If you like being creative, you add additional problems to your
how do you manage your ideas, how do you sort and archive and utilize
them efficiently? I’ve discussed this topic lately and promised there
to write something about my current style of idea management. So, here
it is.


  1. Esteem and cherish your ideas. If you don’t, you will
    become less creative. If you do, your creativity rises. You do so by at
    least writing down all your ideas, even those which deem you
    nonsense. And by publishing those ideas on the internet which don’t
    seem fit for any other utilization. As known from brainstorming
    techniques, filtering ideas too early blocks good thoughts to arise and
    being uttered.
  2. Divide into ideas you pursue and those you don’t. Time
    is a rare resource, so don’t give yourself to the illusion that you can
    put more than 5% of your ideas into practice. After the initial idea
    came to you, decide if you want to pursue it or not. Those you want to
    pursue will be put into documents where topically related ideas reside
    and begin to form a “grand whole”. Those you don’t want to pursue are
    best put into a simple chronological document.
  3. Freely you got, freely give. It is totally
    understandable that people are hesitant to publish their precious ideas
    to everybody – just as with stuff you have lieing around, it might come
    the day where you need exactly that idea. From experience, I can
    contribute that this day never comes: with most ideas, it is obvious
    right away if you have a realistic chance to utilize them commercially.
    If this isn’t the case, there’s no harm in publishing them: you can use
    your idea anyway, sometimes even commercially, just not for
    patenting it. Ideas did not cost you anything, they came to you … and
    by publishing “unneeded” ideas on the internet, you give people the
    chance to find an inspiration or idea they need.
  4. Accept work in progress. Idea management can become a
    stressy issue if you are perfectionist and want all your ideas reside
    in perfect verbalization and perfectly elaborated. But memorize that
    your idea documents are mainly meant to keep you from forgetting about
    them … those ideas you eventually put into practice don’t need
    documents anyway, as they became real and tangible. Even documents with
    orchestrated collections of many ideas are better seen as “draft under
    development”, as it takes too much time to keep up higher standards of
    order. I made good experiences with using a paragraph style for to-do
    sections, placing in them just notes to memorize later what I mean.
  5. Avoid redundancy. Every idea has its perfect place …
    some in the chronological archive of ideas you don’t pursue, some in
    other documents, depending on the kind of idea. Under all
    circumstances, avoid redunancy: no idea should go to two places, as
    later additions to one copy would create inconsistency.
  6. Use multiple forms of note-taking for different situations.
    Of course, the ideal way is to immediately store the idea in the place
    where it should go, but this is only possible whenever you sit in front
    of your computer or have your computer nearby. For situations where you
    are on the road or in other people’s home, use a PDA to take quick text
    notes. Be disciplined and do not use handwritten notes, neither on
    paper nor on screen, except for diagrams – as you’d need to transcribe
    them later. For situations where note-taking must be very quick, use a
    digital dictaphone – you need to transcribe your audio notes later, but
    at least your ideas did not get lost.
  7. Let ideas mature. Among those ideas you want to pursue
    will be some that can be orchestrated to bigger ideas. These ideas deal
    often with issues in your areas of special interest. It is a good idea
    to be patient (even for months, sometimes years) before putting ideas
    into practice, as it happens more often than not that your initial
    ideas are overthrown by revisions or revolutionary ideas. Before
    starting to realize your ideas, overthrowing can be done with ease and
    relatively effortless.

My current technical implementation

My system currently consists of the following components. I must
admit that it is a rather improvised system far from working really
efficiently, and I hope to replace this system with one that is
designed from ground up. But anyway:

  • PC. I use a notebook, so that I can type ideas directly
    into the right place even when I’m in other places for some days,
    taking my notebook with me.
  • PDA. I use a Sony Clié PEG-TG50 (at eBay for 50-60 EUR
    currently) to take voice and text notes on the road. I experimented for
    some weeks now what is the best solution, and arrived at this: where
    necessary, I take voice notes and tranfer the .wav files to a folder on
    my PC’s desktop for later transcription, which might be delayed for
    some days or weeks; where possible, I take text notes, using the to-do
    list of the PDA for that. Compared to the text note program of the PDA,
    this has the enormous advantage that synchronizing (better: moving to)
    with my PIM software at the PC creates tasks there. That way, I never
    forget to move the text notes to the right place. By the way, I use the
    Linux software kontact from KDE as PIM software, with korganizer for the
    to-do list part. I tried the Gnome alternative but found no better
    solution than kontact yet.
  • Inventions log. All the technical ideas I do not want to
    pursue go to a simple text file. It has no formatting as it does not
    need this: that’d complicate idea logging and perhaps take so much time
    that it is no longer fun to record every single idea. I publish my
    inventions log from time to time on the internet as PDF and text files.
    The first publication was done in my blog in the post “Read
    these 1364 inventions
    “. I know that there are web portals that are
    much better for making your inventions known, but again: if I had to
    enter every of these 1300+ ideas into a web form, it’d be no longer fun
    and I’d probably stop collecting ideas.
  • Tasks. All ideas for things I want to do go into my
    kontact to-do list, including all ideas I want to realize (or at least
    references to them). The most efficient way to order them is not to use
    categories (to much clicks …) but instead, to start the task title
    with a hierarchical, colon-separated list of keywords. Then, simple
    alphabetic ordering of the taks gives a good topical overview of what
    tasks are open yet (and don’t have a due date assigned). In my case,
    task titles might start e.g. with “Homepage: Blogging: Blog-Post:
    […]” or “Homepage: Blogging: Software: […]” or “Computer: new
    installation: […]” or “Fitness: […]” or “Job: […]”. Whenever I
    decide that I don’t want to realize a specific task any longer, it
    becomes a subtask of the task “idea store”. That way, it’s out of my
    way without deleting it.
  • Blog post drafts. Many of my ideas deal with upcoming
    posts for my blog. I collect them in the description part of tasks in
    my kontact to-do list. When the  draft has matured and integrated
    many ideas already, I write the post, reordering and reworking the
    draft content and then publishing it. I found it a helpful practice to
    verbalize as much as possible as tasks in kontact’s to-do list. This
    makes it a central and general solution and you need to search in fewer
    places when you don’t know where a specific idea has gone.
  • Mindmaps. Mindmapping software was introduced to me by a
    brother of mine, and I became a big friend of it. I use the software freemind, a very well
    developed and efficient tool with good import and export filters. All
    things that are just considerations and information but no concrete
    tasks go to mindmaps. Currently, I have the following mindmaps:
    • identity mindmap (who I wanna be and have some day, and the
      long-term steps in that direction)
    • ideas around intentional community
    • job organization
    • mindmaps for concrete jobs I’m involved in
  • Computer FAQ. When working with computers, it is very
    handy to document solutions you’ve found, including command snippets
    for later copy&paste. I think that a simple text file that contains
    simply a collection of questions and answers is the most efficient
    alternative to use here. To find a solution I once worked out, I use
    the search function and type in a specific keyword.
  • Specific realization documents. While realizing bigger
    ideas, you need more specific means to orchestrate your thoughts and
    ideas. What is adequate here depends completely on the kind of ideas
    you’re working on. Try to find a ergonomic, single structuring element
    to be used for the whole document – this makes it easy to insert new
    thoughts and ideas. One example: I’m currently developing a personal
    equipment that contains everything necessary from IT to clothing, in
    most lightweigth and compact form. The structuring element I use for
    this document is a commented packaging list.

Towards the ideal system

You see that my current idea management system is quite heterogenous
and unintegrated, and therefore not really efficient. There is an idea
in my mind how this could change, but I’m not aware of any existing
software that I could use for that purpose. Here is what it would need
to do, in my opinion:

It is a general “think support software”, providing all the
externalizations which help in intensive brain work. Especially, it
must allow to work on many larger ideas at the same time, adding to
them whenever new thoughts arise, over an extended period of time. This
system should need no synchronisation at all, i.e. you’d take your one
and only PC with you everywhere you go. That’s possible with an UMPC. The software would
provide a generic management of idea artefacts, including voice, text
and graphic notes, and would offer “pipelines” to convert / transcribe
and move the fragments until they arrive at their destination places.
You could use even very short, previously unuable free and latency
times to do your idea management with that software, so idea management
would not add more stress to a busy life. To that end, the software
must be freehand usable, e.g. by voice commands, voice recording and
speech recognition when driving car. And for those people who are
engaged in writing scientific texts, a literature management system
needs to be included, featuring the documents in full-text, digital
highlighting etc..

Start date: 2007-11-11
Post date: 2007-11-11
Version date: 2007-11-11 (for last meaningful change)

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