6 Tools to Capture Your Brilliant Ideas

alien todo t-shirt / t-shirt

I was just asked to moderate a panel at an upcoming conference on Time Management. I also get asked all the time how I get so much stuff done. Let’s look at just one aspect of getting things done and that is capturing your ideas.
I am a big fan of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. One of his big ideas is that if your mind is constantly thinking of the 100 things you have to do that you will get less done. He is a big proponent of capturing all the things that you want to do someplace safe, someplace  where you won’t forget them. This can be as simple as always having a notebook with you and writing down when you have ideas or when you think of things to do, but my own system has a bit more complexity.
A Place for Every Idea
I use the application Things on my Mac as the center for prioritizing the set of tasks that I want to get done over the course of a week. When I think of something new to do I will often add it straight into my list of priorities. Sometimes I will add it into my “someday maybe” list meaning that I am not sure when I will get around to it, but at least I have captured the idea.
This new task joins my existing list of tasks. Some of these tasks are periodic tasks or projects putting out a weekly podcast. For the Amateur Traveler, for instance, each Sunday a new project is added to my list of things to do which includes the dozen or so tasks that are needed to get out this weeks show:

  • interview a guest
  • edit the audio of the interview
  • illustrate the episode with pictures
  • add in the intro and 3 news stories
  • add in the closing and news of the community
  • publish the show
  • promote the show to the tourism board for the destination we talked about
  • notify the guest the show has gone out
  • publicize the show (with its own separate checklist)
  • update the google map for Amateur Traveler with this show
  • update the featured podcasts on
  • write a weekly newsletter
Sometimes I have a weekly goal like writing a blog post for and I decide that I won’t do it this week. I get to do that. It is my life. But at least having the goals let’s me be clear about my choices.
Instapaper and “Read Later”
Often during my day I see a tweet, get an email or a text message that tells me about some article that sounds interesting. This article will probably take a few minutes to read and some more time to decide what tasks I should do based on the article. I don’t want to take the time to do that while I am in the middle of my day. It is one thing to take a quick 5 minute break to catch up on twitter, but I don’t want that to turn into a “where has all my day gone” distraction.
To help prevent this I use the site I have a bookmarklet on my browser called “read later” which I got from Instapaper. I quickly hit that bookmark on an article and it gets added to a list of articles on Instapaper. I can read these articles later on my computer, my iPhone or my iPad at a time that is more appropriate. It might take me days to get to it, but that’s OK.

I also use a few other bookmarking sites. For the This Week in Travel podcast that I do with Gary Arndt and Jen Leo we have created an area on Reddit (called a sub-Reddit) where we can add stories to talk about. So if I spot what might be an interesting travel related story during the week I quickly hit a different bookmarklet on my browser to add the story to the This Week in Travel area on Redit. When we have a guest on the show, we just send them a URL to that area to see all the stories that caught our eye this week. After a show I usually delete all the old bookmarks. We can also use this to allow listeners of the show to submit stories that they see.
One of the main ways I use Siri is to capture reminders while I am away from my computer, including while I am driving. I usually just say “hey siri remember”, and the Siri will prompt me for what I want to be reminded about. Then from Things I can later on go into my inbox and import all these reminders into my todo list.
Evernote is increasingly becoming the place I store my notes. I don’t use Evernote for my task list but if I figure out a procedure for work, or want a place to start to put down my thoughts for a talk, or want to scan the instructions for that new clock that I know I will lose then I type it or scan it into Evernote.
I am a heavy user of the website to keep track of web pages that I want to find again. When I see an article about a new wordpress plugin, a certain destination that I may want to go to, a recipe, etc I quickly bookmark the page at delicious with a set of appropriate tags. If it is an article about a Wordpress calendar plugin it might get tagged with “wordpress” “calendar” and “plugin”. I use whatever words I think will help me find the information again.
Let’s put it all together. Let’s say I have an idea for a book that I might write. I would add that task to Things as a project with a series of steps. My notes would probably start in Evernote. When I get a flash of insight while I am driving I would call myself in Google Voice. If I see an article that I want to read that is relavent I would add it to Instapaper and check it out ater. If I see web pages that I want to reference again later then I would probably keep track of them in or

Author: chris2x

One man's view of life in Silicon Valley from Chris Christensen - a podcaster, blogger, programmer, entrepreneur


  1. I have used Evernote for almost two years now. It can do everything all your other apps can do. I use it for the GTD system and have really improved my productivity. It allows voice notes so no need for voice mail. You can clip URL’s, web articles or whole web pages. You can forward emails to it so they become notes, and you can share it with others. It is cross platform. I use mine on my PC’s, Android smartphone and Nexus tablet.

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