If you are a writer, you understand the importance of ideas. Without ideas your work cannot exist.
The more original and striking your ideas are, the more likely it is that your work will be successful.
Collecting and storing ideas (curation) is a left brain activity, while using ideas is a right brain activity. A simple explanation of the differences between your brain’s two hemispheres is available here.
You can leave your idea curation to chance, or you can build an optimal process, it’s up to you. Here’s an example of an optimal process for folding a T-shirt.
Once you’ve seen how that’s done, it’s hard to argue there isn’t a best way to fold a T-shirt.
So, why not build your own perfect Idea Curation Process?
An Idea Curation Process That Works
This is the Idea Curation Process which I use. Your needs may differ, but I’m sharing it with you in case you find it useful.
There are three elements to Idea Curation.
1 Idea Curation Method
Idea Curation begins with collection. You must create a system for gathering ideas which occur to you as they happen.
Your collection system must therefore meet the following criteria:
- Ubiquitous — wherever you are, your idea collection system must be at hand.
- Funnel — your idea collection must connect to a funnel which links to idea storage facility.
Once you have collected your ideas, you must have a foolproof retrieval system. There is little point in harvesting your ideas if you can never access them again.
Your retrieval system works with your idea repository (where you store your ideas). For it to work it must have the following elements in place:
- Search — a powerful search capability.
- Tags — tags connect ideas in different domains together. For example, a picture of a corrupt politician (tagged ‘greedx’) and a minor character called John (tagged ‘greedx) will show up if you search ‘greedx’. You might base your character on the politician.
- Content agnostic — ideally, your depository should accept all content forms: PDFs, images, documents, webpages, notes, etc.
2 Idea Curation Tools
Selecting your idea curation tools is important. You should make your choice deliberately.
There’s a basic separation between analogue (paper and pen and variants) and digital. You can blend these together by using an iPad with a digital pencil or similar technologies.
Whichever tools you select, they will work best if they can conform to the collection criteria above — ubiquity and funnel.
3 Idea Curation Mindset
Idea curation is not a passive process.
To make the most of your brain’s abilities, and to distinguish between the right and left side preferences, curation has to be active.
An idea bank is a great way to view your idea curation process. You make deposits and withdrawals. However, you never want to go to the bank and find it empty of all resources.
That means actively developing an idea collection mindset and then supporting it with a simple process. Each day your fund of good ideas grows and you’ve got rainy day money to draw on the next time the cursor on your screen gets stuck.
My Idea Curation Workflow
Leon Ho’s Idea Collection Method
It’s a simple process which involves 7 steps.
1. Keep a notebook in your car
Full marks to Leon for ubiquity. Your car is a key location where ideas may occur and so he recommends creating a method for recording your voice while driving. I use a Siri command and then record my thoughts into Bear to do the same.
2. Keep a notebook beside your bed
Again, full marks for ubiquity. A pen and paper works fine, or dictate a note on your phone using Siri or use an app like Bear to jot down your thoughts.
3. Separate collection from retrieval
Okay, he doesn’t say that, but he recommends not organising your ideas as you collect them. It’s all about right and left side, however. Let nothing impede collection and reflect on the ideas later. He includes an image of Kurt Cobain’s notebook as an illustration of a creative mind at work.
4. Compile ideas in one place
Spot on Leon!. Funnel everything into your idea repository and you always know her to find them. He recommends Evernote (which I don’t).
5. Organise your ideas
Leon categorises his ideas using large buckets such as ‘Stories’ and ‘Home’. I use tags to do the same thing.
6. Kill your darlings
Leon suggests a cull. Not all ideas are good ones and so he triages his ideas regularly. Leon provides a link to another article which shows you how to decide if your idea’s a keeper.
7. Make your ideas actionable
Leon recommends you work on your ideas to make them actionable.
Build Your Own Process — Or Steal Mine
I read a lot of articles like the one Leon wrote as I considered how to create my Idea Curation Process.
There were some false starts, but now I’ve got mine working the way it suits me.
Adam’s Idea Curation Process.
1. Idea Collection
As already noted, everything starts with collection. I use the following tools to assist with collection.
DevonThink — this is my central repository. DevonThink can store everything you throw at it. It has a clipper which you can add to your browser. I set my clipper to send everything to the global inbox on DevonThink. I have several databases set up for aspects of my life. These include:
If I send everything to the global in-box, I know whatever I collect will wait there for me until I sit down to triage. My triage process has three steps:
- Weeding — get rid of anything I don’t want to keep.
- Tagging — I give everything a tag. I use words I will remember with an ‘x’ on the end. So ‘idea’ becomes ‘ideax’. I can’t remember where I got this tag method from but it is useful because when I search for a tag using an everyday word like ‘idea’ I know that if I add the ‘x’, only those records I’ve tagged as ‘x’ will appear in the results. I don’t get everything that contains the word ‘idea’ in the text.
- Filing — some people only tag and keep everything in one folder. That makes sense considering how good DevonThink’s search engine is. However, I’ve got a tidy mind so I pop mine into folders. Here’s a screenshot of the folder structure in one of my database.
DevonThink is amazing for many reasons but one of its best features is search. It has an intelligent search engine. By clicking on the top hat, it will serve up what it considers related results. This is a great way to uncover surprising connections between ideas.
2. My Idea Curation Tools
These are the tools I use in my system.
- Storage — DevonThink serves as my central repository. DevonThink is remarkable software and the Pro version has OCR baked in. That means you can search for text in PDFs.
- Notes — I use Bear. I can dictate a note using Siri while driving. I know I could just use Apple notes, but hey, I like Bear. The only thing I have to remember to do is visit Bear once a week and extract any notes and send them to DevonThink. I do this last thing on Friday before I leave work. It’s best to do this on your iPhone.
- Bullet Journal — I’ve tried using digital note taking apps at work, but they always make me feel like I’m not paying attention to whoever I’m talking to. I’ve set up a Workflow script on my phone which scans a note which contains an idea I want to collect and send it automatically to DevonThink. I find the Bullet Journal style of note taking easy to work with.
- Photo — I use my iPhone to capture anything I see which triggers and idea. I send the photo to DevonThink (see video below).
- Browser — Brave. This is a brilliant browser which accepts all the Chrome extensions, but without the sinister Google tracking. I’ve added the DevonThink clipper so I can capture anything I want to save on the fly.
- Pocket — I use Pocket as an interim storage system. It serves as my ‘read later’ service. I send anything I might want to save to it. Once there I can read it later and if I want to keep it as an idea, I can send it across to DevonThink.
Search and Retrieve Your Ideas
Now that I have everything saved in my repository I can use a variety of search terms to find what I’m looking for. As a bonus, DevonThink’s search engine will occasionally deliver something surprising.