highlighter is a power tool blog post - catalyst academy

I mean it.

I mean it in a literal & metaphorical way both. It is a somewhat mystical & quite practical guide to using highlighters as power tools.

Highlighters train us to see & then pull forward into focus the keys or important or ‘juicy bits’ of whatever we are reading. This is useful for so many reasons both personal & professional. That is why I go so far as to call some silly little office product a Power tool & really mean it. 

Ok let’s start quite literal here.
If you are a reader of physical books (that you have bought not borrowed from the library) then I highly suggest you have a pencil or pen & a highlighter handy while reading.
The way I do it is I underline any section that stands out to me as interesting or worth revisiting & put a symbol or note next to it (you should develop your own system for this) & then I highlight the ones that feel like the gems– the ones that I may even want to pull as a quote from the book or if I could only share 10 nuggets from the book- highlight the contenders.

What is great about this is that when you revisit the book even many years later- you can efficiently graze through it and still glean the best bits.
Same goes for if a friend borrows it.
Or if you want to write an article and pull content from your books on the subject. They are all served to you on a nice highlighted platter.

Important Tech Note-
If you are not in my old fashioned reads physical books club & everything you read is digital…  there is a great Web Site & chrome extension called Read Wise (readwise.io) that aggregates your highlighted sections of e-books you read & gives you a daily or weekly review of your highlighted material- with the express intent of having you engage deeper with the good content of your readings. It ensures that the parts you found special come back around for you to revisit & contemplate afresh.


If you write in word docs or google docs then try my ‘highlight as I go’ technique where whenever you write something that feels more significant or potent- you immediately just bold it. The bolding is the fast & easy way of making that section stand out to you when you graze over it.

If you write in a Journal frequently- here are a couple of ways to bring the highlight philosophy to bear on it.

1.) NUTSHELL IT– Create a little section at the end of any journal entry that is a Summary & there you attempt to nutshell the gist of what you wrote about in the long entry.
This is a nice gift to your future self who is grazing over the journal & doesn’t want to get pulled into all the content but wants to get the nuggets. It also lends itself to the next technique which I do every few years & call the 2.) JOURNAL HARVEST.
You can go through with a literal highlighter & pull out the best bits & pull them into your computer or into a sort of meta-journal.
The last tip is a simple technique I developed to get over the pressure of blank pages in my ‘nicer’ journals (that I don’t feel in cheap lined notebooks) & also to practice this highlight philosophy.
3.) LEFT ROUGH, RIGHT POLISHED- The Left page you write freeform & messy & make sure not to filter or edit yourself. It is sort of the messy rough draft side where you are just getting whatever is in your mind & heart out onto the page. It has no pressure to be pretty or clever or anything. It is just getting it out.
Then you re-read what you wrote & challenge yourself to squeeze the juice out of it & present it on the right side of the page in an improved format. This could just mean clearer writing or more polished, but it could also mean that you turn it into infographics or a comic or you make it a mind map or any other form that does justice to whatever is there. If there is really not much there then do the Nutshell section at the bottom instead of filling the whole 2nd page.


This technique which hopefully you will be applying to your reading & writing is also highly relevant as a lens through which to look at life.
People talk about wearing ‘rose colored glasses’ & seeing everything as rosey. I am talking about wearing bright colored glasses & looking for what is bright amidst what is dull. What is important or key or helpful or inspiring amidst all that is distracting, depressing, & essentially useless to our growth.

When your talking with someone you get curious and ask questions that help pull the bright ideas out of them.
When your at a workshop or convention your always listening for & writing notes of what is bright & useful.
When you talk about what you got from a book or conference or holiday- you focus on the highlights.
You get really good at seeing and articulating the highlights of something because you are constantly on the lookout for the highlights.

Conversations (recap)
with your DAY (lessons or takeaways)
with your Month
with your Idea
with your Journal Entry
with your projections onto strangers when people watching. Decide to look  for something you like or appreciate about that stranger. In the looking for & finding & contemplating that something positive you are ‘highlighting’ it. If you do this with colleagues & friends then you can be brave enough to actually verbalize that thing you have highlighted with your mind. It may bring you a little closer to them or at least brighten their day a little.

This could even become a little ritual with you & your partner or roommate or child. You can share a lowlight & a highlight of your day. Or something you learned & something you appreciated.

MAKE THE IMPORTANT STUFF HIGHLY VISIBLE– so as to keep it top of mind & thus likely to grow faster.

I like to turn one of the Doors in my space into a Highlight reel of what I am up to & focusing on.
Here I have my positive habit tracking sheet & my Goals & my What I am Creating sheet. I may also have some Keywords or Affirmations or Word Art. So you ‘highlight’ or hold up or bring to the front of your eyes/attention on the regular the ‘What is really Important. What messages uplift you. What ideas light you up? Make sure you see these on a regular basis.

Because what you focus on grows.

Look for the Good. Look for what is working, what is inspiring, & what you like in every person & every situation.
1st step is to do so with your mind, the 2nd step is with your words & the 3rd is to actually use your actions to initiate & encourage that positive element. It grows in the sunlight of attention.

Don’t leave yourself out of this casting of sunlight. Look for what you like & appreciate about yourself and also your circumstances. Focus on the things that make you feel blessed and grateful. They will expand!
The same way we grow gardens by planting seeds of what we want- weeding out what we don’t, & feeding the seeds on a regular basis– we grow ourselves in almost the exact same process.

Now it has to be said that I am not saying throw a pretty bow on top of a $hitshow & call it all good.
I am not saying that in our eagerness to see positivity everywhere that we should ignore the underbelly of a situation & the warning signs that looking at them straight on reveals.
It is all about balance & choosing a generous perspective– not ignoring or glazing over anything that is unpleasant. Every person & every situation has at least 2 sides. It is good to see both sides but it is usually better everyone involved if we let ourselves dwell more on the positive & focus on the what is working or what would work better– not on complaining about what is not.

Having the ability to bring your attention away from what is distracting & even destructive to whats uplifting & constructive is one of the best life skills you can develop. 



When you go down a rabbithole online– make sure you collect a highlight of what you’ve learned.
When you have a Big Experience- make sure you take the time to reflect on it & try to pull out what actually happened or what lessons you got from it. If you integrate it then you can carry it with you.
Turn your journal into a Content producer by balancing process with progress.
By unearthing your ideas & polishing them till they shine. Then sharing what shines.
If you dug it out of the soil of your own life & psyche & experience- then it is yours to share.

If you research something you grab all the worthwhile bits from all the sites you visit & pull them all into one doc (I suggest evernote or google doc)
Integration is Key– At the end of any educational course you take- you sit down & summarize what you got from it.
After a podcast write 2 takeaways.
After you read an article text one fave quote to a friend or add some nuggets from it to your Inspiration files.

Use the Highlighter in it’s literal & mental ways as a power tool- as a magic wand to ensure that your awareness dwells less on the dross & more on the Gold! 

Cheers to your Success!

Audette Sophia