It’s easy for creative people to generate a million ideas – but it’s much more challenging to keep track of them. If you find yourself vaguely remembering you had a killer idea for a soundtrack/iPhone app/film plot/painting but you’re stumped as to what it was, it's time to get organized. You owe it to yourself to take a few steps to organize your ideas by capturing them, managing them and reviewing them regularly.

Step One: Capture Your Ideas

It’s critical that you find a way to capture your thoughts and store them in a safe place. It doesn’t really matter how – just pick a way that works for you.

You could carry a small notebook (like DaVinci) or index cards with you to jot down ideas as they occur.

If you have an electronic organizer or smart phone, set things up so you can capture your brainwaves digitally.

Tape recorders and voice mailboxes also work great – and are especially useful for musicians, singers and composers to capture auditory ideas.

Avoid worrying about doing this 'perfectly'. Instead, focus on finding the easiest ways get organized: Think about when, where and how ideas come to you. If you tend to get great ideas in your sleep, for example, then have a small notebook or tape recorder on your night table to capture them immediately. If, like Steven Spielberg, you’re often struck by inspiration while driving, practice using your hands-free phone to dictate your ideas into your voice mailbox.

Step Two: Organize Your Ideas

Once you are regularly capturing your ideas, it’s worth it to organize them. This way, you can find them when you need them and you reduce the risk of letting them slip through the cracks. Again, how you choose to get organized will depend on your particular preferences. Use the technique that seems easiest to you.

For the digitally inclined, it’s easy enough to set up idea files on your computer or PDA.

Where these electronic devices fall short is in storing physical reminders of ideas -- scraps of paper, articles, sketches, post-its, doodles, index cards, etc. For those of us who rely on visual cues or who are apt to grab the nearest piece of paper to jot down an idea, we need means of storing and sorting physical entities as well as the ideas themselves.

Barbara Sher advocates keeping dozens of half inch binders, each one designated for a particular project or theme. As creative thoughts pop up, put them directly into the appropriate binders.

You can do the same thing with separate manila file folders. Or presentation folders with built-in pockets. Or those fat, accordion-pleated folders that have separate interior compartments, a covering flap and a large, built-in elastic to hold it closed. There are also organizational handbags that work like portable filing cabinets – the interior is divided into separate slots to hold folders.

If you’re more of a ‘piler’ than a ‘filer’, consider boxes or a ‘stationary sorter’ which is basically a stack of cubby holes into which you can accumulate material on different topics.

The particular topics, projects, categories you use to label your folders (or boxes or cubbies) will be unique to you. For example writers might designate places for “possible stories” “possible characters” “possible titles” “contacts” “marketing” “writers I love” "publishing leads" as well as separate folders for every potential project – past, present and future.

Once you have selected your preferred set-up, it’s important to develop a habit of regularly transferring your captured thoughts into your organizational devices. You might be able to do this automatically – as ideas occur to you, simply capture them in their relevant folder. If, like some of us, you often find your pockets or purse full of scraps of notes or clippings from articles, try making a weekly practice of transferring your ideas to a safer location. For others, a monthly transcribing of ideas will work better.

If one creative thought applies to more than one category or projects, be sure to capture it in every relevant folder. If in doubt, put the idea in every category in which you might possibly look for it.

Step Three: Periodically Review Your Creative Ideas

It doesn't make much sense to capture your creative thoughts and organize them if you never look at them again.

Even fantastic ideas get forgotten. After publishing a best-seller, Salman Rushdie was shocked to discover in his notes that, years before, he had conjured up the exact same concept for a novel – and had completely forgotten about it.

You owe it to yourself to review your ideas periodically – monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or annually. Any hidden gems? Anything that gets your creative juices flowing? What notions have you already developed? Sometimes we get great ideas years before we have the skills or opportunity to develop them. Is there anything in your creative folders that now seems more appealing or more possible to execute than when you captured them?

Activity: Be honest with yourself: are you actively, consistently capturing your ideas? If yes, make note of what’s working well for you – and keep doing it. If not, commit to putting in place mechanisms to capture your creative thoughts and get organized.

Activity: How, when and where do you tend to get ideas? What are the best ways for you to capture your creative thoughts?

Activity: If you’re in the market for a new way to organize your ideas, head to the nearest office supply store – or the school supply section of your local discount store -- to peruse your options. What strikes you as being new, easy, appealing ways to get organized?

Activity: If you are not capturing your ideas directly into their folders, develop a daily, weekly or monthly practice of making this happen.

Activity: Schedule an appointment for one month from today. In that session, examine how your idea capturing is going. Are you consistently catching, recording and organizing your creative thoughts? If not, what adjustments can you make?

Activity: Schedule a date, six months from now in which you will review all your ideas. Any hidden gems? Anything that gets your creative juices flowing? What notions have you already developed? Is there anything in your idea folders that now seems more appealing or more possible to execute than when you captured them?


(c) Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. All rights reserved.


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Author's Bio: 

Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. is the go-to coach for smart, creative people who want to overcome challenges, get organized, get things done and get more out of life (

Liisa Kyle is also an internationally published writer/editor/photographer as well as author of books including "YOU CAN GET IT DONE: Choose What to Do, Plan, Start, Stay on Track, Overcome Obstacles, and Finish" ( If you are a creative person with too many ideas and too much to do, check out her other helpful articles here: