We increasingly live in a world governed by ideas and information but new ideas can flitter out of your mind just as easily as they can pop in. Noticing this, I created a process for myself that I use for quickly documenting and retaining new ideas as they arrive in my consciousness. Hopefully this system will be helpful to you as well!
I'm going to suggest the use of three apps for your phone, all of which are free for the basic version with no pressing need to upgrade beyond that. I have included the relevant app suggestions for both iPhone and Android.
Step 1 - Record the Idea Immediately
In many ways, this is the most important step. Just because you have a great idea doesn't mean you will remember it unless you immediately make some sort of record. For me, I have two places where I keep what amounts to a private Twitter-like feed comprised of quick, one-line notes to myself. The first place I keep these sort of notes is a physical page of blank typing paper with a pen sitting next to it in my office. If I'm near there, I simply write down ideas as they come to me and then move on with my day (I scan them later).
Frequently I'm out of the office when the good ideas arrive. For example, I get a lot ideas of during my morning walks. For quickly jotting down these thoughts while on the go, I use an iPhone app called Pensieve (on Android I use mynderMail). It's essentially a highly streamlined email interface for sending myself messages. Pensieve lets me email myself without having to open the new email composer, entering an email recipient, and then filling out a subject line for the email. Instead, I immediately go to the body of the email I'm writing to myself. I usually dictate my idea using voice-to-text and then click send. That's it.
The messages to yourself tend to stack up pretty quickly since ideas are frequent if you are in the proper state of mind. This is typical and perfectly normal.
As an aside, I have my email set up with a rule to automatically mark emails from Pensieve as already read so they don't trigger an email notification on my phone. I will document how to do this in a subsequent post.
Step 2 - Move Tasks to a Task Management App
Once you look at your list of ideas, you will need to remove the ones which are actually tasks to be accomplished. For this, I manually delete the email version of the task and then type it into a task management app like Todoist. Todoist allows me to prioritize my tasks, set reminders, and to chunk tasks by category. I can move my most important task to the top of the list and that way I can be sure to prioritize the most important to-do that day.
Step 3 - Review the Remaining Ideas; Move the Keepers to Evernote
Returning to your email queue (which still contains the remaining ideas), you will now take a moment to evaluate each one. Some will be duplicates of other ideas on the list and they can simply be removed. Some will seem either obvious or silly upon further reflection.
You record the remaining, best ideas in a note-keeping program such as Evernote. I use Evernote as my long-term repository of ideas. This allows me to slowly compile online notebooks filled with my best ideas on various subjects. The basic version of Evernote is free and I doubt you will need to upgrade unless you plan on accessing your notes from three or more devices.
Sometimes I have so many notes that it can kind of get overwhelming to go through each one of them in my email and to manually input each of them into Evernote. When this happens, I just take a screen capture of the whole list and then drop the picture into Evernote as a new note.
Once all ideas have been copied, transcribed, or flushed out in Evernote, empty your email inbox of any remaining notes to yourself.
Now You're Ready!
I think if you test out this approach to jotting down your ideas, you will find that you retain a much higher percentage of them than before. It also saves me the mental strain of trying to hold on to a good idea, especially if I'm doing something else at the time. Most importantly, critical ideas don't just drop out of my mind forever, completely lost.
Hopefully this article has helped you to think about how to design a process for recording your best ideas when they happen!