How to handle a crazy influx of ideas and keep them organized

Published by Nela Dunato on at 05:51 in Tips for creatives

How to handle a crazy influx of ideas and keep them organized

Some people say ideas are worthless without execution. Others say ideas are the currency of the future.

You, however, seem to have a problem cashing in on this currency because you have more ideas than you know what to do with — it's both a blessing and a curse.

It seems that just when you start working on one of those ideas, new ones come up at an even faster pace. As if taking action on an idea opens the "idea faucet" even more, and soon you find yourself struggling to keep your head above the metaphorical flood of ideas.

While I don't have a magic pill that will stop this craziness (and honestly, we wouldn't want to stop it), having a system to manage our wealth of ideas helps a lot.

Here are my suggestions how to handle this "problem".

Write down your ideas right away

As soon as the idea appears in your mind, write it or sketch it down immediately. I can't emphasize this enough.

Once you put it on paper, your brain will file this bit of information as "done", so you won't have that nagging feeling that there's something else you need to do. (I also mention in my post My Top 5 Tips For Preventing Time Suck & Increasing Productivity how this is especially useful when you're trying to focus on something, and things just start popping into your head.)

Another reason for noting your ideas is so you won't forget them! (Duh.)

Our memory works in mysterious ways — though you may still remember the phone number of the boy you dated back in high school, that genius idea that crossed your mind just yesterday afternoon as you were driving from work? Gone. Forever.

Don’t let this happen to you. Write down everything that comes to your mind that has any kind of potential. It doesn’t even have to be good. Ideas grow and evolve with time.

It’s especially easy to do this today, now that everyone has a cellphone. Memory is cheap, just write it all down no matter how silly it may look at a first glance — you’ll judge it later.

Key lesson here: keep your note-taking equipment near you at all times. If you're a visual creative, keep a sketchbook!

Store all your ideas in one place

I tend to write down my ideas in different forms, such as as sketches and notes on paper, notes in Google Drive, photos and audio recordings. All of that makes a bit of a mess, but I’ve found a way to keep it all in one place which I'll describe in a minute.

Your storage can be a notebook, binder, computer folder, app that stores data in the cloud... Whatever you like.

If all your ideas are in one place, you’ll know where to find them when you need them.

It’s important to have a system that captures all of the formats you regularly use. It’s also important that your system meets the following requirements:

  • It has to be easy to use — otherwise you won’t use it
  • It’s accessible no matter where you are physically, so you can reach it even when you’re not at home
  • It’s secure and reliable

Now, the last part is up to you. While cloud services boast on their reliability, I’ve heard some weird shit happen to people, like Drive or Dropbox files disappearing. That’s why I recommend making regular backups of your idea storage on your computer (if it’s in the cloud) or to the cloud (if it’s on your computer), or on a backup disk.

Here’s a breakdown of the cloud services I tried:

Google Drive

Pros: Stores all types of files, accessible from a smartphone, inline document editing (including spreadsheets & presentations), easy sharing with collaborators, completely free for up to 65 GB of space

Cons: For now no ability to record audio notes, but they created a new service called Keep that has this feature. I'd personally prefer this was all combined into one service.

Evernote

Pros: Stores a variety of files including audio, accessible from a smartphone, inline document editing, easy sharing with collaborators, tags

Cons: It’s not a real storage, but the files are "attached" to your notes. Free accounts are limited in terms of space and monthly upload

Dropbox

Pros: Stores all types of files, accessible from a smartphone, easy sharing with collaborators

Cons: Free account limited to 2 GB (you have to invite people to get more space), you need to use other software to actually create your notes

I personally use Google Drive, but your mileage may vary.

Organize your ideas in a meaningful way

Once you decided on the system, it’s time to set it up. Like with all things in life, it will be a hassle the first time you do it, but from then on it’s mostly smooth sailing.

I’ll show you how I do it, feel free to adapt as necessary.

I have a folder in Google Drive called Ideas. Inside this folder there are sub-folders and documents with lists. Here’s a screenshot of my folder structure:

My ideas organization in Google Drive

The “Z_trash” is the folder where I move all the things I decide may be too silly and useless, but I don’t want to delete them because it may lead to something useful some day.

Lists of ideas are pretty self-explanatory. Each category (such as “Art” or “Comics”) has its own document where I write down titles and short descriptions of projects.

When I create materials for a project like text documents, sketches, references, notes on paper or audios, I create a new sub-folder for that project (inside the category folder) and dump all my scans, photos and notes into it.

Before I did this, my ideas were scattered around different sketchbooks, binders and folders, on my computer and on my phone... it was a complete and total mess. Now I regularly scan my sketches and type my notes, and keep them all in Drive.

I have to make an important note though — this system is just my idea management, and it's not to be confused with project management. This is meant as a storage. When I take an idea and turn it into a project, I have additional systems in place, which I might write about some other day. However, all my systems plug into each other very well, and that's one of things to consider when you're choosing your own idea storing system.

Review your idea storage regularly

There’s no point in collecting all this data if you’ll never look at it later, right?

Schedule regular “idea review” sessions (monthly or quarterly) where you will go through your lists and see if now may be the perfect time to take one of those ideas and turn it into a real life project.

When you see all those ideas in one place, you may be inspired to combine several of them into a single project and thus save on time and resources, while achieving multiple goals.

Some of these ideas may evolve over time. You may start with a short story, that will then evolve into a comic, that may evolve into an indie movie. Or a blog post may become an ebook, which may become a series of video classes.

As you learn new things and get access to more resources, things that seemed impossible before may become easier to do than you originally thought. That’s why it’s important to regularly revisit your ideas and see what else could you do with them that hasn’t occurred to you before.

You can share some of your documents and folders with people you trust and get their feedback, then develop your idea further.

Now go create your system!

This post is an excerpt from my free ebook Be A Creative Powerhouse which teaches how to get more ideas, organize them and make them happen.

If you're ready to take action now, on page 12 of the book there is a worksheet to help you create a system that best suits your way of note-taking — enter your name and e-mail into the form below this post, and the book will arrive to your inbox!

I hope these tips will help you to keep your sanity and take action on those ideas that have the best potential for success, whatever your idea of success is.

Nela How to handle a crazy influx of ideas and keep them organized
Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

I run a boutique design consultancy that helps creative businesses evolve into premium brands and connect with their dream clients, by crafting extraordinary visual experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...


Your comments

  • Jennifer Kennedy

    Jennifer Kennedy
    2015-05-13 at 23:40

    Great post, Nela! I have tons of ideas floating in my head all of the time. Some of them I've forgotten as you said because I didn't write them down.

    Thanks for sharing your file system. Makes me realize I need to organize mine a bit better. Oftentimes, though, I don't have access to Drive so I end up writing things down on post-it notes. I want to also build time into my schedule to collect these papers and add them to my Drive.

    Thanks so much for this post. Super helpful! (And, now I have ideas on how to organize my ideas! Ha.)

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-05-14 at 14:06

    Thanks, Jennifer! I'm so glad it's helpful for you!

    Oh yeah, don't you hate when that happens? Drifting off to sleep is the worst time, I often just reach for my phone and mumble something into audio note because it's gone come morning.

    Post-it notes are just fine as long as you take time to type it into Drive when you're able to :)
    I use Google Keep and my sketchbook for those inconvenient moments, and then copy when I have time.

    I have added this to my schedule as well once I realized papers are piling up and I neglect typing them.

  • Petra

    Petra
    2015-05-20 at 14:33

    Thank you Nela, this is exactly what I need right now. Love the "idea faucet"!
    Cheers Petra

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-05-20 at 18:44

    Awesome, Petra, I'm so glad the post was useful for you! :)
    Thanks!

Leave a comment