Do you know someone who always has an idea for something? When you talk to them, it seems like their mind is going a mile a minute, while you have maybe half an idea a day, wondering how this person can be “on” all the time. I’m generally cyclic, going through periodic idea spells and no-idea spells, which seems to be the norm. In the no-idea spells, I tend to notice the idea people more, and find myself wondering how they do what they do. As it turns out, it’s partially a gift, and partially a practice.
You might have heard of James Altucher’s “10 Ideas a Day” exercise. It’s similar to a gratitude journal, where you sit down every morning and write down ten ideas, if not more. The theory is the “idea muscle” is one that can atrophy, like any other muscle, when it’s not used. Although the explanation felt a bit aggressive for my taste, I’m all for becoming an idea person. Ten ideas a day, how hard can that be? (I tried it this morning, and similar to this article explaining the experience, I “started sweating” around number 4).
Altucher’s idea exercise is great for carving out some time to get your brain moving, but realistically, our brains aren’t going to limit idea-generation to this small piece of the day. Whenever I have a brilliant idea for something, it arrives at a super inconvenient time, and I fall into the trap of “Oh, I’ll totally remember this later- it’s so amazing, how could I forget it?” But…then I do.
Those of us who have been burned by this experience enough times will find ways to avoid this happening again. Others might be blessed with being idea machines, so the loss of one idea doesn’t feel as tragic. Here are some of the best tips I’ve had for jotting down these ideas (with and without technology):
- ALWAYS write it down. Whatever your idea is, make sure you get it out of your head to a more tangible place (paper, phone, etc). I’d say 87% of the time, unless I write it down, I only remember having an awesome idea, but not the idea itself. It’s pretty frustrating. To avoid this, there are a few things you can do, depending on your personal preferences. If you are a pen and paper person, one idea is to always keep a notepad close by. If you’re more of a phone person, there are all kinds of apps you can use to keep track of ideas. If you just want to jot down the idea and nothing else, the Notes app that comes with most phones is an easy way to jot things down and have them saved for later. But, if you want to get into some high-end note taking, apps like Papyrus, Evernote, and more let you dictate, add pictures, and share your notes with others. And, most of them are free!
- Be Consistent. One of my issues is being super inconsistent about where I put them. Then, when I need to find something again, I’m scrambling around because “it could be in one of six places.” Whatever time you might have saved writing down your idea gets lost trying to track it down again. This article recommends not only keeping your notes in a consistent place, but separating them by types for a higher level of efficiency. This might mean having an app on your phone totally dedicated to business related notes/ideas, while jotting down notes for a screenplay in a notebook you carry around. No matter what system you choose, the key is to be consistent across the board.
- Make sure it’s decipherable. Not your handwriting, although it’s a good first step. Sometimes, if we’re in a huge rush, we jot down a few words and carry on our way. Later, when we revisit them, it looks like complete gibberish. Losing an idea this way is arguably more heartbreaking, because you’ve actually put some effort into saving the idea. Avoiding this type of heartbreak involves finding the line between writing too much and too little. Allow yourself the time to write down as much as you think you’ll need to jog your memory.
4. Revisit. Don’t leave your ideas to sit around collecting dust. At the end of the week/month/whatever interval you choose, go back and look over what you’ve written down. More on organizing notes will come in a later blog post, but in revisiting your notes you’re sorting out ideas you might actually want to take action on at some point later on. After all, what’s the point of writing all these ideas down if you aren’t going to see one or two of them through?
Whether you consider yourself an idea person or not, writing down your ideas when you have them, be consistent and clear, and go back and look them over every now and then. What are some ways that you’ve found to get notes from in your head onto paper?
This month’s theme is all about notes, stay tuned for future posts throughout the month!