If you’re a creative person, you probably have hundreds of ideas and projects you’d like to work on. But many of them never see the light of day. If you learn to organize your ideas the right way, you’ll be much more likely to bring them to life. The tool you use is not nearly as important as the system you develop for organizing, capturing, and capitalizing on your ideas.
The biggest issue I’ve come across with coaching clients is that they struggle to organize their ideas.
Sometime last year, I interviewed Tiago Forte about how to build a second brain. Your brain is a terrible place to store information. When you try to store information there, you end up using its processing power for storage instead of creativity.
Tiago built his system based on Evernote. I prefer Notion because I have one tool for distraction free writing, project management, book notes, and task management. It’s replaced many of our other tools.
In your physical world, you have designated places for things. You might have a closet for your shoes, a kitchen drawer for your utensils, a bathroom drawer for your makeup.
Holding on to thoughts is like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands: They easily slip from your grasp and disappear back into the muddy depths of your mind. Writing things down allows us to capture our thoughts and examine them in the light of day. By externalizing our thoughts, we begin to declutter our minds. — Ryder Caroll
Organizing and managing creative projects is taking that same approach, but to your digital world. Every piece of information you’re dealing with needs to have a home.
Categorize Your Workflow
The first thing you want to do is put your work into categories. When things aren’t in categories, it will make you feel like you’re working on a hundred things at once, but not making progress on any of them. Unless you know what you’re working on it’s hard to know where you’re going to put it.
At a high level, my work falls into three main categories:
- The Podcast
If you were in charge of a spaceship, your first level of categories would be your command center. I’ve called my command center Essential Priorities. You can see a screenshot below.
It’s a high level view of everything that I’m working on. Within each of these categories I have subcategories.
Under writing, I have two subcategories: free writing and my editorial calendar. For free writing I like to create a page for every day so that I can go back and search it easily. The editorial calendar is where all of my content for blog posts goes. As you’ll see in the video below, each blog post has a title, a status, and a publication date. I can also share each article with my VA Lauren so she can proofread them. Having a calendar like this makes it possible.
Slack and email are great for communicating with people, but they’re terrible for managing tasks because things get lost. For any task management tool, you want to make sure you know the following:
- What’s the task
- Who is responsible
- What’s the current status
- When is it due
For this I have both my personal tasks and team tasks. Instead of having to keep following up with people I can manage all of our task-related communication directly from this tool. Not only that, they can cut and paste a link to whatever they’re working on.
Any project that is more involved than a blog post goes here. This is where I put all the material for books I’m working on, clients I’m coaching, and online courses we’re developing. How you choose to organize projects will require some trial and error. It took me two coaching clients to figure out a template that I could use.
For each client, there’s a page which has the recordings of our calls. There’s another with all the tasks I’ve assigned and the other is the project itself, which is the most loosely structured. In the case of one of my clients, I’m helping him with a book. So the outlines, writing samples, and everything else are on that page.
After I read a book, I wait about a week. Then I sit down, go through all the things I’ve highlighted or underlined and put them into Notion. It’s a digital version of Ryan Holiday’s notecard system. I also assign tags based on subject matter to each book. That makes it easier for me to refer back to sources.
Under this section, you’ll find our notes from meetings, reports on any metrics we’d like to know about, and anything else that you’d categorize as administrative work.
By externalizing all of the information that’s in your head, you not only declutter your mind, you then have all that brainpower to do your most important work: create. As Ryder Carroll says in *The Bullet Journal Method,
“Many a great idea, ‘keeper’ thought, or important ‘note to self’ has fallen victim to a misplaced scrap of paper or an outdated app. It’s a compounding inefficiency that drains your bandwidth, but it’s completely avoidable.”
I’ve included a video below of how I organize Notion.
Whether you’re a writer, musician, or artist, if you don’t learn to organize your ideas, you’ll have a really hard time bringing them to life. Notion is by far the best tool I’ve found for helping not just organize my ideas, but execute them.
Are you struggling with managing your time and attention?
I’ve put together a list of interviews with productivity experts who can teach you how to master your focus. Just click here.
Originally published at unmistakablecreative.com on February 27, 2019.