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Upgrade Your Brain’s RAM With An Idea Journal

The first and best tip I can offer to anyone wanting to be more creative and innovative is to start carrying and Idea Journal… Something to write your ideas on 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

This could take any form ranging from 3×5 cards tucked into a pocket or purse, to a computer-based system. No matter which system you choose, the secret is selecting something you can keep with you at all times that allows you to quickly write down thoughts whenever they come to mind.

An Idea Journal will accomplish a few of things for you…

First… and the point of this post… It’s going to allow you to capture the things you think, hear, see, learn, and all sorts of raw material for ideas.

Using an Idea Journal will re-wire your senses to be more receptive to information you may have previously overlooked. These notes are building blocks for new ideas. After you’ve written them, review your notes at a later time. Write a specific challenge in your journal and let it just sit there and incubate. After a few days, come back to that problem and see what answers you have hatched in your mind.

Second… You can write and store important notes to free-up brainpower. Since you’ll always have your journal with you, you’ll always have your important lists as well. Remembering lists and random thoughts uses valuable brain RAM. Just like an application on your computer running in the background, it can cause the other apps to be sluggish. Your brain is processing “I’ve got to bring home a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and a stick of butter,” when it could be working on something more critical. Write it down in your journal.

Finally… your journal will come in handy to capture and recall a phone number, book title, website, or other reminders. You will no longer need to frantically pat yourself down or hope to find an old receipt in your wallet.

So, which tool is best? Whatever is best for your style. Perhaps your current planner can work as your single tool, or maybe you need to add something new. There is something in the idea, if you want to think different, act different.


Here are thoughts from personal experience…

  • Use permanent ink or pencil… something that won’t wash away if your Idea Journal gets wet.
  • Use something as accessible as possible. As excited as I was to have a Tablet PC… It isn’t convenient if you need to jot something down, say, in a restaurant with your family. You won’t want to use it in the rain, and sometimes the 20 seconds it takes to wake from hibernation-mode is enough to lose that great idea nugget forever.
  • What do I use? My tool lately has been the pocket Moleskine* sketchbook. I use the larger sketchbook when I’m working on a specific project and need more space. There are no lines, which allows free-range writing, and the pages are think enough not to allow ink to bleed.
    *By the way, Moleskine is pronounced moe-lay-skee-nay, not mole-skin as I once thought.

No matter which format you select, if you stick with it, I guarantee you will impress yourself with the thoughts you capture and the new ideas that are sparked!


Do you use some form of Idea Journal now? How is it working? If you start an Idea Journal… Please share your experience! Questions or reactions? Please leave them in the comments section.


A list of tools ranging from simple paper-based to electronics…


  • 3×5 cards, Small Assignment Pad, Composition Notebook – you can find these everywhere from office supply store, drug stores, to the grocery aisle.
  • Planner Systems – of course you can use your current Franklin Planner, Daytimer, or other calendar/notebook tool. Just get in the habit of having it with you always. Alternatively, carry a smaller pad and tape or transcribe notes you gather back into your planner. (See also the DIY Planner option below…)
  • Levenger – If you like the 3×5 size, but want your system to look more professional, check out the Levenger Company. They have an entire system with pre-printed cards, “shirt pocket briefcase” leather cardholders, the works.
  • Moleskine – These small black notebooks have been around for centuries and have been carried by the likes of Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Hemingway. A plethora of sizes and formats to choose from. Get inspired by other passionate users at the Moleskinerie site and images on Flickr.
  • Hipster PDA – The Hipster PDA, introduced a few years ago on the 43 Folders website, a stack of 3×5 cards held together with a binder clip. It’s a PDA requiring no batteries, never crashes, and won’t shatter if dropped.
  • D.I.Y. Planner – The DIY Planner is a do-it-yourself system of templates for printing. Hundreds of templates have been created and are available free. Check out the Hipster PDA templates you can print on 3×5 cards.


  • Digital Voice Recorders – If you prefer to take voice notations use this selection found on Amazon as a guide, or a voice recording add-on for your iPod.
  • Computer Software – I don’t recommend software as capture tools because of the lack of quick accessibility. However, digital scanners, handheld PDAs, and software such as OneNote for the Tablet PC and Curio for the Mac are nice for transcribing written notes into digital format.
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