Creativity & Motivation

My System for Organizing Thoughts and Ideas


First, I must say that I am not, by nature, an organized person. In the past, I’ve tried a lot of different approaches to getting organized and failed at them all. During my frequent “must become organized” phases, I’d download countless iPhone and desktop productivity apps and I’d use them once or twice before ultimately forgetting all about them.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve realized that getting some stuff organized wasn’t ever going to work for me. It wasn’t enough to put “write 1000 words of TBSOL today” on my to do list, because there were too many other factors contributing to my lack of productivity. I talked a bit about this in my Searching for Purpose and Something Happens Here posts, but this post isn’t really meant to be about my life’s philosophy. It’s also not a post about productivity (because I’m still not where I want to be with that).

Instead, I want to talk about how I go about organizing my thoughts/ideas/etc.

Until recently, I didn’t take the time to write important things down. I have always kept a notebook in front of me and with me, but other than jotting miscellaneous info, I’ve never been consistent at getting things out of my head and onto paper. The problem with being inconsistent is that I’d have one notebook in which I’d write down everything and then I’d forget that I wrote anything down and it would be lost amidst a lot of unimportant information.

Recently, I decided to solve that issue.

Here’s my current system:

The catch-all notebook for unimportant, short-term stuff


My catch-all notebook #1

I have a notebook in front of me at all times. Well, currently, I have three. But one is always open to a fresh page, there’s always a pen on top of it. It’s the notebook where I write down stuff that I don’t need to keep for later.

For example, today I wrote down the name of the files of the photos I mean to include with this post. On the previous page, there’s notes I took while watching Las Aparicio, which will save me some time next time I go to write a recap.

This notebook contains a random assortment of the following:

  • World of Warcraft notes (items I want to look up, items I need to craft, quest info, coordinates, etc),
  • Songs I want to download
  • Random books I want to read
  • Random notes and numbers
  • Hexadecimal codes for when I’m working on websites

And pretty much anything that’s useful to me at that moment or in the short-term, but that I don’t need to keep forever.

For a long time, this was my only notebook and all the important stuff I’d write down (whenever I actually wrote important stuff down) got swallowed up by all the other random crap.

Enter notebook #2.

The catch-all notebook for important or long-term stuff


My catch-all notebook #2

A few weeks ago, I started a different notebook. Here I started to write only the stuff that I felt was important or that I wanted to keep for a long time. I write here in a very disorganized manner. The point is just to get the thoughts out. For that reason, I chose a very thin notebook. That way, even though the content is random, it’s still very easy for me to find things. This is the notebook I usually take with me when I go out.

This notebook contains a random assortment of the following:

  • Quotes I like
  • Story ideas that pop into my head randomly
  • Scene ideas that pop into my head randomly
  • General writing ideas that pop into my head randomly
  • Here I also wrote the outline for the last two chapters of TBSOL
  • Short notes from the books that I’m reading
  • Lists of 100 things (currently I have a list of 100 things I want to do)

And pretty much anything that is important and that I don’t want to lose or forget.

The problem, of course, is that the notebook will run out eventually, and there’s stuff in there I want to keep for a long time to come.

Enter OneNote.

OneNote (My Digital Notebook)

OneNote comes bundled up with Microsoft Office. And I’ve played around with it a lot in the past but ultimately had no real use for it, until very recently.

The reason why I started using OneNote is a different story entirely and if I get into it I will digress forever.

So, I’ll just say this:

OneNote is the software I use to organize all my important, long-term information. The stuff I want to easily access several years down the line.

All the important, long-term information I collect, I put into OneNote. I have a “notebook” dedicated to keeping track of pretty much everything in my life, and that includes:

  • Goals (short-term and long-term)
  • Goal-achievement strategies
  • Current and future plans
  • Story ideas
  • Random writing samples
  • Lists (books I want to read, things I want to do, etc)
  • Quotes
  • Interesting articles/information

All these topics are divided by colored tabs. Once a week or so, I dump the information from my “catch-all” notebook into OneNote to keep it organized.

I also use OneNote to organize my writing. Since Rayne is my next major project, I have a notebook called Rayne.

Here’s a screencap of the “Research” tab:


Here’s a close-up of the tabs:


Within each main tab, I have sub-tabs. For example, under the “Outline” tab I have the following sub-tabs:


These will eventually grow to contain the whole outline of the book.

OneNote works really well for me. I use it in conjunction with Evernote. I use Evernote as the digital version of my “catch-all” notebooks. If I find interesting things across the web, I clip it and send it to Evernote. And then eventually I take whatever I deem important and organize it into OneNote.

This system works really well for me and I intend to keep to it for a long time to come.

Lately, though, I’ve been itching for a more organized, physical notebook.

Enter Moleskines.

Moleskine #1

P1060129I got a Moleskine notebook when I was out on the town yesterday so this new addition to my “system” has not yet had a chance to prove itself. However, I am really excited to join the Moleskine-owners club.

I intend for this notebook to be a concise, portable version of the information found on OneNote, so that if I don’t feel like being on the computer or if I’m traveling (I don’t have OneNote on my netbook), I can still access an abridged version of the same information.

Last night, I “hacked” my Moleskine and added the following tabs:

  • Writing – I’ve already added a printed version of the first page of a future novel that I like to work on whenever a random idea for it pops into my head.
  • Ideas – Here I’ve added a list of ideas for future novels and stories, as well as ideas for future articles/blog posts.
  • Projects – One of my current “projects” is a secret blog that is going to take me a little while to get off the ground. The Las Aparicio recaps began as a project idea. The 365 photo project (which I have now given up on) is another. I will likely give myself another photo project as I really enjoy photography.
  • Research – When I read, I take notes. And I don’t usually like to read in front of the computer, so having a section to jot down “researchy” type info in would be useful.
  • Notes – Misc. info.

I ordered two other Moleskine notebooks from Amazon which I should get today. I’ll likely play around with this one before I tear into the other two, but we’ll see.

And that’s my “system.” How do you keep organized?