How to Keep Track of Your Ideas

Have a lot of ideas? Learn how to keep track of them with an ideas file.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #153

The invention of the sticky note was a revolution for those of us who are into personal productivity! It lets us jot down ideas and put them… anywhere. When learning Swahili, my friend Melvin wrote the Swahili word for common objects and stuck them all over his house. He dropped the class after three weeks, but he left the sticky notes up because he liked them so much.

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Bernice uses sticky notes to record her Deep Thoughts. Every time she has a thought, down on a sticky note it goes. Then she looks for someplace around her office where she’s sure to see it, and she sticks it right up there. “Licorice flavored wedding cake—a new trend?” is right next to, “Sales report needs more curlicues.” It’s a really good thing Bernice’s influence extends only to her own life.

How to Keep Track of Your Ideas

I also jot ideas down everywhere. I use scraps of paper, little notepads, and the back of cash register receipts. The problem is that once there are ideas floating around everywhere, how do they ever get found? And how do they end up right where you need them, when you need them?

Melvin says the answer is to write ideas in pen, on the back of his hand. “That way, they’re always there when I need them,” he proudly declares. But that only works if you have very few ideas, very small handwriting, or (like Bernice) an awful lot of writing area. And if you bathe before copying the ideas to paper, they wash off. Melvin says this never comes up for him, which would explain why he can’t keep an officemate for longer than about three hours.

Where Should You Put Your Ideas?

Rather than putting your ideas anywhere they can be stuck, create an ideas file. It can be a regular paper file, but even better is a file on your computer. When you get that flash of inspiration, put it into your idea file. If you’re not at your computer, write it in the 3x5 notepad you carry with you, or on a napkin, or on the back of your hand. If you’re drunk, do not, repeat not, tattoo it on your arm. As soon as you get back to your computer, type the idea into your idea file and throw away the page of your notepad or your napkin, or wash your hands. With the new foaming soap dispensers, it’ll be fun!

Index Ideas by Keyword

To make it easy to find your ideas later, when you type them in, ask what you’re likely to be thinking about when you search for the idea someday. When you type in the idea, add a line of keywords that you can later search for to find the idea. If the idea is, “Design a suit out of Armadillo fur and become a Milan fashion designer,” you might include keywords: life passion, runway, formalwear, and revenge for the eighth graders telling me I dressed funny.

If you have many projects happening at once, feel free to have multiple ideas files, one for each project. Or you can have a single big idea file and make the project name a keyword that you search on.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.