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Photo on 2011-12-09 at 11.53

by • December 9, 2011 • Tools & frameworksComments (11)270

Are you still losing your ideas? Cut that out right now.

Whenever your brain makes a “that’s interesting” noise, alarm bells should be going off.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading or talking to someone or even sitting alone.

“That’s interesting” is the announcement of a sprouting idea, and when you do the polite thing by continuing to listen to the person in front of you, or the auto-pilot thing by continuing to read the blog post, or the inactive thing by leaving the podcast on play, then you just killed the idea.

It’s gone forever and isn’t coming back.

Capturing & nurturing fresh ideas is easy. It takes two habits and two bits of equipment you already have.

The habits I use are thus:

  • Every time you begin to suspect something might be interesting, ask yourself why it is interesting and then write that down
  • At the end of the day or week, separate your ideas from the daily trivia (e.g. shopping lists & todos) and put them in a box by themselves

The equipment is simpler still:

  • A bit of paper and a pen
  • A phone with a voice recorder

I would normally say it’s not about the tools, but in this case it actually is. Potential ideas are so ephemeral that you have to be ready to grab them immediately.

I don’t like using notebooks for a couple reasons. They’re bulky enough that sometimes aren’t in my pocket when I need them. Second, I fill them with all sorts of other crap and never end up reviewing the ideas contained therein.

So I use these blank business cards. They’re 10 quid for a box of 1000 and I’m happily on my third box since beginning to use them a few months ago. I’ve also had good results ussing a single sheet of paper folded into quarters — my idea sheet for the day.

I used to think I had practically zero ideas. Maybe one every few months. They were so rare that I would irrationally treasure and obsess over them. Now I write down dozens per day, and file them away in a little box I review occasionally. The idea for this post came out of the box just now. That’s how I can happily post something every day.

It turns out that back then, I was just bad at teasing out and capturing ideas. They were there but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see them.

New ideas are like little turtles. They only poke their heads above water for a fleeting moment, it’s such a tiny black dot on the surface of the water that you would never know they were there if you weren’t watching for the ripples.

Noticing something interesting is the ripple. It’s a sign that something of value is just beneath the surface. Asking yourself why it’s interesting brings the turtle to shore.

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11 Responses to Are you still losing your ideas? Cut that out right now.

  1. Bojan says:

    Solid advice Rob! One of the most important things is to capture those fleeting moments. I do something similar to you except I use my cell phone. Whenever I get an idea I will text myself the headline or a few sentences. Then whenever I’m ready to write something I can sort through what is interesting and whats not that way I don’t have to sit at the computer and wait for inspiration.

    • Will says:

      I find evernote is great for storing your ideas on the fly.

      • ChristopherS says:

        Agreed! Evernote is perfect for throwing ideas into. You know they’ll be stored safely, and can review on a regular basis. My notes of this sort tend to keep subject line “Untitled” so I can just go through all untitled notes each week and decide which ideas are worth sorting or acting on.

        On iPhone I find that even the 5-10 seconds it takes the official Evernote app to start up can be frustrating when you just want to jot down an idea though, so I use FastEver to get an instant text window which saves to EN.

    • robfitz says:

      Cool stuff. I’ve been using the phone’s voice recorder a bit too, although I’m not as good about remembering to go through audio notes as I am with text. Maybe they’ll make for a pleasant surprise in a few months’ time ;)

  2. Kalina says:

    Great idea to write down any idea you have and then refer to it at a later stage! We all tend to leave many ideas behind, just because we forget them or think they are not useful at that given moment and then,they could be actually good in another situation (i.e. you used an old idea to write your new blog post).

  3. Toby says:

    Great post Rob, completely agree with you about how important it is to capture ideas – love the turtle analogy! Not so sure I agree with this part:

    “you just killed the idea. It’s gone forever and isn’t coming back.”

    I think some turtles are so desparate to come to shore that they’ll bob their heads above water a few times, perhaps over the course of a few days, in slightly different places, at slightly different angles each time. You may capture “him” slightly differently (use other words), but it’s still the same turtle :-)

    Personally I use the notes application on my iPhone, a different one for each kind of idea. That’s the “Collection” part of Getting Things Done by David Allen (chapter 5). The next, equally important step is the “Processing” (chapter 6) – similar to getting to zero in your inbox.

    Best, Toby

  4. Chad Tabary says:

    I use the Notes app on my iPhone frequently for this, like the commenter above me. Or whatever else I can get my hands on…Notepad in Windows, ect. Ctrl+R, “Notepad.” is my quick go-to if I don’t want to grab the phone.

  5. Wayne says:

    I tried the notebook idea for a while. I was using one of those small, pocket-sized notebooks that was only a little bigger than my wallet, but even that became inconvenient, both to carry and to use when I did have it. I also ran headlong into your second problem with notebooks, that I was using it for too much.

    I’m definitely going to try the notecard thing. I think that’s a great idea for keeping things separated and organized.

  6. Ryan Hoover says:

    I’m curious to hear where you come up with your blog post ideas, Rob.

    For me, they come up through my day-to-day interactions and observations. I usually write them down immediately by emailing myself and later adding to to Help Me Write or Draft. I wish there was a better tool specifically for this blogger’s use case though.

  7. [...] het te herkennen wanneer het opkomt, ‘vang‘ het idee en maak er een notitie van. Vraag jezelf af waarom het idee interessant of [...]

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