Have you ever had a great idea that got away? It happened to me just the other morning. I woke up before my alarm and immediately started getting all kinds of ideas about blog posts, headlines and copy. It was still dark outside and Catherine was asleep beside me so I was alone in my thoughts. I had so many ideas that all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t remember what got it all started. I jumped out of bed and grabbed my notebook but it was too late – I wasted the next 20 minutes trying to remember what I had lost.
Normally, I don’t let a great idea get away. I have a pretty airtight system for capturing every relevant idea as soon as it pops into my head (note to self – find a work around for “sleeping spouse in a dark room”). Some are just things I know I have to get done, like pick up bread at the store but others are creative ideas that I may want to develop. Now, upon reflection, many of my ideas aren’t that great – but I don’t need to decide that in the moment. I just need a system to make sure that my ideas don’t get lost.
You need a “Total” inbox
We all have an inbox as part of our email system – but does it capture the things that don’t arrive in the form of a communication from someone else? If not, you need to create a system that allows you to capture every relevant idea in a single repository as soon as you have it. It should be as frictionless as possible so that you can use to quickly capture a thought and get back to what you are already doing.
Once you have a system in place, you then need to build the habit of using it. This means being willing to briefly interrupt a conversation to note something and – the real game changer for me – logging every crazy creative idea you have. I found this actually took the most practice because I had to start giving my own ideas as much credit as those I would get from other people.
How my system works
I use a software called OmniFocus as my main inbox. Omnifocus is a tool for implementing Getting Things done – the productivity system developed by David Allen that I have blogged about elsewhere and where the total inbox idea comes from. Omnifocus also has an iPhone app allowing me to also capture ideas on the go. (note: Omnifocus is a mac only software but there are plenty of other options for Android and Windows)
If you have a physical inbox for papers and such, that’s fine, but you’ll need to funnel those items into your total inbox – which will likely be software driven. (I just take an iPhone photo of anything I need that’s currently in paper form, since my goal is to be entirely paperless.)
Here’s how I use my Total Inbox:
At my computer
If I am sitting at my computer working, and I think of something I need to do, or someone makes requests of me, or I have a creative idea not related to what I am currently working on, I simply use a keyboard shortcut I have programmed to launch an OmniFocus dialog where I can quickly type the thought.
On the go
If I am on the go somewhere, I will use Siri (long press on my iPhone home button) with a pre-command “remind me to…” That automatically channels whatever I say next to my Omnifocus inbox. Now that I also have an Apple Watch I will also speak into it the same way.
Surfing the web:
I use Evernote to bookmark or capture pages that I find on the web that may be relevant to projects I am working on or developing. This is really more of an Inspiration archive, since the ideas may not be immediately actionable. If it is of relevance to something immediate I will also make a note in OmniFocus to review it in Evernote.
I always carry a notebook for developing ideas in a little more depth. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and go straight to my notebook to see how far I can take it while the inspiration is hot. A notebook is also a great place to Generate ideas from scratch. Often I’ll just start writing on a blank page to see what comes up. If something I want to pursue emerges, I will also add it to my inbox in OmniFocus as something to review.
The idea is to have a place to put relevant ideas as soon as you have them. They may be actionable or just random thoughts – you don’t have to decide in that moment, you just have to get them out and into a system that you trust. Having an airtight system in place leads to a huge breakthrough in productivity and creativity as you are able to better review and asses creative ideas. Most importantly you’ll experience a new, calm confidence in the knowledge that you are on top of your personal organization game.