Ever have an idea pop in your head? Of course you do. Maybe it’s a business idea, or something you want to research. Or maybe it’s something as simple as “hey don’t forget to take care of this later”. Could even be a book someone mentioned that you want to read!
We all have a lot of ideas. (Even if you don’t think you do. You just might not realize it yet because you don’t have a great way of capturing them.) The problem is, capturing those ideas and keeping up with them is no small feat.
To solve that problem, I created an “Idea Inbox”. It’s the ONE place where I capture all my ideas and loose thoughts through the week, then I sort through them at the end of the week and take action.
If you have a lot of ideas (as I’ve already said – you do), then this post is for you. Keep reading to see why you should set up an idea inbox, and how to set up an idea inbox to capture and take action on all your best ideas.
WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT
1. David Allen says so
The idea of capturing your ideas is a formal way might seem like too much work. After all, that’s what post it notes were invented for, right? Or, you might be telling yourself that you’ve got a fantastic memory and you’ll remember all your ideas to recall them when you need to.
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (arguably THE most iconic book on productivity of all time), is famously quoted for saying “The mind is for having great ideas, not holding them.”
That means that even though your mind can hold all your awesome ideas, that doesn’t mean it should. Ever heard of “the magical number 7 plus or minus 2”? It’s the theory of short term memory and how your mind can only hold about 7 things (plus or minus 2) in it’s working memory. If you keep your ideas there, you won’t be able to hold all of them for long because there’s a limited space in there. It’s like when your computer has too many files on it, and it slows down every program you’re using.
2. You’ll Forget It
If you have awesome ideas (and we both know that you do), do you really want to take a chance on forgetting them? Even if you’re pretty confident that you won’t, what if you do?
I like writing my ideas down and keeping them in one spot because I know that I don’t have to worry about “what happens if I forget” and that saves me an infinite amount of stress. It takes the pressure off of thinking through the idea in the moment because you know you can come back to it later and figure out the details.
3. You Need Some Distance
Ever had a great idea and wanted to drop everything immediately to work on it? I feel like that all the time. I just get so excited!
But have you ever had a great idea, then had to wait a few days to work on it? 80% of the time that happens to me, I come back to the idea with fresh eyes and either have a much stronger feeling about the idea and how it could work, or that amazing idea suddenly looks horrible. Like… the-worst-idea-I’ve-ever-had horrible.
Giving yourself a few days to process an idea can actually help you to make a better decision and avoid bad ideas that just seem great in the moment.
4. You Need To Find Them
If you’ve got a thousand sticky notes all over the place, how do you keep track of them? I’ll tell you how … you don’t!
By setting up a process to keep all of your ideas in the same place, you’re making it easier on yourself to find and assess your ideas in the future. You’re less likely to lose those ideas. This will give you peace of mind, and it will also help you easily access all the ideas you have.
Never worry again about losing your great ideas. If you keep them all in one place, you know exactly where it will be!
Okay now you know WHY you should be capturing your ideas in an idea inbox, here’s how to set up your idea inbox.
HOW YOU SHOULD DO IT
1. Use something you can access ANYWHERE
You might be tempted to use pen and paper, but having something digital that you can access anywhere is best. You need something that you can write in no matter where you are. You won’t always have a notebook with you, but the chances of you having your phone are pretty high.
I recommend using your phone and a note taking app that is easily accessible – like Evernote or Apple Notes. You could use GDocs, but it’s a few more steps than others and I really like the simplicity of the note taking apps.
While I prefer Apple Notes over Evernote (gasp), you’re welcome to use any tool you want. Again – the only key is that you need to have something you can access from anywhere.
2. There’s no structure
You might be expecting me to tell you some formula you must use every time you input an idea, or maybe you’re expecting me to tell you about a special structure for your ideas.
The only structure I recommend is no structure. Make it quick, easy, and as simplistic as possible for you to enter your idea.
For me, sometimes this just means writing down the title of a book. Sometimes, it’s just pasting a link I found. Sometimes I start to type out my thoughts about an idea, and any action points that come to mind. Sometimes I literally just write the things going through my mind.
Write whatever you want whenever it comes to mind. That’s all.
3. Review once a week
Here’s the only rule of the idea inbox. You have to clean it out. I recommend doing this weekly. Spend some time in your weekly planning process to look at everything on the list and sort it. If it’s an action item that you can tackle in less than 5 minutes, do it right away.
If it’s something a little bigger, decide if it’s a good idea that you want to take action on, and store it away somewhere you’ll remember it in the future. It could be in your backlog for the next quarter (learn about my backlog here). Or add it to another list where you store ideas related to certain themes or projects.
Add books to your reading list, wherever you store it. (If you’re not storing your reading list, stop what you’re doing immediately and get an account at Goodreads and start adding your list there.)
Just like your email inbox, if you don’t clean it out, it becomes useless, terrifying, and just another thing to stress you out. Don’t let that happen to your idea inbox. Clean it out regularly!
How do you capture ideas and make sure nothing slips through the cracks? Comment below with your ideas and process for how you organizing all those amazing ideas that come to mind!