Johannes Thönes

Software-Developer, ThoughtWorker, Permanent Journeyman, Ruby Enthusiast, Java and Devils Advocate.

Personal Retrospectives Exercises: Open Thoughts Paper

The ‘open thought paper’ is simple a place, where you can write down your thoughts during a personal retrospective.


I use it, to capture thoughts that otherwise are in danger to be forgotten. This is especially helpful during focused exercises like the timeline ([1] and [2]), where there will be thoughts coming up, you cannot process into the current context.


During a personal retrospective, you think about a lot of things. So it can be hard to focus on the things which you want to focus on. The ‘open thoughts paper’ is a way, to dump ideas on a paper and out of your brain - to allow the brain to focus on the subject matter.


  • Before you start the retrospective, you place enough paper with a separate pen at the side of the table.

  • While you do other exercises, when there is a though you don’t want to process within the current exercise, write it down. Continue with the original exercise.

  • Examples for these thoughts are:

    • “Oh, I really need to book that train ticket.”
    • “Shouldn’t I have called my mum yesterday.”
    • “Hm, the connection between what happened at that party and my behaviour at work the next day is intersting. I need to spend more time thinking about it.”
  • At some point of the retro, you need to have the time to process these thoughts.


I use this in all my retrospective. It helps me, to not be afraid of flowing thoughts while still being focused on what I really want to reflect on. I usually catch up on the paper in a specific exercise at the end of my personal retrospective. For example, I can use the content for ‘an essay’, the ‘retrospective letter’ or the ‘retrospective questions key point lists’. Simple tasks will of course find their way in my todo list.

The ‘open thoughts paper’ is not really an exercises. It is a continuous companion of a personal retrospective. You could group it somewhere between the Gather Data and the Generate Insights phase.


I don’t know any direct alternatives to the ‘open thoughts paper’. Of course, you can note the ideas down on a tablet, notebook or anything else. But I think, its important to have them written down, so your not afraid of forgetting them.

But maybe you have an idea? Have you ever tried something similar? Will you share it with me?

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