Do You Keep an Idea Notebook?

One of the things I learned in my short stint in my high school paper (way back) was to keep a small notebook in my pocket for jotting down notes and ideas for writing. The fact that I was also dabbling in creative writing that time helped–I also found this useful in jotting down things that my imagination and daydreaming could come up with. My notebook(s) really proved useful in helping me remember those numerous things that keep going on in my head, whether newsy items to report on, or creative ideas I want to develop.

But I often lose my tickler notebooks. And even a small notebook plus a pen doesn’t always feel comfortable in one’s pockets. Lost notebooks meant lost ideas. And not bringing a notebook meant lost ideas anyway, as I couldn’t find a more convenient way to keep track of them.

And considering I come up with the most interesting of ideas while in the shower, I found it difficult to scribble notes with wet hands.

That ended my habit of keeping an idea notebook handy.

These days, though I’m using a better way to store ideas–at least for me. I note down ideas on my mobile phone.

My Mobile Phone

When I started this, phones were a bit archaic by today’s standards, and my ideas were kept as short notes saved as draft SMS messages. I gradually progressed to smartphones, and now I use my phones’ Notes application to store my ideas. What I like about this are the following:

  • I can sync my notes between computer and phone,
  • I usually carry my phone almost anywhere I go, anyway, so no need for a separate tool, and
  • I’ve become quite adept at typing on my phone’s keypad, so I can easily key in idea notes even while on the move.

So whenever a blog-worthy idea pops into mind, or whenever I read, hear or see something worth reporting, I pull out my trusty phone, press the shortcut key assigned to my Notes app, and type away. I even keep my phone under my pillow when I sleep. It serves a dual purpose–as my alarm clock, and as my notepad, when I suddenly wake up in the dead of the night with a brilliant idea, or with a strange dream.

Other options?

I know some people would prefer paper and pen, since you could jot down more than text this way. Some others would prefer posting on a wiki or some online application. Some would prefer Post-It notes. But the important thing here is that you have a reliable and secure place to keep those ideas. The best methods would be those that are easily accessible, and easily backed-up in case bad things happen.

As secondary note-taking tools, I do use various other apps like Tada List and Evernote, for longer and more complicated notes, and Dropbox for sharing my notes (and other files) across different computers.

A lot of my blog posts here on Performancing and elsewhere are products of my brainstorming with myself through my idea notebook. Perhaps it’s the same case with others.

Do you keep an idea notebook? If so, in what medium? And how has it been helpful to you?

21 thoughts on “Do You Keep an Idea Notebook?

  1. I always have a notebook and a pen with me, so I can write my ideas down in case I have them
    I dream of writing my own book someday with all the different ideas I have had in my life.


  2. on my iphone was the way to go. Now Jott is going paid-only so i may have to try voicenotes as an earlier commented said. I have flashes of brilliance while driving to and from work and it’s easy to use the phone to dictate them


  3. I am ALL ABOUT little notes to myself. Not only do I live and die by electronic reminders (MS Outlook, cell phone calendar/alarms) I also find myself needing to make notes on the go. If I’m in front of my work PC, I’ll bust out the classic Notepad for anything from brainingstorming to to-do lists and if I’m on-the-go, it’s definitely all about the cell phone notepad document.

    My only complaint about the latter is that I’m limited to 32 documents, each maxxing out at 160 characters. Completely unusable for anything other than bulleted lists.

    I tried voice-recording, but found that I rarely went back and referenced or transcribed them.


  4. I have the “voicenotes” iphone program prominantly placed on the home screen. When I get an idea, I click the shortcut key and start talking. I find it makes it easier for me to keep track of all my notes if I start by giving the context. I will state, “Blog Idea”, “Product name”, “sale on TurboTax”, before I go into depth. I will then give the particulars. If time allows, I give the recording a short name, if not, then I can still find that particular idea fairly quickly.

    The next time I am at my computer I transfer these ideas to my “journaler- Mac” software and put them into categories for later use.

  5. It’s filled with Post-It “Super Sticky” notes …

    I use three sizes ..

    1) 4″x 4″ for client related ideas / notes / deadlines / meetings / etc

    2) 6″ x 4″ for blogging related ideas / notes /deadlines / todo lists / etc

    3) 3″ x 3″ stickers labelled Sunday thru to Saturday – and they are sticking at the top of the wall – so if I have ideas and need to use the other stick’ems – I stick them under the appropriate deadline day – or, day when I thought of it.

    I also take computer paper, scrap 11-1/2″ paper and rip it up in quarters and place a pile of scrap paper on my computer next to me – where I work. If there’s something I need to do I just write it down and plop it next to the computer – and eventually I’ll clean up around my work area and computer and/or desk and deal with that note from myself – or delete it.

    For more longer-term ideas – that’s what desktop .TXT documents are for.

  6. For me, the bad thing about writing on loose scraps of paper is some of my best ideas may end up in my dryer, unreadable, lost forever with my missing socks! For this reason, I try to use loose scraps of paper only as a last resort.


    Follow me as I escape from the 40-hour work week!

  7. I still use the old pen and paper tradition. I usually carry around a small notepad. But if a notepad would be too bulky or inconvenient, I take a folded piece of paper or a 3×5 card. The pen is usually small enough to not be a problem.

    When I’m home, I transfer my notes to the appropriate folder in Microsoft OneNote, which is an excellent system for staying organized when you have tons of notes to keep track of.


    Follow me as I escape from the 40-hour work week!

  8. I always have ideas. This is not a problem.

    The problem is that I never have anything to write it one. So I reach for the first bit of paper that I can find.

    Sometimes the ideas make it on their own post-its or sheets of paper… Those are the lucky ones. But most end up on scraps of paper, on margins of already used sheets, on envelopes, on napkins, on flyers, in the date boxes on calendars, etc… The list goes on.

    I’ve bought notebooks, but they just don’t stick. Somehow, my thoughts never make it into them. In my creative haste, I cannot spend the extra few seconds required to seek out a notebook.

  9. Much to the chagrin of my family I have several notebooks going in various areas of the house. This doesn’t bother them as much as my stopping mid conversation to run to a notebook and jot down an idea.
    Can’t. Shut. It. Off.

  10. I have two that I use one is the notes feature of Horde email. Another is the notebook feature Google offers free. I think I heard Google might discontinue notebook sad I thought it was useful. There is always the notepad feature in MS Windows, but that is limited to the computer your are using at that time. Maybe you carry a thumb drive on your key chain and save the Windows notepad to it than it would available for any computer you were using. So instead of carrying a notebook in your back pocket you could carry one on your key chain. I wonder what Hemingway would think about that.

    @ lunaKM I like the Gmail, Google Docs idea, I already use them finished articles But I think I will keep more ideas and notes there also

  11. I tried the notebook thing, but when I’m jotting ideas down quickly my handwriting looks every bit as bad as a doctor’s. When I’m at home I’ll sometimes use OneNote or Word to keep track of ideas. When I’m away from home, I prefer to use a voice recorder. Again, channeling my inner doctor I carry a small voice recorder like docs use to dictate their notes. Actually got it when I was thinking about being a nurse for a living. Of course now, I’m trying to get out of the rat-race altogether (check out the blog), so I’m trying to find alternate purposes for my cool toys. Textbooks make great paperweights, but I haven’t found another good use for a stethoscope. Anyone?

  12. I still use pen and paper. But if carrying it would be awkward, I stick a 3×5 card or folded printer paper in my pocket. Pens are usually no trouble. To organize all my notes when I get home, I use Microsoft OneNote, which I just totally love!

    Scott Quitter
    Follow me as I escape from the 40-hour work week!

  13. When I have any idea come to my mind, I would like to write on paper notes, and then when I have spare time to go online, I would to post it to my blog.

  14. I don’t keep an official idea notebook, however I too use my phone when I have an idea or need a reminder. I usually jot down a tidbit of my idea, just enough so I can write it down when I get in for the day. When I am writing at my computer I have a word document I use for ideas so when something pops into my head I will just open it up and being writing freely.

    In the mornings I sometimes journal my tasks for the day and in addition to setting my daily goals I will just do some free writing and sometimes some good ideas for articles etc come of it.

  15. A while back, I got stuck trying to figure out what to blog about. I needed inspiration. I wondered if there were sites out there that specialized in giving bloggers ideas. At the time, I found almost nothing. I ended up building an “idea management system” and placing it online at It was an unfortunate failure and after two years, I pulled the plug but still had the domain name, so I put a placeholder Movable Type site there while I figured out what to do with it.

    Someone who found the site said that they were looking for a site which offered a “question of the day” or “idea of the day” they could use to spark their bloging. It sounded like a good idea, so as I come up with things that might make interesting or fun blog topics, I’ve posted them on the site. Each day I offer a new thought and suggest how a blogger might approach writing about it on their site.

    I’ve also gathered a few resources, including links to content, that I think will help bloggers stuck for an idea to write about.

    Now, when I get an idea, I queue it up for a post for a future day on That makes my idea notebook a site in itself…

  16. I use Google Documents/Gmail for most note-taking. I can use it at work when an idea pops into my head or send a quick email to myself when I’m out and about on my phone.

  17. I also have a tendency to have ideas out of the blue. While I am not as organized as you, I tend to be either at work or at home when I get my ideas, so I have a couple lists going.

    Another option I didn’t see mentioned in the post is voice recorders. They also have “come a long way”, and you can get some fairly high storage recorders that are not much bigger than a pen. If you have an idea simply click the record button, leave a voice note and click the off button. You can then playback at anytime to transcribe to your notes log.

    This might be a nice option for when you want something very lightweight or when typing might be an issue (like in the car). Simply press a button, leave the message and turn it off.

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