March 22, 2005

Using a blog as a particular type of mental bucket

You can use a blog as a bucket for thoughts and experiences that are not yet fully dealt with or considered. This is an important technique. You can empty them from your mind, whilst being assured that they won't disappear entirely. Later, you can return to them and try to process them. Processing means:

  • discarding them as useless;
  • connecting them up with other thoughts;
  • planning further actions to be taken on the thoughts;
  • building them into a wider argument or project;
  • expanding them further to be revisited at a later date;
  • just putting them into incubation.

You can do this with an old-fashioned paper notebook, but a blog has some key advantages:

  1. it can be shared, groups of people can do the work of sorting through and processing the thoughts, leaving helpful comments or writing linked entries – blogs are shareable thinking, but best suited to that early indiscriminate stage of thinking about something;
  2. it has a nice format that forces you to write neatly;
  3. you can link your thoughts to web pages outside of the blog (link them to news items, other people's blogs, module web pages, learning objects – hopefully one day calendar items, words in glossaries, concept maps);
  4. you can link your entries through time;
  5. you can categorise your entries (keywords and links to glossaries would extend this further);
  6. you can easily include images and diagrams – take photos of whiteboard drawings and upload them;
  7. you can edit your entries and comments, deleting the junk;
  8. you can easily reuse text from a blog in another document without having to type it back in – I just wrote the first paragraph of my thesis in my blog!).

The downside of using a blog for this is that it doesn't quite feel as safe and personal as a paper notebook. But Warwick Blogs has features that help you to feel that sense of ownership.

So how do you use a blog in this way? The key is to just get stuff down into it, without having to think too much right away. The virtue of blogging, and of Warwick Blogs in particular, is its speed. Worry about processing the stuff later, when you need to (to help with a decision, writing a more formal text, or a presentation). For now, just get it off your mind. Some advice:

  • don't treat it as a container for finished products (there are other places for them);
  • don't record trivial stuff that should only be a single phrase in a simple list of stuff (a simple list bucket);
  • don't use it for recording well-formed project tasks or actions that need doing, use a proper project log, plan or some other project task bucket for that;
  • don't assume that you have to identify exactly what each entry is for or what it is about (don't worry to much about categorisation);
  • don't think that you have to be right all the time, or sound like you know what you are talking about (if you are worried about looking stupid through your blog, limit access to your entries);
  • record real-world events, even when they refer to many distinct concepts, people, or projects;
  • use well identified keywords (put them in bold) to identify the references to distinct concepts, people and projects when mixed together in a single entry (better keyword idenitfication system please!);
  • if you can't record your notes directly into your blog (more wifi please) then have a system for getting them down or on a pda, then adding them to your blog;
  • if you really do have to write a rant, try to be honest about the events that caused it, otherwise that particular piece of history will be irretrievably lost;
  • be a little disciplined about processing (or at least re-reading) the stuff you put in your blog.

And finally:

  • just blog it.

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