How To Capture Dreams (And Ideas)

Mitch JoelPosted by

There is nothing more simple.

How do you capture your ideas? Where do you organize your thoughts? How do you get so much done? Everybody asks these questions of people who have had even a modicum of success (I’ve asked these questions too). There is no bolt of lightning (rarely). There is no sprint from the shower hoping that the idea doesn’t slip away. There is no time when you dream up something and it’s gone by the morning. The argument goes that the ideas that truly matter stick with you. They marinate, slowly, over time. They get twisted and grow within you like the roots of a tree, until the sapling becomes stable enough and the idea forms. 

The question remains: how do you capture these dreams and ideas (great trees require proper gardening)? 

That question has always baffled me, until very recently. Technology has given us a ton of tools. From apps like Evernote to Mind Mapping software to voice recording memo apps to a million little more tools to make the capturing, recording, aggregating and sharing of our ideas as simple as possible. There’s so many, that it seems like we spend more time on the tools than the actual ideas. If you dig into the feedback, this stuff works for some, but seems to slip through the fingers of many. Why? There’s a simpler method: walk around with a notebook (I know, I know… the earth didn’t get dented on that one). If the idea has resonance, move it from the notebook to somewhere more secure, so you can nurture it (if you’re afraid the notebook might get lost).

Simple is as simple does.

The reason this question of “how to capture ideas” has baffled me, is because my first professional job was as a music writer (back in the late 80s) – I took my habit of note taking for granted. The tools of the trade were (and still are) as basic as they come: notebook, pen/pencil and (if you really want to get fancy) a recorder for the conversation (this could be a voice recorder or a camera to capture images/video). I always had a notebook on me. Always. It started in my teenage years. I didn’t realize (or took for granted) that this simple action is not par for the course… that most people don’t do this… never have… 

Always have a notebook. Always.

Over time, I have adopted many of the tech tools to replace this simplistic system. I’m even writing this article on Evernote. Still, having the physical notebook on me (I prefer Field Notes or the Moleskine softcover with lines) forces me to remember to capture ideas (because I always put the notebook into my back pocket as I take my wallet and keys), it reminds me to be aware of potential ideas all day long (because it’s on me), when I add in something, the other notes remind me of all of the other times I have had ideas and the cycle rolls on. I never understood why people struggle with this, because having a notebook on me is as much apart of my life as having my keys on me.  

Capturing your dreams and ideas is a habit.

It’s as plain and simple as that. James Altucher is known for carrying around a waiter’s notepads (the ones that they use in restaurants), and he doesn’t start his day until he’s rattled off ten new ideas (and, yes, he admits that most of them are bad). James is “priming the pump” of idea generation for the day. Again, it’s a habit/ritual. I don’t write every idea into my notebook. I try to capture what I see, what I think, what bothers me or something that can be done differently. Don’t worry so much about which system works for you, but carry around a notebook everywhere (and use it). If you’ve ever heard Seth Godin being interviewed, he describes what he does as being someone who “notices things.” Be like Seth. Notice things. But capture things too. Have a “nose for news.” Ideas aren’t random. They’re everywhere. All of the time. Your job is to capture them. Keep that notebook on you. Slow down to write them in by hand. Remind yourself it’s there. Use it. Nobody is looking at it. Nobody cares. 

You should care about it… deeply… there may just be gold in there. 

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