“Idea Catching”: Tools to Unite your “Inspiration” Mind and your “Perspiration” Mind

Luminous Idea
Image by Tiago Daniel via Flickr

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!
-Thomas Alva Edison

I discovered the meaning of life but I forgot to write it down.
-Hugh Gallagher

You know those times when you are struck with a brilliant, life-altering, million-dollar, save-the-world idea at the exact moment when you can’t do anything about it? As a person who works with ideas, you will probably have more brilliant ideas than you can ever put into action. Paradoxically, we’ve all had the experience of finally “getting in writing mode” and realizing that the ideas just won’t come. I think this is because the “inspiration” and the “perspiration” parts of your brain seldom come to work on the same day, and good note-taking is the key to helping them work together.

By capturing ideas in an organized way, you can come back to your “inspiration” moments while you are in your “perspiration” mode– thereby tearing down the barriers to getting started.

HOW you capture ideas is a personal choice that has a lot to do with how you like to work, where and when you get your best ideas. There is no one-way to do it, but the best idea-catchers have these features in common:

1) You can take it with you everywhere. This is where systems like a little paper notebook, voice recorder, or cell-phone based idea-catcher work best. I always have my smartphone with me, so I can always capture voice, photo, and text-based notes on Evernote (my favorite idea-catcher of them all). My best friend carries a folded piece of paper in his pocket and swears it holds his whole life together. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that you have it on you at all times.

2) It doesn’t take much thought to get started. You don’t want an idea-catcher that requires too many steps (like remembering a password, logging in, checking your email) before you can record this idea. If it takes more than 10 seconds or two steps to get started, you may lose that precious idea. I like making voice notes to myself, so I keep ReQall.com on speed dial on my phone. One click and I am dictating voice notes to myself.

3) It can store ideas of all types. You want an idea-catcher (or catcherS) well suited to the many forms your ideas may come in. You may find it more effective to use a suite of tools to capture to-do’s, interesting website bookmarks, snippets of writing, tweets, audio recordings, photos, videos, and whatever else you need to save.

4) You can easily come back & review your ideas. Saving your ideas is great, but a good idea-catcher system should make it easy to come back and view your ideas in an organized way. You don’t want to wade through a mess of weird files and scrawlings when your “perspiration” mind just wants to get started!
This is where Web 2.0 technologies really shine, because they make it easy to tag, categorize, and search your notes. My beloved Evernote is my repository for everything from song lyrics, to do’s, business cards, blog posts-to-be, meeting minutes, etc. etc. etc. I have a tag for “song ideas”, so when I am sitting down at my home studio looking for some lyrics to sing, I can fire up Evernote and be recording in seconds.

While Evernote is great for that, many blogs, tumblelogs, online office apps, and even microblogging services (like Twitter) allow you to tag & search your ideas for future review.


Evernote— ideally suited for everything I’ve discussed here. The more you work with it, the more you’ll find it can do!
ReQall.com- Voice to “To-Do List” webapp
Mind Mapping software (like FreeMind)
RememberTheMilk.com- To-Do lists done right
Stickies/ Text- simple and easy evergreen solutions
Voice Mail- call yourself and dictate notes!
little pocket notebook- some people swear by them
Twitter– easy to do, easy to review!
Audio recorder (like Audacity)
Web bookmarks (like Del.icio.us)
Web clipping (like ClipMarks)
blogging (like WordPress, Posterous, or Tumblr)
Google Voice – A revolutionary mixture of phone, voice mail, email, SMS, and awesome. Great for catching ideas!

Don’t Forget the Perspiration!
We’ve done a pretty good job of storing our “Inspiration”, but remember that this is only 1% of the job. Your job as a creative individual is to take these pieces of inspiration and weave them into something that the world can use. As Merlin Mann so eloquently states (and I’m paraphrasing), there is no magic tool for this. You just have to do it. A lot. And be prepared to suck. A lot. The people who find ways to move through this ugly, challenging phase of creation become the masters of their craft.

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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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