Keeping a Commonplace Book (Why/How, with Ideas & Examples)
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Why (And How) You Should Be Keeping a Commonplace Book

Could you imagine a world without books? You might not have to, if the internet information revolution keeps pace. But think back… In the 16th century, knowledge was handed down from elders and apprenticeships. An invention called the printing press appears, and suddenly, the world’s knowledge could be sitting in your house. (Remember the first time that you started reading an encyclopedia?)

what is a commonplace book

Here’s the rub:  The “problem” that plagued the 17th century is the same problem that plagues our current century:  information overload. There’s just so much information coming at us, much of it useful and much of it not.

There is a lot of advice out there about how to sift through the information deluge — my advice on a tangent topic is right here. The problem I’d like to talk about today is how do we integrate — e.g. retain — the knowledge we glean from powerful blog posts, impactful books, and thoughtful conversations with friends and family?

The answer is keeping a commonplace book.

keeping a commonplace book

What is a Commonplace Book?

The Commonplace Book was a 17th century creation to deal with information overwhelm. Well-read folks had decided that they wanted to carry with them the lessons that were most impactful to them by writing them down — and back then, it was thought that writing things by hand helped ingrain those teachings more deeply; the scientific proof of that hypothesis came later.

There is no rulebook or instructional tutorial for keeping a commonplace book. The idea, though, is to have a journal where you write down life lessons that you experience, as they happen (perhaps as a daily reflection in the evening).

I read a lot, so how I use a commonplace book is I write down quotes from the books that I want to really continue to reflect on and be reminded of. I also jot down other learnings and lessons. For example, I might work in the garden one day and then jot down some lessons that I learned from being out in the garden that I can bring back to the challenges in work and life.

commonplace book examples and ideas

Commonplace Book Examples & Commonplace Book Ideas

Whenever I talk about this concept, people ask me for commonplace book examples or commonplace book ideas. But everyone’s book is different!

Maybe you like a small journal with tiny entries, small sentences, small nuggets of joy and guidance you can re-read over and over.

Maybe you’re feeling super inspired and pull out those colored pencils and crayons for your book. Heck, watercolor!

Perhaps you have multiple books — one with quotes, one with more freehand exercises and stories (we have plenty of journaling prompts to support you).

The only thing that I ask is that you write and that you write consistently. There is no requirement on time limit; in fact, I suggest setting a timer for 5-7 minutes for a sit-down session, or just train yourself to remember when you spot something good in a book, or hear something wise, stop and write it down (otherwise you forget!).

Make it a daily ritual; pour yourself a cup of tea, and spend a few minutes filling your commonplace book with the knowledge and wisdom you hope to fully embody. That’s a powerful ritual to add to your day.

Why (And How) You Should Be Keeping a Commonplace Book

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