Why Create a Commonplace Book?


An idea entrepreneur usually wants to write a book. That makes a lot of sense. As John Butman explains, a book allows you to express ideas “in the fullest, most powerful, and most compelling form you can create.”

But as anyone who’s tried to write a book will tell you, it ain’t easy. After working with many idea entrepreneurs over the years, I’ve seen that they face three major obstacles:

  • Not having enough content for a book
  • Not having organized content
  • Not having quality content

In addition, my clients struggle with information fragmentation, indicated by questions such as:

  • I get a lot of good ideas. But they pop into my head at the most inconvenient times—while I’m walking, running, or standing in the shower. How can I capture ideas on the run so I don’t lose them?
  • I’ve collected so many ideas. How do I choose the ones that are worth developing?
  • My ideas are spread out all over the place—in blog posts, articles, rough drafts, white papers, journal entries, sticky notes, napkins, and scraps of paper. How do I organize this mess?
  • There are so many tools for taking notes, keeping a journal, and writing. Should I use legal pads? A leather-bound journal? Index cards? Evernote? Notes on my iPhone? Microsoft OneNote? A plain text editor? All of them? Something else?
  • I want to create a big library of material that I can use to develop audio and video content as well as books and presentations. How can I do that?
  • I’m on information overload. How do I filter out the relevant ideas and let go of all the noise?
  • I have many good ideas, but I forget to act on them. How can I keep learning and start using what I learn?

The solution is to set up a system for collecting information, organizing it, and refining it. And the key is to use this system on a continuous basis, so that capturing information and transforming it into quality content becomes a way of life.

There is a name for such a system—keeping a commonplace book.

Traditionally, people created commonplace books to collect inspiring quotations from their favorite books.

Today, we can expand this notion of a commonplace book to include capturing valuable information from any source, structuring it with useful frameworks, and crap-detecting it so that you have content worth sharing.

More specifically, keeping a commonplace book allows you to:

  • Collect the best ideas that come from your reading, conversation, and thinking about all the topics that interest you.
  • Create a single place to keep information that’s scattered across blog posts, articles, rough drafts, white papers, journal entries, sticky notes, scraps of paper, and napkins.
  • Organize information so that you can easily retrieve and review it.
  • Extend your memory by creating a personal reference system and never losing an important fact, quotation, anecdote, or insight.
  • Implement ideas by translating them into projects and next actions.
  • Move from research to writing with a smooth transition.
  • Become an “idea machine” by sharing your content in a stream of publications and presentations—all from one set of notes.
  • Create services based on your ideas such as speaking, consulting, and training.
  • Let go of overload by filtering out irrelevant information and keeping the content that truly matters to you.
  • Increase your knowledge and skills through lifelong learning.
  • Have fun through the sheer joy of playing with ideas on a daily basis, sharing them with people, making a living, and making a difference in the world.

In short, a commonplace book is a tool par excellence for producing more and selling more as an idea entrepreneur. This tool is also essential essential for anyone who wants think better, write better, and manage the flow of information in their personal and professional lives.

If all this sounds worthwhile, then check out these three simple ways to set up a commonplace book and start experiencing the benefits.


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