I don’t know where great ideas comes from. I do know where ideas are saved, stored and used to create greater ideas.
In the past 24 hours, two people in my social circle have asked how others organize information online, so that it can be filed, recalled and shared at a later time. There are countless systems and strategies, technologies and frameworks for organizing ideas that could be turned into an article, fodder for a podcast, a story to tell from the stage, a book chapter, a case study and much more. Once again, we find ourselves drowning in data and chocking on the mass amounts of stories that are available to snack on. Post-it notes? Screenshots? Printing out articles? (none of those work me). How do you get organized, stay organized and ensure that these ideas are properly organized and appropriately credited?
Curate first. Save later.
Before we discuss the tools that I use to organize, store and tag content, the bigger problem is finding out where the best content comes from. I curate content from three unique spaces:
- Google Alerts. I prefer letting Google Alerts do the heavy lifting for me. I have created countless alerts for specific industry terms that I am tracking (smart speakers, artificial intelligence), individuals whose thinking I want to be up to speed on, and some general terms (like the city that I live in or specific brands that I admire). This way, I don’t have to sift through countless websites or hope to stumble across content that might be relevant to me. Google Alerts enables the content to come to me, and it’s divided up by my choice of keywords.
- Newsletters. Once I see a slew of key articles or other pieces of content consistently coming from a source, I will sign up for their respective newsletter or updates (if they offer it). If they don’t, and there’s a strong flow of content ideas, I will create a bookmark (or tab) in my browser, so that I can scan their site as needed.
- Business – Non-fiction books. Spending a long amount of time in a deep river of content seems to be the ideal place to troll for inspiration and creativity. I used to read a ton of magazines and online articles. Now, my most common form of content consumption is business books. I can’t say enough about the the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle App for highlighting important segments of the books, that I then export into Evernote.
The true tools of organization and productivity.
- Pocket. I can’t say enough good things about the app Pocket. It is the central “brain” of everything that I read, see and listen to online. I even wrote about it back in 2013 (My Love Affair With Pocket) Pocket allows you to save and tag online content. The two core components that I love most about Pocket is the ability to read everything that you saved offline (great for planes without wifi, etc…) and the tagging capabilities. I don’t use generic tags. I tag content by how I am going to use it. So, let’s say there’s an eye-popping article with a big data point, I will tag it as “slide.” This way, when it’s time to update a presentation, I sort by “slide” and there’s a ton of great and fresh content to work with. I use tags like: CHOM, blog, podcast, book and more. Yes, many articles have multiple tags, but after so many years of being an infovore, I can usually eyeball content and know where it might be useful to me. I even have a tag for “video” content that I would like to watch. It’s also cloud-based, so everything is updated across laptop, iPhone and tablets, etc… Did I mention that I love Pocket?
- Evernote. I don’t love Evernote. I tolerate it. I do need a place to store some digital content that I am creating. This goes into Evernote. Writing ideas, concepts for the business, etc… It’s cloud-based, I can tag content and build them into individual notebooks. It does the trick. I consider Evernote the draft or demo state for my content. As it gets more serious, I move into a myriad of other softwares, depending on if it’s an article, podcast, presentation, business proposal, etc…
- Moleskine. Call me old-fashioned. Call me a romantic. I’m a writer. As much as I love my keyboard, there’s nothing better in the world than a notebook and a pen. Almost every idea starts off in a Moleskine (or Field Notes) notebook. Stuff that I am worried might get lost – or is super-important – gets upgraded into Evernote, and then graduates into the right software that is driven by what the content becomes (podcast, book chapter, article, etc…). Writing by hand and storing it in a notebook is ideal organization for my ideas. Many people like Bullet Journals and the like, I’m fine with the mess that is a notebook crammed with ideas and opportunities.
Lastly, always remember…
We can’t save, remember, recall and use everything. Sometimes a great ideas pops into my head… and then it’s gone. I truly subscribe to the thinking of people like Steven Pressfield and countless songwriters: If the idea is really important and resonates, it keeps coming back. It shows up. It pokes at you. If you can’t remember it? It probably wasn’t that important after all.