Idea Notebook

Like most developers, I have ideas. Some of those ideas are built, some are still bouncing around in my head and that is a productivity killer for me. Constantly having new ideas and constantly thinking about old ideas is distracting. Not only is it distracting, it makes me feel uninspired.

So what did I do? I started building those projects. I would code for hours and hours, trying out new things until I didn’t have the inspiration to continue. At that point I moved onto another idea, repeating the process until I had a dozen incomplete projects with a burst of inspiration baked into each. Still, I am left uninspired.

I needed to change something and fast. I am a minimalist so my instinct was to create a process to keep all my ideas on my Macbook. At first I just created a folder “Ideas” which contained a plethora of plain text files, each explaining the idea in my head. It didn’t take long before I realized I would like to have some sort of wireframe or mockup to give myself a better idea of how it’d look and function.

Eventually, I realized keeping all my ideas on my Macbook wasn’t the best idea. Overflowing with plain-text and Adobe Fireworks files, I trashed it along with all the ideas I had up to that point. I decided to go the traditional pen and paper method and ordered a new Moleskine Squared Notebook and a Uni-ball Gell RT Pen.

Best. Investment. Ever.

I bring my idea book wherever I go, ready to draw or write down any idea I may have pop into my head. Instantly. If I wait or tell myself I’ll write it down later, I’ll forget to. It has to be right away or I’ll fall into the same routine which started it all.

Writing them down

Just like any other day of developing, I’ll get an idea. Whatever the idea, I’ll put everything on hold and I do mean everything. Instant messenger, email, the current project I’m working on, podcast I’m listening to, you get the idea. I push my laptop away from me and grab my idea book, which is conveniently located on my desk next to my Macbook.

Each idea I have goes on a single page and uses at least the front and back of that page. So, if I don’t use the entire page I can always go back and add more to the idea. If I need more space, I use more pages. I title the page with whatever title for the idea pops into my head first. Following the title, I write a quick description of the idea, what I want to see in it, how I envisioned it functioning, etc. Sometimes I’ll even draw a little wireframe to show what I pictured it looking like.

Close idea book; continue doing what I was doing.

Simple, but it takes self-discipline. It’s easy to get distracted from writing the idea down when you have much more important things to do. Isn’t not getting the idea out of your head the distraction from doing the work you should be doing? That is the case for me. Do it. You’ll be glad you did.

So why the Moleskine Squared Notebook? I like to draw straight lines and write on straight lines. That’s all. Find what is optimizing for you. After all, that’s the minimalist lifestyle.

Building an Idea

Ideas are cheap, which is why I keep them all in my notebook. Cheap is good, so stock up as much as you can, right? Ideas can be evaluated later as to the greatness of itself so don’t worry about that when first writing them down. When evaluating those ideas, don’t just ask yourself what you think of the idea, share the idea with others! What do others think? After hearing other people’s thoughts, you can form your own opinion on the idea. Does it really suck? People may seem to think so. Then again, they could just be shortsighted in the opportunity.

Once you’ve evaluated your ideas, decide on just one that you (and probably others) are really excited about. Start building it. If you run out of juice after hours of programming, take a break. It’ll be there waiting for you to pour some more passion into it later. When you come back, work harder. You’ll get past that bump, that little bug you can’t seem to figure out. You’ll be that much closer to finishing it.

Conclusion

We all have our own style and process of gathering and developing ideas. If you don’t have any process in place for gathering ideas, try the method I use. Get pen and paper and carry it everywhere you go. It’s helped me get my ideas down and continues to help me stay focused.