capture everything: ideas

February 4, 2008

This is part 3 of 5 in a series on capturing everything. Other entries:

Once you start to really get serious about capturing every thought of value (and some that aren’t), you’ll quickly realize there are two types of thoughts you want to remember. On the one hand, there are the tasks that we’ve already talked about. These are items that you need to remember to do, usually, but not always, within a certain timeframe.

On the other hand, there are ideas. They are usually incomplete thoughts — maybe a concept you want to develop for a new project, or a notion that will fit in well with something that you are already working on. These are ideas you want to live with, to sit with, to revisit over and over and develop more substance around them. To add them to a task list isn’t helpful, because they usually aren’t something that you can or want to just complete and check off. On a task list, they only serve to distract you when you are really trying to get a few things done.

I think it is critical to have an idea catalog — a digital moleskine. I know that many like to fill notebook after notebook with ideas and then shelve them to revisit later. There is something glamorous about notebooks full of ideas, but I prefer to capture them on my computer. It helps me easily organize thoughts or track them down later. For Windows users, I’d recommend OneNote. When I switched over full-time to a Mac a few years ago, this was the only program I worried about not being able to replace. On my MacBook, I’ve settled into Yojimbo and I love it. The rest of this entry will be Yojimbo-centric, but I hope anyone might be able to find motivation, at the very least, from it.

Just like when capturing tasks, I want to be able to quickly and reliably capture ideas with minimal distraction from what I might be working on at the time. Though it is easy enough to create a new note in Yojimbo itself, there are two main ways I capture ideas with Yojimbo.

Similar to OmniFocus, I can quickly capture a thought and add it to Yojimbo with Quicksilver. There is a convenient little Yojimbo plugin that is available in Quicksilver. I just type -space to activate the Quicksilver window, type a period followed by the thought I want to capture, tab over and hit ‘Y’ for Add to Yojimbo, and then hit enter. The thought is tucked away for later, and I’m back to whatever I’m working on in seconds.

The main shortcoming of this first capture routine is that Yojimbo just inserts whatever I type into both the title and the content of the new note it creates. If there is a little more I want to capture, Yojimbo has features to help me easily capture a thought from whatever I am working on. I can type F8 no matter what I am doing, and a quick-entry windows opens up. (This keystroke can be set to whatever you like in the preferences.) A window pops up where I can type a title and then the content of a note. If there is something in the clipboard, it is automatically included as the content of the note which is also really handy.

Yojimbo also includes a little dock that sits on side of the screen. Anything can just be dragged to that tab, and it is added to Yojimbo. However, I like to keep my desktop clean, so even that inconspicuous little dock is a little too conspicuous for me. Between the two techniques I describe above, I don’t really have much use for the dock.

Of course, all of this just gets the ideas into Yojimbo, which can quickly fill up with notes. I use it for capturing ideas, research notes, book notes, software licenses and even my daily pages. In a future post, I’ll share how I organize all of that within Yojimbo so that I can review what thoughts are in process and tuck away others that I don’t want to see all the time.

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