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4 Tools for Creating a Bulletproof Idea Capture System

This is a guest contribution by Charles Cuninghame is a freelance content writer.

Have you ever experienced the terrible frustration of remembering you’ve had a great idea for a blog post or e-book you’re writing, but not being able to remember exactly what the actual thought or idea was? ‘

Don’t you hate that!

Every blogger knows that ideas are the lifeblood of a successful blog. But ideas rarely come all in one magnificent burst of inspiration.

They’re usually drip fed by your unconscious, one here, one there. And often at the most inopportune times: in the middle of a conversation, riding public transport, walking your dog, and, frequently, when you’re taking a shower.

So if you’re going to trap all those flashes of genius and store them for later use, you need to create a simple idea capture system.

Swiss Army Knife of blog tools

Here are four of the most useful idea capture tools I’ve used, from low-fi pen and paper to cutting edge apps:

3 X 5 inch index cards

Cheap, convenient and effective, the “hipster PDA” is the simplest but possibly the most useful idea capture tool. To make one you just clip a bunch of 3 X 5 inch index cards together with a bulldog clip.

Whenever you have a great idea, jot it down on a card.

Restrict yourself to one idea or topic per card. That way it’s much easier to file your ideas, notes, and to-dos in the right spot when you’re back at your desk.

It’s also a good practice to create multiple hipster PDAs and put them in different places e.g. in your backpack or purse, your jacket pocket, your car, and one on the hall table next to where you leave your keys, so you can pick it up when you leave the house.

This way you’re more likely to always have an index card at hand when inspiration strikes.

Voice recorder

Nowadays almost every mobile phone has a voice recording feature. Which means most of us have an idea capture tool close at hand every waking minute.

The beauty of “talking” your ideas instead of writing them down is you can capture a lot of material very quickly. You can also use a voice recorder in situations where you can’t write e.g. while you’re driving your car or going for a walk. It’s also easy to record a brainstorming session with multiple people – even over the phone.

If you record a lot of ideas (or hate typing!) it may be economical to get your recordings transcribed. This is one of the easiest ways to go from idea to rough draft.

Postie WordPress Plugin

The beauty of the Postie plugin is that it allows you to capture all your ideas in the same place as you’re going to use them: your blog.

Once you set it up, Postie allows you post to your blog via email. Given how easy it is to compose and send email from your mobile devices these days, posting to your blog via email is often easier than logging in your dashboard.

When you use Posite to capture random ideas and links to research material you find on the web, and draft outlines and posts, you build a repository of raw material for your blog. When you next log in to WordPress, you can cut ‘n’ paste your snippets and polish up your rough drafts into finished posts.

Just make sure you set Postie’s “post status” setting to “draft” so you don’t inadvertently publish your brainstorming.

Evernote

Evernote is the Swiss Army Knife of idea capture tools. It allows you to write notes, snap photos or record audio and store it all in one place. You can even forward emails and save PDFs (e-books for example) into Evernote.

Because it’s a cross-platform app, all your notes are synced and accessible across all your touch points: your computer, smart phone, tablet and on the web.

The Web Clipper browser extension allows you to clip snippets of text, images or even whole web pages as you browse the web. These clips are permanent snapshots of the page that preserve navigation, text, images and links. You can then write you own notes right into the clips.

Evernote’s excellent search function means you’re always able to find your notes and ideas when you need them. With its OCR technology you can even search text contained in images.

You can also organise your related notes and clips into notebooks.

The “best” idea capture system

Ultimately the best idea capture system is the one you use.

So don’t get too hung up on finding the “perfect” tool – just start with something simple. Because the most important thing is to always have something handy to record your ideas when they arrive.

If there are any idea capture tools that you’ve found particularly useful, please tell us about them in the comments.

Charles Cuninghame is a freelance content writer and the author of the Website Content Cheat-Sheet. His favourite idea capture tool is the hipster PDA.

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Comments

  1. Adam Finan says:

    I think Evernote is the business! I use notes on the Mac a lot to as it is a handy app…

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      I’m not familiar with Notes. How do you use it?

      • Matt says:

        Evernote is a “cloud based” note repository which, via web and mobile apps, syncs up your notes to all your devices. Notes can include pics and audio. There are free and paid versions.

        • Saif says:

          And it gives you method to place all your documents and list to do at one place. you can get this online too and get the list from every where ;)

  2. Salman says:

    Nice share Charles …

    This happened to me several times. Its really frustrating when one cannot recollect his thoughts for a killer topic. Since then I’ve started writing down on a piece of paper whenever an idea strikes my mind so that I can freely create a post following it.

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Yes, once you get in the habit it really pays dividends in terms of all the good ideas you collect.

  3. Dave Conrey says:

    I’m going to add one more to this list, something I use religiously, and works better for me, personally, than cards or Evernote. It’s a Moleskine or Field Notes pocket notebook. I don’t go anywhere without them and my Fisher Space Pen (pocket sized). By far my most valuable tool next to my laptop.

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Yes Dave, a Moleskine is definitely the most stylish way to capture ideas! The Fisher Space Pen looks cool too. I might have to invest in one.

  4. Shana Norris says:

    I’m old fashioned: I carry a small notebook everywhere and jot down ideas in it. I do use Evernote to save articles, research, etc. that I’ll use as reference when I write the post.

  5. Liton Biswas says:

    I found “evernote” quite useful. I’ve been using it for long time for all of my documents, notes as well as idea capturing. tool.

  6. Ming Chen says:

    I find that opening Notepad and jotting down any ideas I have seems to work pretty well. Notepad is especially great since it helps you focus on what you want to write and not on the formatting/style of the content.

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Good point Ming. You can worry about grammar and style later.

  7. Tommy Page says:

    I thought you are going to stop guest blogging? But your guest posts seems to keep coming in. I prefer your words, than your guest post Darren.

  8. Gaurav says:

    very nice post, thanks for sharing
    and yes many times i get frustrated when i forgot a great idea to write. but for this now i carry a tab with me to write down every idea which comes in to mind.

  9. Johnw says:

    Thanks for the best information here.

    For me Evernote is the best tool,

  10. Charles,
    Your first point about the 3×5 cards is great. Except you need to add a “pen” to it. Aside from a neighbor asking for sugar, a pen is arguably the most frequent thing that people seek to borrow. And every time I get an idea, the first thing I look for is a pen. To ensure handy availability of a pen and within arm’s reach, I have pens scattered all over my home. I have to admit that my most used 3×5 card is my left palm. All I need is a few words scratched in there. And at the first opportunity I transfer it to a working word document on my laptop.
    This is my method and it has worked quite well so far. I’d say a pen (gel/ink works well on my palm!) is a great idea capture tool!
    Sincerely,
    Raj Subramanyam
    http://kayleadershipacademy.com

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Excellent point Raj! A good supply of pens that don’t leak is definitely an asset.

  11. Ferb says:

    Voice recorder is one the important tool that everybody should get one.

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      I agree Ferb. They’re very useful for creating content quickly and easily.

  12. Francis Amadar says:

    For me it’s really disorganise, I wrote, I Speak, and I lost and find my not everywhere in my appartement. I really like read this little post.

  13. In my ecourse on how to start a service biz on a shoestring, I write about what you need in the very 1st module — and a recording system for your ideas is one of them. Whether you use a notebook or recorder, collecting your ideas is important!

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Right on Trudy! I collect tons of ideas on marketing and file them in my filing cabinet or on my computer. It makes it much easier to get started on a new promotion or marketing campaign.

  14. I love Evernote. I also use a lot of post-it notes when I am reading offline. Also while reading I will mark a quote with a “B” then record the page # on one of the blank pages in the front. I can then go back and transfer the quotes to my blog starter notebook in Evernote.

    I may need to give postie a try.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  15. Laney Galligan says:

    I use Evernote constantly and have a premium account. It’s my high tech go to, but I also have a massive box of index cards. I love using them. It’s nice to go old school and it’s less overwhelming to review your ideas without all the online interruptions and squinting at a screen.

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      I agree Laney. I think index cards are one of the most useful writing tools.

  16. I use the recorder to capture ideas quickly in a sentence or two. Or even a great title that I thought of. Old fashioned pen and paper works wonders too, if I have them handy.

    And I also save lots of draft posts directly in WP (I don’t use a plugin) and I develop them from the 2-3 points that I wrote originally.

  17. Simplenote’s a great option too, if you’re happy with plain text. I also like a good old-fashioned notebook and pen.

  18. Evernote is the best app for capturing our million dollar ideas, in my opinion.

  19. devnet says:

    Springpad organizes ideas much better for blog posting in my honest opinion versus Evernote. I use it more.

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      I’ve never heard of Springpad. Can you tell us how you use it?

  20. I usually create post drafts of all the ideas that I have. Then, when I want to explore that idea I write the body of the post and there you go. That is how I do it.

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Mukesh, I like to start lots of drafts too. After they’ve been marinating for a while I can often finish them in a single creative burst. Or sometimes I put the ideas into another post I’m writing.

  21. Dale Hampton says:

    I also use Evernote for all my ideas, data, research, etc. However, I use the app Captio to quickly add new thoughts to Evernote. It is a quick way to jot an idea down and email it to the address of your choice. I have mine set up with my Evernote address. (I have zero financial stake in either app)

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Great tip Dale. Sounds like a very flexible and efficient system.

  22. Mi Muba says:

    After I bought smartphone I never have problem to miss my idea; I just write it down in smartphone notepad briefly or in detail and email it to me; I have developed an idea bank in my phone, PC and tab to never by irritated on missing an idea

    • Charles Cuninghame says:

      Nice one Mi. I think smartphones have great potential as multimedia idea capture tools.

  23. Ben Solomon says:

    Nice post Charles.

    I use the combination of a notebook and pen in my pocket, and OneNote on all my devices (smartphone, tablet and PC) to keep track of product ideas and other random ideas that pop up.

  24. I find Notes on iPhone and iPad works well, I have one or both of those devices with me at all time; plus I always have a pen and notebook.

  25. Michael says:

    I think Simplenote is the best option for me.

  26. techOAF says:

    I actually use email to capture ideas; I mean, I email myself. Often–at least once/day, sometimes 2-3 or even 4 times/day. I do it because I can access it anywhere, and it’s easy to file away. Has built in subject, and body, is searchable as well. Often these ideas are reminders to do something, but often are detailed (if horrendously ugly) note-taking tools.

  27. Brumor Kelly says:

    I usually face the problem of forgetting my ideas. I loved the option of voice recorder. We all have it with us every time but I’ve never thought it can be used like this. Thanks I’m really gonna use this idea for my ideas.

  28. Thad James says:

    While I love technology to solve many problems and help run my business, the best way for me to capture blog ideas is the old-fashioned “pen and paper”. Better yet, every time you write down an idea, leave your “logo imprinted” pen at the location. Spread the marketing!!!