Creative thinking really is something magical. You are able to visualize several unparalleled dimensions at once and connect dots most people could never connect. However, this doesn´t always happen on demand. Oftentimes the lightbulb lights up when you should be focusing on something else. This is why you need an idea journal.
The wonderful mind of a creative thinker
I often describe creative thinking as a “peripheral” thinking process. Your mind is aware and attentive to every single piece of information, regardless of whether or not it is directly related to what you are currently working on. When used well, this is incredibly powerful. Most genius ideas come from relating understandings from one field to another, or from gathering seemly unconnected clues to uncover a bigger trend.
But this powerful tool is not always what you need. Sometimes, specially in business, you need tunnel vision. You need to be able to focus on one thing and one thing only.
Strategic thinking works by focusing on one concept, or task, whilst dimming down the awareness towards the rest of things in the world. In the same way that our eyes, if we are trying to read the signal that is on the wall in from of us, adjust the focus to that point while making us ignore the rest of the visual information available.
Creative thinkers often struggle to adjust that focus, because their brain constantly keeps making new connections. That lightbulb keeps shinning on and on again, distracting them from what they should be doing. This very often hinders the progress of creative entrepreneurs, especially in the beginning stages of their business.
Enter : the idea journal
Creative minds will not stop creating. Neurons will keep firing, dots will get connected, wether it is convenient or not for what you are doing at the moment. This is just a fact.
But when you need to be working on your business plan, for example, you can´t divert your attention towards an idea for an awesome guerrilla-marketing campaign you can do in 6 months. Or towards a new business idea or together. Or the theme for your still-single best friend’s bachelorette party. All of these might be amazing ideas, they are just not “right-now” ideas. They might be “tomorrow” ideas, “next week” ideas, or “in some time if all goes well” ideas.
So the solution can´t be to stop it from happening, you rather need to find a way of acknowledging these ideas without letting them distract you from the present moment. This is exactly when an idea journal comes handy.
What is an idea journal?
An idea journal is exactly what it sounds like. It´s a journal, notebook, diary, or Pinterest board where you make note of the cool ideas that you know are super cool…just not for right now.
Noting down these “for later” ideas in a different notebook will help you in three different ways.
▶ It will help you make sure no great idea goes unrecorded.
Let’s be honest for a minute – how many times do you think of the perfect strategy for this or that, but then forget because you were not able to implement it right away? Or worse, you remember right after doing a worse version of it when the time comes.
If you note down these ideas, you will not only be able to remember them but you will know exactly where to find them. If you have ideas about radically different things, you can also have different notebooks or use colorful tabs to keep track of which one is which.
Or maybe you don’t need to have a notebook at all! I met a friend in Thailand who kept a note in his notes app of “cool business ideas” ; and he would pull it out to talk about these ideas with friends, or note down any new thing he would think of. Maybe he was in front of his laptop, or maybe he was in a reggae bar at 2am – regardless of the time, place (and conditions), he would make sure to take note of every new business idea.
▶ It will allow you to focus on the present moment.
Whenever a new thought appears in our mind, or brain automatically creates a goal , and lights up a “pending” sign until you complete it. But here is the thing. To make that “pending” notification go away, you don´t necesarily need to execute that action to completion – you just need to make something about it. The brain structures our thinking process in tasks and steps, and every time we finish a step we get a sense of completion. Movement and physical action help with that sense of changing task as well.
Think about how many times you went into a room to find something and you forgot the minute you entered in the room. From the goal “go into the room to grab the phone charger”, the brain focused first on getting you to the room. Once you got there, that “pending” notification got turned off.
While that can be annoying – you can also use this to your advantage. If when the lightbulb fires up you take your idea journal, you write it down, and then close it – your brain will get that sense of “task completed” and it will allow you to move on.
▶ It will serve as a self-motivation tool.
As entrepreneurs (and particularly Passion Entrepreneurs), our confidence levels fluctuate. Some days you feel like you are completely on track, you 100% know what you are doing and where you are going. And some other times, you feel lost and doubt yourself.
We’ve all been there. Maybe your latest campaign didn’t bring in the results you expected. Maybe that client rejected your offer. We find ourselves asking : Am I even good at this?
When you feel like that – you can always open your idea notebook, and take a look at all the amazing strategies and creative solutions your magical brain has come up with. Now, that is really something!
What kind of idea journal should I choose?
Well, that is completely up to you! As I said, maybe even the notes app on your phone could be enough. I guess the best advice is to get a notebook you enjoy writing in, because otherwise (if you are anything like me) you will end up not using it.
For example, I have lined and squared notebooks (always have) because I find them too restrictive and my eyes have a bit of a hard time ignoring the underlying structure. Because of this I have mostly used blank page notebooks – however lately I have made the switch to bullet journals, or dotted notebooks.
Bullet journals have a light grey dotted grid, which allows you to be more accurate than with blank pages, but without the distraction and restriction from the lines or squares.
▶ The OG Bullet Journal
Despite the fact that we use the term “bullet journal” to talk about any kind of notebook with a dot grid, the fact is that Bullet Journal is a trademark. They sell journals with specific features, and they also have an app and a book for you to learn how to use your journal : The Bullet Journal Method, by Ryder Carroll.
I think this is a great option as your main diary, although I personally prefer the pages to be completely blank (except for the dots, of course) so I can create whatever layout makes the most sense for me.
I am, like many creative, quite partial to Moleskine. Of course the brand itself carries a lot of value but the quality and durability of both the notebooks and the paper are undeniable. I also love the little pocket they have on the back cover, this proves super useful to keep your loose notes and whatnots.
Leichtturm1917 make “authentic” Bullet Journals, however, they have simpler bullet notebooks too. Their motto is “details make all the difference” and I will have to agree. They have a backpocket just as Moleskine, and numbered pages as well. They have different sizes, cover formats and plenty of colors to choose from. Their “Pacific Green” color is my favorite. I think the A6 size is perfect for an idea journal, because you can carry it everywhere and make sure no good idea goes unrecorded.
At the end of the day, the important is not the notebook. The most important thing is creating the habit of writing down these ideas the moment they appear, and of course – turning them into reality when the time comes.
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