My post last Friday began life in a moment of uncertainty. I have a system in place for managing my ideas - of which more follows in a moment - but I was suddenly struck by the thought: “Is there a better way to do this?”
Most of the comments on that post were recommendations for particular applications. OmniOutliner, Yojimbo, Tinderbox, DevonThink, and others - a familiar list of superb software products, all of them admirable in one or more respect. All of them taking a slightly different approach to broadly similar tasks.
And useful as those recommendations were, I was interested in something else - the manner in which people treat their ideas, the process they use to develop them. I have a theory: this process affects the system a person uses to manage ideas. If you consider your ideas as entries in a list, you’re more likely to use an outliner or a list-making app.
If, instead, you think of your ideas as objects to be edited and developed, you are more likely to use an app like Tinderbox, Yojimbo, MacJournal and the like.
Why is managing ideas so important? Well, it’s important to me because without ideas for articles, I won’t get commissioned to write any. Ideas are the raw materials I use for my work, and I imagine there are a lot of other people (not just freelance writers) who are in a similar position.
For a while now, I’ve been keeping all my ideas for articles in a single text file. There’s nothing actually wrong with this system; it’s the simplest way to do it, depending on nothing more complex than plain text and copy-and-paste. It’s the good easy of idea-storage. I’ve been happy working this way. But not always as organized as I want to be. My questioning post last Friday was written as much as an attempt to be better organized as anything else.
As a result of reading through the comments under last week’s post, I spent some hours trying out some of the suggested systems. I had another go with several apps that I’ve used (and reviewed) before, in each case trying to work out how easy it would be to add a new idea to each one. I tried everything that was mentioned; they all (everything from Stickies to Tinderbox and everything in between) have their strengths.
Even after all this experimentation, I’m still not certain how my brain treats ideas - whether I’m a list-maker, or object-editor. One thing the introspection did offer me was a chance to study the anatomy of an idea - in my case, most ideas comprise a line or two of text and a URL. Anything beyond that is not an idea, it’s a work-in-progress. What is certain is that I have changed the way I work since reading everyone’s comments last week. All I have to do now is work out whether or not the new approach is better.
Thanks, once again, to everyone who contributed an opinion.