Challenge Accepted: Will Keeping a Commonplace Book Transform My Life?

Keeping a commonplace book seems to be another version of bullet journalling.
Photo by Joao Silas.

Have you ever heard of a commonplace book? If so, you're probably a person who knows a lot about history and I envy you. I just learned about them, and it looks to me like they are the 1800's version of a bullet journal, except not. Maybe keeping one will save you. I'm going to try keeping one and let you know if it becomes a thing that saves me.

Here's how one might describe a commonplace book: the "thinker's journal"; a collection of musings, quotes, and notes from interesting events; a reference guide to things that have inspired you; recollections on the human condition; a collection of wisdom to muse over later.

In its most basic form, a commonplace book is an index to wisdom, musings, quotes, and thoughts that have inspired you.

A copy of a 17th century commonplace book.
A 17th Century commonplace book containing poems and recipes. CC.

Given that, as far as I understand it, back in the day these were used in concert with a version of journalling where people would use brief notations to record things like the weather, major events of the day, and maybe even what they ate.

This combo is basically a bullet journal, is it not? Given how people like to use them to chart their habits, behaviour, and moods as well as record inspirations and other fancy thoughts? It's a nice, structured way to reflect on life that (theoretically) doesn't take too much time.

The problem with bullet journals is that they have become very artistic and intimidating. People create works of art in their bullet journals, and while that is neat, it is also overwhelming for some of us. While it's true that the original bullet journal is nothing like that, it still feels like your bullet journal has to be all fancypants to count these days.

Right now, I have a notebook where I write everything down and it basically serves the function of a commonplace book and bullet journal and... whatever else. I jot down staff meeting notes, to do lists, notes from lectures, and whatever else I need to write down. For a while, I was doing more straightforward journalling in it as well, but that just takes too much time and I never stick with it.

So what will change?

Through the magical powers of intentionality, I will (hopefully) do two things with my commonplace book:

1) Transform my catch-all notebook into something that can be more of an effective resource - where various quotes, musings, and ideas can be more easily referenced and used on top of my to do lists and other random life notes.

2) Create more space for creative and deep thinking that doesn't take up a ton of time or rudely interfere with life.

I will keep you posted on how I decide to format the thing, and how it progresses!

Commonplace book resources: Critical Margins, Psychology Today, Thought Catalogue.


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