Idea Capture Tools

Aug 11, 2014 | Better Writing

Last week (8/7/14) I wrote a post on Capturing Ideas. Several readers sent emails asking for some more on the best tools for that purpose. Here goes, starting with the most important thing.

It doesn’t matter what you use, just capture those ideas

My friend James, captures his ideas and notes in the kind of “Composition Notebook” I used to use in school. Every Sunday, he leafs back through what he’s written there during the week. Every now and then he goes back to the shelves that hold over twenty years of his notebooks, pulls one out at random, and reads for a while.

My mentor, Don Deffner, had a very different system. He captured ideas on random slips of paper, then put the note in the pocket he had designated for a particular project. The slips went into a wooden tray at the end of the day where each project had its own bin. Every week his secretary typed up the notes. Don filed them in his project folders and reviewed them when he worked on a project.

The mix of tools and habits that work for you will probably be unique or nearly so. Try things till you find a mix that works.

The system is the important thing

Capturing ideas is only the first step. You need to develop a system to review them, modify them, and use them. Harold Jarche calls it a Personal Knowledge Management system or PKM.

Discipline and habit make the system work

No matter what system you have, it won’t run without effort. You have to develop the habits and discipline to make the best use of your ideas.


Here are some places you can go to check out some of the tools available.

For digital voice recorders, check out what Amazon has on offer. I currently use an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder WS-852

You can find all sorts of notebooks and other ways to take notes at any large office supply store. But there are two specialty web sites that can be a font of ideas for what you can use.

Moleskine notebooks have been popular with writers, reporters, and artists for decades. You’ll find lots of cool tools on their site. I’m pointing you to their page on notebooks and journals.

Levenger used to bill themselves as “Tools for Readers.” They’ve got lots of cool tools for writers and other folks, too. I’m pointing you to their shirt pocket briefcase for index cards. I’ve been using mine for over thirty years.