How to Store Your Brilliant Ideas

This is Part 4 of a four-part series on how I strive to align my days and weeks with my values.  Combine this article with my earlier posts to get the whole story on how I manage my time and priorities.

Part 1: How Do I Keep Organized?

Part 2: My Daily Routine, From Kickoff to Postgame

Part 3: Knocking Out the One Big Thing

I think of keeping organized in terms of three areas: a planner to set goals and sketch them out, a calendar to decide when to execute on those goals, and a repository for brilliant ideas to save for later.

In Part 1, I showed you how I prioritize my daily tasks to align with my long-term goals.  In Part 2, I explained how I break down my daily calendar like a football game, complete with pregame and postgame activities and a halftime for the mid-day break.  In Part 3, I shared my wife’s fantastic suggestion on how to focus your efforts on the One Big Thing that can meaningfully move you closer to your goals.

In this final post of the series, I want to share how I capture ideas and pursue them when the time is right.  I am very much an idea guy.  This is a good thing when you’re brainstorming, or coming up with a new business plan, or telling a story to your children.  It is less of a good thing when you’re trying to actually follow through on projects and get them done.  This is why I’ve built out the game plan described in the above posts!

The biggest challenge for someone with lots of ideas is finding a way to store them, vet them, prioritize them, and review them.  Otherwise, they’re gone the moment they arrive, never to be fulfilled!

I have a three-pronged approach to capturing ideas, ranging from the tech-savvy to the truly antiquated.

My main repository for ideas is Evernote, which allows me to capture text, audio, video, screenshots, etc. in a way that’s easy to manage.  I have Evernote on all devices from my laptop to my iPhone to my work PC, and they all sync beautifully.  I can capture an idea on one device then fill in more details later from another device.

I have Notebooks set up in Evernote that mirror the categories I use in my daily planner and my electronic calendar.  The tagging feature is key to helping me organize my ideas into meaningful buckets.

Gift ideas, grilling recipes, guitar riffs. They’re all in Evernote.

Gift ideas, grilling recipes, guitar riffs. They’re all in Evernote.

The best feature of Evernote is that you can e-mail new items directly to your login.  You can assign notebooks and tags in the subject line of an e-mail using “@” and “#”, respectively.  So any e-mail that gives me a good idea gets sent to Evernote with all the right tags.

Here is a sample of things I currently do in Evernote:

  • Save ideas for blog posts (apparently I have 90 of those already- get writing, Keller!)

  • Stockpile and recall ideas for new research topics and reports for Sierra Alpha Research

  • Capture random ideas that pop in my head while driving, often when listening to podcasts

  • Store recipes so I can search for a specific ingredient (yes, I do most of the cooking)

My second method for capturing ideas is using Pocket.  Pocket allows you to save websites offline so you can review them later.  It has the same cross-device syncing as Evernote, which means I always have articles to read for inspiration. 

Whenever someone sends you a link to an article, or you find yourself in a downward spiral of web surfing, Pocket allows you to say, “Yes, this may be important to me, but it’s not important right now.”  Then you can review the articles and follow up when your schedule allows.

They recently added a feature that automatically differentiates between text-based articles and articles with a video (like a TED presentation, for example).  Great improvement.

Finally, my most old-school method of capturing ideas is to rip out pages from newspapers and magazines.  Yes, I am “that guy” that still loves flipping through Barron’s and Investor’s Business Daily and the Wall Street Journal because I’ve done it for years.  It’s part of my process and I love the tactile experience of books and newspapers.

I rip out pages all the time and scribble notes right on the page.  These collected pages have a place of honor on the table next to my office computer.  How do I know when I need to start going through those pages?  When the pile gets too big.  Simple as that.

What happens to the best newspaper/magazine ideas from the pile?  I take a picture with my phone and store them in Evernote for future reference.

It may be time to chip away at the newspaper pile, Keller.

It may be time to chip away at the newspaper pile, Keller.

At the end of every year, I do a Power Week (already stored in Evernote as a future blog post idea!) where I review all of my processes.  I plan some time during this week to clean out my Evernote repository to make sure everything is still relevant and is archived appropriately.  I try to clean out Pocket, reading each article and then sharing via social media or perhaps storing as a future blog post.  Finally, I clear off my desk.  You always want to start the year with as clean a slate as possible!

I hope this four-part series on how I’m organized has helped you reflect on your own strategy.  Again, I make no assumption that my plan will work for anyone else.  I also claim the right to change my organizational plans at any time, as I’m always looking to improve.

The best thing you can do is review your own processes and see where there may be some opportunities to upgrade your life.


Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. Please see the Disclaimer page for full details.