How to Capture Your Ideas and Keep Them Organized

When I wrote my Amendments to “Year of Foundations” Goals blog, fellow author Franklin Kendrick and I had a mini discussion in the comments about how we’ve been taking notes about our ideas. I told him about my horrible method and he told me about his superior method. I’ve since adopted his and worked it into my workflow and it has treated me very well.

Honestly, I’d been told to use this method before by the guys over on the Homework podcast (definitely check that out if you work from home! It’s awesome!) but for some reason, Franklin’s comment really kicked in me in line.

So here’s a guide on optimizing your note taking and organization method!

 

Capturing Your Idea

We all get ideas in the spur of the moment. Sometimes it’s something someone said. Sometimes it’s something you hear on TV or the Radio or just sitting alone with your thoughts.

But Ideas are fleeting. You’ll think of something cool and unless you can immediately flesh out that concept, you’ll likely lose it.

This article started out as a simple idea that I wrote down: “write blog about note taking.” I may have never written it if I didn’t stop to capture that idea.

I have heard that ideas are only worth carrying out if they stand the test of time and that you shouldn’t write things down when you think of them because if they’re really a good idea, you won’t forget.

Good ideas will keep you up at night.

Good ideas will distract you while driving your daughter home from soccer practice.

Good ideas will make you rich.

This approach isn’t great for several reasons. Yes, good ideas should stand the test of time, but some ideas are good and will still escape you. Anyone who has ever gone grocery shopping and then realized after returning home that you forgot what you actually went there for will agree.

A better approach is to write down your ideas as they come and then decide later if they’re worth pursuing. There are a multitude of little things I think of during the day that I should do, but I will never remember unless I put it into my note taking engine.

There are times when I’m at work and the words to a song pops into my head and I need to write them down before I forget them or a new revelation about one of my characters will shift to the surface that can add depth to a scene I’m writing.

I realized five or six years ago that I needed to start capturing these moments.

My first method was to jump straight into what technology is here for: to make your life easier. So I used my note app on my iPhone to keep track of my ideas.

I thought the idea was great. I carry my phone with me almost everywhere and I don’t have to worry about misplacing a written note. It’s all in one place.

My retired iPhone 4.

My retired iPhone 4.

Elegant, right? Well… There were some problems.

First of all, your phone will die faster if you’re having a particularly idea-filled day. Perhaps I’m a techno-addict, but a dead phone makes me a little anxious. Don’t let the precious die!

Next we have the problem of staying organized. This all-in-one approach meant that I either had to make new notes for every single idea or that I needed to keep my notes extremely organized. Not only did the default note app not directly facilitate this, but it takes more time to figure out and locate exactly where that note should go.

Which leads me to the next problem: friction.

There was too much friction between the idea and me getting it written down. The process looks like this: unlock phone, enter password, locate and open note app, create new note or find a relevant note to add to, type out note, save note. If you do this 50 times a day, it shaves a LOT of time off your day. If you’re doing this at your day job, you look like you’re always on your phone.

Solution?

I decided to cut the friction and start writing things down. This way I could: pull out a piece of paper, write a note, put it in my pocket and then be done. So I cut up small pieces of paper so that they could fit in my pocket (and encouraged me to keep my notes short) and began keeping notes.

Note-taking 2.0

Note-taking 2.0

Simple. And simplicity means elegant, right? Again, there were some problems.

Sometimes I took a LOT of notes and many times I would end up misplacing them. I gave myself the problem that I tried to avoid with just using my smartphone. I really didn’t think too much of it until my wife began to complain that all the little pieces of paper I left on my desk (or around the house) was annoying. I needed to find a better solution.

Enter idea capturing 3.0: the pocketable notebook.

The Pocketable Notebook

The Pocketable Notebook

 

My wife laughed and said that all I needed was a crayon and I’d be Steve from Blue’s Clues. Though, I didn’t take on crayons as my choice of writing device, my handy-dandy notebook has been working out really well!

I get the time-efficiency of jotting down notes and the ability to keep them all in one place.

But in order to take your note taking to the next level, you’ll want to consider bringing some of the that new technology back into play.

 

Organizing Your Ideas

The great thing about using your smartphone as a note capturing tool is the ability to organize and re-organize your notes. This is really powerful and I don’t think you should ignore it.

Now that you’ve got your ideas written down, it’s time to organize them. I put my new-found tasks into a different system, but my note organization tool of choice is Evernote.

I'm not getting paid to advertise for Evernote ;)

I'm not getting paid to advertise for Evernote ;)

Evernote has a few key features that makes it great for this task:

  1. It has the ability to create notebooks for different types of notes.
  2. It has the ability to create notebook stacks.
  3. You can link notes with quick-links.
  4. You can tag notes for searchability.
  5. You can add notes to a shortcut menu.
My Evernote Desktop App

My Evernote Desktop App

I keep a lot of stuff in Evernote now. Since I work on several different types of projects, it’s nice to keep them in one system but separate. The fact that you can make different notebooks is the equivalent creating a folder with related documents inside.

The notebook stacks function makes Evernote even better. Sometimes you need to create notebooks that are similar to other notebooks, but for different projects. It’s the equivalent to creating a folder with subfolders inside.

I love love LOVE that you can make quick links between different Evernote files. This basically means that you can create a link that, when clicked, will redirect you to another one of your notes. This can be super powerful and I’ll have a cool blog on how to make this useful soon!

Tagging and hashtags has been an internet and organization trend for the past few years now. Evernote doesn’t ignore this functionality. Though I personally don’t use tags, many people love them and you might be one of those people.

The shortcut menu is another one of my favorite features. There are a few key notes that I always visit like my To-Do list and my Story Ideas lists. When I’m transferring my notes from my notebook to Evernote, I have to jump between different files because I don’t take the time to organize my ideas as I have them. The shortcut menu will make you data entry process much faster.

There are a few other awesome and practical functions that I won't go into here, but head over to Evernote.com and see if it's what you need.

 

Other Note Organization Options

You can file your notes in a well labeled filing cabinet. And while that might be a good idea for somethings and some people, you may want something other than Evernote that is also digital.

Here are a few other options.

 

What About You?

I hope this helped you find new ways to capture and organize your ideas. If it did, please share this blog with someone you know who can benefit from it.

I’m curious to know what methods you use to capture and organize your ideas.

I bet my method could due for some refining!

Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve found a method that works for you!