How Do I Keep Track of All This Good Stuff My Brain Generates

Woman writing in journal

Quick note: I mention several products in this post. I get nothing from any of these companies. They’re just what I happen to use.

I recently listened to an episode of the Becoming Better podcast (Chris Bailey and Ardyn Nordstrom) about “The Productivity Benefits of Capturing Ideas“. Today (the day I’m writing this) this idea is on my mind because I created a lot of content today including three blog posts (this one and two for work), content for a report, and the guest information for two upcoming podcasts. I love days like this, but if I didn’t grab my ideas, days like this would be frustrating.

In the podcast and accompanying blog post, Bailey and Norstrom mention four things you may want / need to capture:

“Stuff you’re waiting on

Ideas you want to look into more deeply

Distractions and reminders

Actual ideas and insights”

They also note that ideas often come at the least convenient time, so you need to be prepared. The following is what I currently use.

I use Todoist to keep track of the “stuff I’m waiting on” and “Distractions and reminders.” These might be that I need to pay a bill, create some content, call someone, schedule something, or that I’m waiting for someone else to do something. I use to use Omnifocus but I didn’t like their redesign and I’ve been much happier with Todoist. It syncs across all of my devices, I can easily clip something from the web, forward an email, attach an image, or add a voice clip on the run. I can set reminders and organize tasks by projects, date, and context.

I also use a printed planner to plan my days, write down my gratitudes, wins I should celebrate, and other such daily items. For the past few months I’ve been using the Goal Crazy Planner. I bought the PDF version, which allows me to make a printed copy that I put in a binder (I submit the file online to Kinkos and they deliver it to my door. I’d use the student owned print shop at the university, but the pandemic and all). While I don’t like the name, it works well for me. I did have an email exchange with the creator Jason Van Devere about the name and he seemed genuinely open to some potential rebranding.

I’ve used Evernote on an off for several years, but for the past several weeks I’ve been using it a lot. It also syncs with all of my devices, lets me clip items from the web, and forward emails. It’s great for taking meeting notes, outlining ideas, and even writing blog posts (which is what I’m doing write now).

Every day I jot down at least one idea for a blog post in a journal. I use a different journal to, well, well journal, capturing my days and my reflections on them. I usually use either a Rhodia (which I prefer) or Moleskine (which are easier to find) journal.

When I was in my office at the university I often mapped out ideas on a white board and then took pictures to save them. I sometimes do that on paper now because if I need to create a diagram or I have a bunch of ideas that may not be connected, I like having the free space to work with instead of typing notes out. Now that I’m using Evernote regularly, I can put those captured images in there and include any relevant notes, making them easy to find later.

In the podcast they also mentioned Aqua Notes, which are intriguing to me, and something I’ve long wished I had but didn’t know existed. It’s a waterproof pad of paper that you can suction to your shower to capture all of those ideas that come to you at that very inconvenient time.

I also need to get back to carrying a small notebook or notepad with me in a pocket to jot something down on the run when I don’t want to pull out my phone. Being at home most of the time has gotten me out of this habit.

You’ll notice that I use a mix of paper and digital. Digital is more efficient and convenient because I can type faster than I can write, plus that whole sync across devices things, but I enjoy writing and there are a lot of times that I would rather not be staring at a screen.

David Allen, the author of the bestseller, Getting Things Done has said that you should have as many “inboxes” (places where you put things you want to capture) as you need, and no more (so you don’t lose track of things). I may have more than I need, but right now it’s working for me. I created some great content today, and much of that came from having captured what I needed to capture instead of trying to hold it in my brain.

Featured image courtesy of Cathryn Lavery under a CC-0 license.

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