As creators, we’re think tanks. Even if we’re not really in the right place for it, we’re usually thinking of some creative thing we’d like to do. So when we get out of our funk and the ideas start coming again, we bask in them. We let them wash over us, one after another, until we finally feel normal again. This is where organizing ideas comes in handy.
Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the number of amazing new projects we think up in the span of a day, or even an hour. And when that happens, we sometimes lose track of some really great things.
That’s where organization comes in. You should have some way of keeping all of your ideas in a central location, online or otherwise, so you can refer back to them later. It can be as simple or complicated as you deem fit.
So today we’re going to go over some ways you can keep your ideas organized. I’m going to focus primarily on the more traditional ways of organizing for now. I’m also going to focus on organizing your ideas rather than your creations – the two are VASTLY different, and how you organize your creations depends greatly on your preferred medium. Organizing ideas can be the same all across the board.
Organizing Ideas for Future Reference
Post It Notes
Okay, so this is one of the more obviously old school methods on the list. But it’s still one of my favourites.
I use post it notes for basically everything. I’m obsessed. I find that they are an easy way to get something small out of my head without taking up a full page in a notebook, or starting a new file on my computer. They’re great for when you only have a few words to jot down.
Now I know what you’re thinking – this is a TERRIBLE way to keep track of things and keep them organized! Well that’s where you’re wrong.
When I use post it notes to organized my thoughts, I create a grid. If it’s a big project that I’m breaking down, I will sometimes span the notes over a wall in an organized pattern. I’ll keep certain groups of ideas together.
If I’m just using them to jot down random notes at they come to mind, I will stick them on my calendar or in my planner so I can grab them later. Or better yet, I will place them in a notebook. (This is AMAZING for when I’m working on stories or novels. Seriously. It’s a way to break down each of my chapters and scenes and whatnot in a way that I can quickly glance at my story without having to flip through countless pages of detailed notes.)
Post it notes are basically the first step to organizing for me. They are my way of getting things out of my head before I forget them. The temporary nature of them is just too good to pass up. It allows you to shuffle the order of some things, it’s easy to just peel it up and place it somewhere else. No cutting and pasting, no rewriting.
I warned you in an earlier post that I love lists. You knew this was coming.
I find that the best way to really get things organized is to create lists. So for me, once I’ve jotted down my initial ideas on the stickies mentioned above, I move on to listing things.
Because I have too many mediums and hobbies to count, I try to keep a different list for each thing. Drawings? One list. Scene ideas for a novel? Another list. Fashion? Yet another list. You see where I’m going with this.
These lists don’t have to be full descriptions of the project, just a quick reference to what I want to accomplish. As an example, if I have an image come to mind that I’d like to paint, I jot down a few words to describe it so that I remember the image as I first pictured it, but I don’t go into a few paragraphs of how it should look and feel. It’s just meant to refer my mind back to that idea so I can work out the details later.
The content of each of your lists is completely up to you, and depends very heavily on what type of art you create and what your projects involve. Either way, a list can help you get your ideas in order and get things a little more organized.
Keep a binder
I know, I know, who even owns a binder anymore? I do. Several, in fact.
Call me old school, but sometimes not having to rely on technology to keep my ideas in order comes in really handy. No batteries or internet to rely on, it can go anywhere… You get the drift. And you can use nifty worksheets like these to fill your binder and make it even more organized!
So why use a binder? I’m glad you asked!
Touching on the point made above, a binder is a great place to keep those notes you’re taking. And even better, it’s a place where you can really start to get them more organized. Those separate pages of notes? You can take them and split them up even further by using dividers in your binder to create sections for each general list.
I have a binder that’s got a full set of dividers in it, and I use every section. One is for novel notes that haven’t been organized into their proper places yet, another is for art ideas (what I want to paint or draw), another is for short story ideas, and other stills for specific projects.
Using a binder is a way to keep all of those random notes in one place, but in an organized enough way that you don’t have to flip through every page in a notebook to find the one page you’re looking for.
I honestly can’t gush enough about how much I encourage you to use this method. I know that a lot of you may prefer using digital means to keep track of things, but if you are open to trying something else, consider doing this. It has helped me so much!
Use a spreadsheet
See, I use technology too!
But I will definitely point you in the direction of the simplest thing you can use – and it’s free!
Okay, so Open Office is the bomb for this. I personally don’t have Microsoft Word, as it’s never been installed on any of my laptops, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Obviously if you have that, use it. I use Open Office, though, which is basically like a free version of Word. (And it definitely does not skimp on features, in case you’re wondering.)
For some planning (like this blog!), I use almost exclusively digital means of staying organized. It’s a way to keep track of posts and ideas and whatnot, along with all of the little things I need to do for each one. And then I can mark them as done when I finish it all up.
The same goes for any other project, though. I love using spreadsheets. Seriously, that is my jam. They are super handy for staying organized and seeing your plan at a glance.
I have a spreadsheet that I use specifically for art projects. I have a column for the title or description, one for the estimated time it will take to finish the piece, one for its status (whether I’ve started it, finished it, or I haven’t even sketched the concept yet), and the medium I plan to use to create it, as well as a column for whether or not it’s being created as prints for customers.
It’s just a super quick way to reference things without having to pull out that binder I just mentioned.
Here’s a screenshot of my personal file for art so you can see how I set it up.
I know that the descriptions won’t mean anything to you, but that doesn’t matter. You should get the idea of how it’s laid out either way.
Keep a journal
This is something that a lot of people do, anyway. You sit down at the end of your day and record your thoughts and experiences, etc. But journals can come in handy for keeping your ideas organized as well.
A lot of people use bullet journals, and while I love the idea of doing that, I couldn’t keep up with it. I prefer a planner, myself, but I wish I could get behind bullet journals! They look so pretty, and they look like so much fun to set up!
I mention bullet journals because they are generally set up in a way that helps fuel creativity – plus they are super organized and look awesome. That means that instead of having a plain old agenda like what you used in school, you can have something that is uniquely you.
And the perks of that include being able to set up a journal that is specifically for organizing your ideas.
Let that sink in. A journal just for recording your creativity throughout the year! How cool is that?!
Okay, so how can it actually help you? Keep that thing on your person! Carry it everywhere, so that when you get a stroke of genius, you have somewhere to write it down or sketch it out.
It also allows you to keep track of your ideas based on the date, which might not seem important, but think about it: You can set a deadline for yourself, chosen by you, and if you haven’t followed through by a certain date (three months later, six months, a year, it’s up to you), then you can get rid of that idea and move on. Are you with me?
It means being able to offload ideas when they aren’t getting you anywhere. Plus I’ve noticed a trend in myself, and it’s that if I can pinpoint what else was happening the on the day that I thought of something, I can usually tap into a lot more detail in those memories than what I wrote down.
One major key to keeping your ideas organized is knowing when it’ll never happen
I know it’s hard as a creator to let an idea go. They are so hard to come by sometimes that we don’t want to let them slip out of our grasp. But it’s important to realize that sometimes that grand idea of yours is just a fleeting thought and needs to be let go.
I was horrible for holding onto everything for years. It’s only more recently, the last 6 months, really, that I started to get rid of idea clutter. Go through your lists and throw away the stuff that isn’t happening.
A few things to remember when sorting through your notes:
- Some ideas are just not meant to be. Maybe they sounded good at the time, but their time has passed.
- It’s okay if you don’t like those ideas anymore. Sometimes we think of something, and it sounds amazing at the time, but the more you think on it, the less appealing it becomes. That’s okay, just let it go.
- You will never have time to do everything. No matter how hard you work, no matter how badly you want it, you will never get through every single little idea you jot down.
- Prioritize! I can’t stress this enough! Don’t waste your time working on little projects that aren’t a priority just because they won’t take long. Let your time be spent on what’s actually important to you, no matter how hard that project might be. Let the little things slide to the background.
- If you forgot about that project you wrote down 6 months ago, that’s likely a sign that it’s not meant to happen. Move on.
- Clean out your binder, journal, digital files, whatever. Get rid of those ideas that will never happen. Make a point of doing this every month so that you stay on top of it. You’ll feel less scattered and more focused, and it may even help you when you’re feeling creatively blocked.
- You can use worksheets to help you stay even more organized. Get a FREE worksheet here!
So how do you plan to get organized? Is there anything you’d add to this list? Let me now in the comments!
Would you like access to some worksheets to help you organize your creative life a little better? I’ve got a whole library of them set up in the Weapons Room! Get your password here for unlimited access! (PS, the one for this post is named New Project!)