Organize your thoughts

Posted by Filip Ekberg on 25 Sep 2012

Do you get a lot of ideas when you go to bed, that you forget in the morning?

I sure do and I know that this is very common. The reason that I've got explained to me is that because when we go to bed, we relax our entire body & mind. When doing so we also start reflecting upon the day or even week that has passed so far; subconsciously.

At least for me, seconds before I actually fall asleep (last thing that I can remember) I get the best ideas but often I lack things around me to get these thoughts on permanent record.

As I live, love and work with code this is where most of my ideas orbit. But occasionally I get other ideas as well, things like where I want to travel, what I want to see and what kind of changes I like to do in our home.

Last year, I attended NDC (Norwegian Developer Conference) and I somehow got to join the speaker/staff cruise. At this party, I met a lot of very interesting people and one of them gave me a very good insight into how he captures the moment; he always has a pen and some paper in his pocket. On these papers he writes all kinds of interesting ideas, suggestions and anything else that you can imagine.

As I hate "analog" writing, I didn't really like the idea of carrying pen and paper with me everywhere, but the idea was great; I just had to find something that worked for me. I'm still in the process of finding exactly what works best for me!

Finding the right tools

There is something that is always by my side, everywhere I go and it would be awesome if this accessory could have an easy way to log thoughts on. Of course, I would want to be able to access these thoughts anywhere, even if I drop the accessory.

I'm of course talking about my smartphone and storing the content in the cloud!

As for just writing down my thoughts, taking photos and storing smaller portions of information; I tend to fall back to evernote. This is by far the best application that I've used for rapidly store notes in the cloud!

Here are some reasons to why I use Evernote:

  • It's easy to rapidly create new notes/images
  • There's a free version!
  • It works on all devices (PC, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

Since I always have my phone with me, no matter where I am; I can instantly add a note with my most recent ideas. Then it's of course up to myself to actually follow up and checking my own notes now and then.

This is what the PC version of Evernote looks like:

One very cool feature is that you can actually search inside both your notes and your images! If there's text in images, Evernote will be able to find that!

Mapping your mind with a mind map!

Up until recently I felt it was difficult keeping track of all my thoughts that I had in meetings together with all the feedback from customers and co-workers. This is because either I put everything in a text document using Notepad or an Excel spreadsheet. Neither of these two alternatives have been very fun to work with. Another problem is also that it's not quite so fun sharing just plain text with your co-workers or customers. So I wanted to find something else that was fast and that gave me great possibilities at the same time.

I actually stumbled upon a software called XMind, which is a tool for creating all sorts of diagrams. Best of all, there's a free version! It doesn't include all the fancy export possibilities or some of the more interesting modes; but the free version sure does the job well enough!

XMind can be used to create the following diagrams (more can be downloaded):

  • Blank
  • Project Plan
  • Project Status Report
  • Project Dashboard
  • Organization chart
  • Short meeting
  • Meeting Manager
  • SWOT Analysis
  • Cause & Effect
  • Timeline
  • Make a Decision
  • Weekly Plan

As you can see by the image below, there are a lot of very nice diagrams that can be created.

When I just want to brainstorm and get my thoughts organized, I create a Blank document and just start adding nodes. By pressing Enter/Tab you create a child to the current node. So if you double click the first big blue box in the middle and name it, press Enter and then Tab, it will create a child to that.

You can see on this image below that I've created a map over what I have and want to write about and then added sub-sections to each topic to make it easier for me to remember what I want to write about.

The alternative that I used before is not as nice and does not provide as good of a overview. This could as mentioned above have been doing it in a notepad document, spreadsheet or even the built in Sticky Notes application in Windows.

I think it is very important that we find good ways, especially ways that we are personally comfortable with, to keep track of our thoughts and ideas. It might feel a bit unusual to start, but stepping out of one’s comfort zone can lead to something very good.

It's a great feeling being able to enter a meeting, taking notes and directly after the meeting not be ashamed of sending your mind map to your co-workers.

How do you normally organize your ideas and thoughts and what tools do you recommend for taking notes during a meeting?

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