. Just draw on the wall of a cave or something! For cavemen, sketching validated their very existence- the cave paintings, otherwise known as parietal art, date 40,000 years old and teach us so much about what aspects of their lives were so important that they deemed it worthy of preservation. And for us, it’s not just the preservation or permanence that makes it so lucrative, but also the idea that unlike the cavemen….

No one has to see your sketches.

Your sketches are just that- yours. So don’t sketch for anyone else if you don’t want to! Take a tiny notebook with you everywhere you go and write out things people say that you like. Or don’t like. Draw the flower you pass by everyday on your way to work. Jot down that quote you always meant to write down somewhere- you’ll never lose it again. Doodle your notes for your meetings and classes- it actually helps increase your concentration. Illustrate your day- it’ll help you make sense of it. Do all of this in your little notebook, and then close it and put it away for only you to pull out whenever you want. And look, I’m horrible at sketching. The people I draw look more like traumatized seahorses, and the trees look more like water bottles than plant life. But I quickly realized that it doesn’t matter much- who cares if my drawings aren’t perfect, if my lines aren’t straight, and if my handwriting is messy? Only I’m seeing it!

It makes room in your brain for other stuff.

External memory is real- and it’s not just for computers. Your brain can get cluttered, more cluttered than you might even realize, and putting pen to paper externalizes your ideas. This improves your ability to solve problems and reason logically. According to an article by Laura Busche:

“Cognitive psychologists have been studying the impact of sketching on brain functioning for years, and with good reason: Putting ideas to paper is a powerful way to extend one’s memory. Back in 1972, Allen Newell and Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon studied long-term memory, short-term memory and — here’s where it gets interesting — “external” memory. They argued that representations such as diagrams and sketches serve our external memory and reduce the burden that we experience when recalling ideas and problem-solving.”

Now that’s something. Here’s another thing- and let’s be honest here: your first idea pretty much always sucks. Drawing it out allows you to take your ideas and improve them easily. Your brain can’t tweak iterations and make small adjustments the way a paper and pen can, because by drawing your thoughts and ideas out, your brain can focus instead on processing them faster. Paper, unlike your brain, does not get cluttered in a way that prevents your ability to function. Paper, unlike your brain, does not forget. Paper also adds a permanence to existing ideas in a way that mental retention just cannot promise.

Do you really need more convincing?
What are you waiting for? Pull out a pen and paper and draw like no one’s watching.

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