I think of ideas as lost objects. 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 at a moment's notice. Other storage devices are filing cabinets, shoe boxes, or voice recorders. One of my favourite filing methods I have heard of is 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:
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 me about 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, the more it gets lost. The more I write it down, the less exciting it becomes.
One last thing.
There is a guidebook called How to Find Lost Objects with thirteen principles to help you search. My six favourites are:
- Don’t Look for It
- It’s Not Lost - You Are
- Remember the Three C’s: Comfort, Calmness, Confidence
- It’s Where It’s Supposed to Be
- You’re Looking Right at It
- Qué Será, Será
Keep these principles in mind the next time you are stressing about that one great idea you are trying to remember.