A Stress-free Way to Journal: Scatter Mapping

Colouring a mandala is a way to help me think and journal, even if I do very little colouring!

Colouring a mandala is a way to help me think and journal, even if I do very little colouring!

Last month I wrote about my favourite coloured pens, the Staples' brand mini-gel pens. One of my favourite ways to use them is for journalling and in the last couple of months I've been experimenting more with a combined colouring AND journalling practice. Colouring can be a relaxing, low-stress way to prepare the mind for journalling–shifting into the world of colour and shapes, the mind can slow down. For me, this practice is more about the journalling than the colouring, so I often actually end up colouring very little, leaving much white space. It's more about moving myself into a settled state for journalling and using both halves of my brain. To nurture this state, I usually move back and forth from colouring to journalling on the same page, with the journalling part sometimes taking the form of a "scatter map." This is one of the very simplest and most stress-free methods of journalling I've found.

What is Scatter Mapping?

This little-known but powerful technique was created by the very gifted European time-management guru Mark Forster, who has shared many fantastically unique ideas through his books and web site, (and who is particularly accomplished in addressing the emotional side of time management.) He first introduced the concept of the scatter map in his book, Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play with a focus in that book on using the scatter map to prepare one's mind for the day's work. But I've used it for lots of other purposes over the years and adapted the idea to my own preferences which he encourages ("...you can of course develop your own individual methods.")

Forster refers to the Scatter Map as a "thinking technique" which is a "freer and easier technique" than mind mapping:

A scatter map is called that because what you do is scatter your thoughts over a piece of paper and map together any connections that come up. Unlike a mind map, which uses key words, you use complete sentences. This is because a sentence is an important mechanism for integrating your thoughts. (from Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, 2000.)

The basic idea is to scatter thoughts at random across the page and then do any linking, commenting or emphasizing that seem necessary. There are basically no rules–which is what I like when I'm thinking. (from Mark Forster's blog, March 2016.)  

A great tool to integrate the head with the heart

As Forster says, there are basically no rules, which is what I like about it, too! In my own practice, I've always done mine in colour, and often also include key words and lists as well as sentences. I like being able to be completely random and make links or connections as I go. I like emphasizing things with giant exclamation marks or giant words and I like to be able to add shapes or doodles or thumbnail drawings.

It is a wonderful way to express both thoughts and feelings in an organic way, helping to clear one's head, and I often think of it as a way to help myself regroup or help make a transition easier. As Forster spotlights in his book in relation to getting everything done: by scatter mapping, you will find that you have 'broken up the ground and the work itself will be much easier. Certainly that has been my experience through the years of using this method, whether to ease into an individual work day, or adapting to something new in my life as a whole.

A real-life example

The scatter map on a colouring page I created for working on this article. I kept adding to it over a couple of days. 

The scatter map on a colouring page I created for working on this article. I kept adding to it over a couple of days. 

Forster notes that a finished scatter map will be fairly incomprehensible to others, which he says is how it should be, so I hesitated to post the scatter map I created to work on this article. It is more about the results of the process for the creator than the look of the finished page, but perhaps seeing it might be useful to you. I created my map over a couple of days as I progressed in my thinking and writing. I started out by doing just a little colouring while I focused my mind on the topic and added a few words or sentences when I thought of them. Then, as my focus and thinking got deeper I would take a few moments to colour when I needed a little 'idea gestation time', which was a way of giving my mind a little break, without really taking a break! You can see I really didn't do much colouring at all, but it was enough to facilitate my thinking process (and also gave me a little something related to do while waiting for my computer to reboot, without getting waylaid by a big distraction, like preparing a meal.) 

Download this free Scatter Map & Colouring Template Page.

Download this free Scatter Map & Colouring Template Page.

If you'd like to try it yourself ... 

Of course you can use any arbitrary colouring page and any blank sheet of paper in a combined colouring and journalling session, but I like to colour and journal on the same page (and use a design with smaller spaces which lends itself to my mini gel pens.)  Here's a sample Scatter Map & Colouring Template Page you can download if you'd like to try a colouring and scatter mapping session yourself. 

I would be very interested in hearing about your experience with scatter mapping if you'd like to send me an email, or post in the comments section, below, Whether you do scatter mapping combined with colouring, or even just by itself with a single pen or pencil on a scrap piece of paper or on the back of a napkin. I've found it to be an easy, enjoyable, and most satisfying way to journal. 


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