I think of ideas as lost object. Immediately, at the point of their creation, they are at risk of being lost, forgotten, and never remembered. To prevent this from happening, we have two options: Capture them or let them go.
The first is to write them down and, hopefully, put them into whatever filing system we have devised. This is the Getting Things Done method of doing things. Merlin Mann carries index cards around in his back pocket to write things down in a moments notice. Other storage devices are filing cabinets, shoe boxes, or voice recorders. One of my favorite filing methods I have heard of is from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, where she says she hangs 3x5 cards on a clothesline strung across her workspace to capture her ideas.
I used to fill journals with ideas, doodles, breakdowns, and outlines. I built a big story diagram on my wall that I would hang sticky notes with all the story beats, characters, and images on. I used to. But the things I kept I never used. Once I wrote them down, they were truly lost.
So, now I let them go.
I don’t store them. I acknowledge them and then let them go because the really good stuff always returns. It may not reappear as it originally did. It often comes back mutated and but it always forms into something better. And the stuff that doesn’t return, I don’t worry about.
37signals addresses feature requests in what I feel is a similar way. From Getting Real:
“So what do you do with all these requests that pour in? Where do you store them? How do you manage them? You don’t. Just read them and then throw them away [because] the ones that are important will keep bubbling up anyway.”
They trust the customer to remind them about the really important features. I trust my brain to remind about the really worthwhile ideas. It’s when I fight more to remember the idea, the more I forget it. The more I try to capture it, they more it gets lost. The more I write it down, the less exciting it becomes.
One last thing.
There is a guide book called How to Find Lost Objects with thirteen principles to help you search. My six favorites are:
Keep these principles in mind the next time you are stressing about that one great idea you are trying to remember.