Recording creativity

Paul Boag

I have found that by recording all of the ideas and reviewing them regularly it has actually stimulated me to be more creative.

I like to think of myself as an ideas person. I guess that is another way of saying that I am crap at implementing the ideas I have. One problem I used to suffer from was recording the ideas I had in a form that I could refer back to later. Overtime I have developed a couple of techniques that help me manage my ideas better. I thought they might be worth sharing.

Its two in the morning and I am lying in bed thinking about something when an idea for a new blog post pops into my head. I am on a family picnic when I see a colourful moss covered rock, which would work brilliantly as a website palette. I am browsing a new website and find myself really impressed by the approach they take to dropdown menus.

The thing is that inspiration can strike anywhere and you need a system to record all of that stuff and a method of referring back to it later in order to make sure those ideas are implemented. The system I use to do all of this is vaguely built around the Getting Things Done approach proposed by David Allen. It consists of three stages:

  • Capturing
  • Processing
  • Reviewing

Lets look at each of these in turn…

Capturing

Because inspiration can strike anywhere you need to be ready for it. In the car, in bed, down the pub, wherever it is you need to be able to record it immediately. If you don’t it will be lost forever. I have also learnt not to discriminate at this stage. I just capture everything. I can worry about if it is a good idea or a useful piece of information later. If it captures my interest for whatever reason it gets recorded.

Personally, I use two main tools for recording ideas. A notepad and my mobile phone. I make sure I have a note book and a pen by my bed at night. I tend to have some of my best ideas when I am relaxed and waiting to fall asleep. However, I have learnt that if I don’t write those ideas down when I have them, my mind obsesses over them and so I don’t sleep. By writing them down straight away they are off my mind and I can deal with them in the morning. One handy tip is that if like me you are married (or have a partner) you might want to have a torch around too. It stops you being shouted at for continually turning on the light!

Although a notepad is great it is not good for certain things and that is where the mobile comes in. Firstly, most mobile phones these days have a camera and I find that invaluable. The camera in my phone is crap but it does the job. It allows me to recall architecture that inspired me, or colour palettes that I could reuse. I also photograph signs or information I want to refer back to later. Basically it is a quick and easy way of grabbing information.

However, my phone also has another useful little function. It can record audio notes. The second most common place for me to have inspiration (after my bed) is driving in the car. Scribbling down notes isn’t very viable in that situation so being able to record a quick audio note is very useful. If your phone does not support this then do what Marcus does; call you home phone and leave yourself a message. This achieves exactly the same thing.

Finally if you are inspired by something you see on a website then make sure you have a quick and easy way to capture it. There are some great screen capture programs about so make sure you have one installed.

Processing

Of course capturing this information is no good if nothing is ever done with it. You need a way of processing the ideas you have had. Those ideas generally fall into two categories. Stuff that you have a specific use for and things that might come in handy one day. So for example, the idea to write this blog post was a specific idea. Specific ideas should normally be stored alongside related information. In the case of this blog post I have a list of all the various blog post ideas I have ever come up with. However, some of the stuff you capture is more random and you might not have a specific use for it. It could be a colour scheme you like, a quote that grabbed your attention or a vague idea for a project you might want to do one day (maybe).

All of these general ideas need storing together somehow. If they remain in your notepad, mobile or indeed anywhere else, it will make reviewing them very difficult. How you choose to store them is entirely up to you. For example, I have seen people use a large scrapbook. Personally, I prefer to store things electronically as this allows me to search and tag the information. I tend to use a program called YoJimbo for the Mac however if you are Microsoft based you might want to take a look at One Note. This is an excellent program for storing random “stuff” and has some cool features like character recognition of images built in. I store all kinds of stuff in YoJimbo including links, colours, images, quotes or indeed pretty much anything else that inspires me.

Before I move on, one quick note on the quality of the stuff I store. One of the big problems I had for a long time is that I was too critical of my ideas. I would throw things out when I considered them “stupid” or “impractical”. I have stopped doing that now. Instead, when I process my ideas into YoJimbo I mark an idea as either hot or not. You will see why this is important when I talk about reviewing.

Reviewing

The final step in my little process is reviewing. I have found that if I just dump all of my ideas into YoJimbo it quickly becomes this black hole that I rarely really look at. So taking a leaf out of the GTD methodology I have started to regularly review the content of my “idea store”. I don’t do it as often as the weekly review proposed in GTD, but I do it every couple of weeks.

In these review I tend to focus on the “hot” ideas and actively look for ways I can implement them. Then, once a month or so (when I have a bit more time), I also review the “not so hot” ideas as well just to keep them fresh in my mind. These often spark new “hotter” ideas which I record in the system too.

Conclusion

Admittedly this might all seem a little over the top, but it works for me. I have found that by recording all of the ideas and reviewing them regularly it has actually stimulated me to be more creative. I think this is partly because one idea, or piece of inspiration, sparks another. However, I also think it is because an idea carries value if it is recorded and that makes me feel that dreaming up ideas is worth while.

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