Respect the notebook

November 6, 2012

Creativity, Self-discipline

Capture your ideas now. Don’t wait. Especially for those of us starting new projects and ventures, you can’t know when a great idea will strike.

Don’t say: Oh, I’ll make a note of that in a little while when it’s more convenient. If something is crystallizing in your head, you gotta grab it while it’s hot. And don’t assume you’ll remember it later. You might or you might not. Or you might remember it generally without the subtleties and nuances that are likely the essence of its greatness.

Have a plan

You don’t need an elaborate system but at least have a semi-plan of how wild, running thoughts will be brought into captivity.

I use the Notes app in my iPhone in a pinch but I still really like writing stuff down with a pen. I love Field Notes notebooks. They’re just the right size to carry easily and totally accessible. With 48 pages and a paper cover, they are welcoming and inviting, the antithesis of some leather-bound, gold-leaf-edged volume that cries “handle with care” and makes me feel like only the BEST ideas are allowed. I like to be able to bend, flatten, even tear out a page if I want to. I want to doodle and sketch and write upside down. Perfect bullet points are just as welcome as scratchy, messy, random thoughts that may or may not go anywhere.

Free your mind

Capturing has another benefit: it frees your mind in the now. Once you know you’ve written down your idea, you can get right back to what you’re working on now.

When you think, I’ll write that down later, it requires you to hold the idea in your head. I think of it as a secondary channel running in the background. It requires energy – energy that isn’t available to other things. If you’re holding on to idea #1, ideas 2, 3, and 4 are less likely to form. Plus, you can’t give full focus to what you’re working on at the moment.

I learned this concept from David Allen’s GTD with regard to to-do lists. When I try to keep all my to-do’s in my head, it’s overwhelming. I wake up in the night worrying about forgetting them. Conversely, when I know my to-do’s are fully recorded in my Reminders app, I can relax. I don’t have to do them right now, but I also don’t have to keep recounting and corralling them in my mind. When they are safely recorded, I can focus on the thing that I AM doing right now.

The same goes for ideas that pop in your head. Record them immediately and get back to being fully focused on the thing you’re supposed to be focusing on now.

The Field Notes motto is “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” I think they’re saying what I’m saying. Get it out of your head into a safe medium that you know you can access later. You’ll have all those creative ideas to work on later and you’ll have your full attention and focus for now.

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3 Comments on “Respect the notebook”

  1. azenfullife Says:

    Great post Gretchen, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve lost an idea because I trusted myself to remember it, and putting it in my phone is next to worthless. When it comes to certain things I’m certainly a pen and paper type of gal, it just seems to root the idea, etc plus I can make more notations as it develops better, and if I need to go back to an original thought it hasn’t been overwritten by a later version.


  2. Shariza Signe Says:

    Great post! At work, there are times when an idea just suddenly pops up in my mind while doing other things. I’ve already set my self a long time ago that when it does happen, I should stop for a while and write that idea down ‘coz it might be useful in the future and then I go back to what I was doing. It’s true when you said that if we hold on to that thought and remember it later, it’ll only stress us out because we can’t remember what that thought was a while ago.


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