Seven Ways to Capture Ideas on the Run


Seven Ways to Capture IdeasIt never fails that brilliant idea, the sudden flash of inspiration or the perfect solution comes you when you are doing something else.  And, usually when you are away from your office.

You might be driving in your car, taking a shower, just getting ready to drift off into dreamland in bed, talking on a call or maybe taking a walk around the neighborhood.

Quick! What do you do so you don’t lose your valuable idea?

Here are 7 of my favorite ways to capture an brilliant idea and keep it from falling into the ethers if I wait too long or just try to remember it:

1) Napkin

Yep, that old metaphor of a brilliant idea penned out on a napkin in a café really does work beautifully. It’s natural that when you are out at a café with all that stimulating energy moving around you that a flash of an idea comes to you.  Grab that napkin and write it down.  Just remember which napkin you wrote on and don’t throw it away by mistake!

2) Index Cards

I love the simplicity of index cards. They are lightweight and inexpensive.

Keep a stack everywhere, in your car, next to your bed (for those 3 am jolts of brilliance), on the bathroom counter when you get inspired in the shower and have to capture your idea before you forget. (a waterproof pen or markers is a good idea here)

You can easily carry them to your desk later ready to be added to a project list or dive right into action.

I woke in the early morning with this article just tumbling out and made some notes on the index card on my bedside table and could go back to sleep feeling good!

3) Sticky Notes

The eternal favorite way to capture an idea. Here is another way to organize those idea notes. Keep a pad of them on your desk and when a random idea pops up or a resource you want to check out, write it on your sticky note and put the note on your daily calendar.

At the end of the day you’ll have a collection in one place and  then take some time to organize your sticky ideas into projects  or research your recommended resources.

 4) Flip Chart

Ok, maybe not very handy for the car or near the shower!  It’s the perfect place to keep an ongoing brainstorm list for a specific project. Hang up a large piece of flip chart paper or one of the new Biggie 3M Post-it notes on your wall with the name of a project you are working on.

Every time a new idea comes to you add it to your project list. You’ll collect ideas over time and they’ll be ready when you are.

There is something about having something big on the wall that is visually colorful (you can use markers and colorful sticky notes) that opens up your creative energy and gets you thinking bigger, helps you make new connections between ideas or see new patterns that just writing down ideas on your computer in a Word doc doesn’t do.

5)  Idea Journal

As an entrepreneur, I am often out at cafes or other places to work on my business.  I always carry an Idea Journal with me.  It’s here I write down those great ideas, and mindmap and flush out projects, article ideas and email campaigns.

When I’m back in my office and ready to write then I look in my Idea Journal for ideas to expand on.

I also bring a fresh journal to workshops and conferences.  I tend to doodle the key points and highlight my own ideas that get spurred from the meetings.  You can certainly capture all this on the compute but I find that the physical act of writing, doodling, and moving your arm stimulates more inspiration and ideas than typing will ever do.

6) Evernote

I’ve gone in and out of using the Evernote app and now I’m back to making it my main place online to capture information.  This is where I store cool logos, brands I like, great articles, quotes, app recommendations and resources.

I love the tagging system so I can find my brilliant genius thoughts easily and I especially love that I can use it between my PC, ipad and iphone.  No matter where I am  I can access my creative ideas and information.

7) Audio

I love to walk and listen to recorded teleclasses, podcasts and TED Talks.  The combination of movement and the talks always give me inspiration for a great idea. I don’t want to stop and type myself a message while I’m walking so I will just call my own voice mail and leave myself a message. It’s there when I get back to my office.

I find for a lot of creative entrepreneurs that getting inspiration and ideas is the easy part.

Organizing them, being able to find them again when you are ready to act and having dedicated systems are key to moving from idea-ting to action!

I find that I use a blend of technology and old-fashion writing it down to capture ideas.  The act of writing stimulates thoughts and inspiration in a way that just typing on the computer or an iphone doesn’t do.

But of course, I love the ease and organization ability of technology so I find a blend works best.

The real key to help you be more successful is to use your systems. Keep it simple but be consistent in the method to your idea-capturing madness.

I would love to hear what you think about these ideas and what are the ways you capture and organize your creative ideas on the run?

Laura West
Laura West is a Creative Business Coach and founder of the Center for Joyful Business at She helps entrepreneurs find their Authentic Marketing Style, passion, and creativity so they can create a business that easily attracts clients, collaborations, media, and attention. Shift your idea of marketing to something you love to create and share!
Laura West
Laura West


  1. Terrific tips, Laura — I’ve used them all at one time or another, and it really takes them all for the different circumstances of our lives. An alternative to index cards is a little spiral notebook that fits in your pocket or purse. The biggest surprise for me was how much I’d use the bedside card and paper. I use it most right before I turn out the light, and it allows me to do the brain dump so I can let go of the anxiety of trying to remember it.

    • Oh yes, I know what you mean. I find those bedside note cards come in handy first thing in the morning…either I’ve got a download on an entire article or email or I just need to list things to get them from clogging up my brain energy!

  2. I love using voice memos to capture ideas but you do have to give them a title so that you don’t forget what you’ve recorded. I’ve also been meaning to get some AquaNotes for those ideas that happen when I’m in the shower. =)

  3. I also carry around the amazon 8GB USB Pen Drive Digital Audio Voice Recorder

    I can activate it on the go and just put my thoughts. later on I take it and type my thoughts out using evernote. It’s small enough to carry around in my purse like a pen.