The Idea File

No matter your organization—whether you’re a nonprofit trying to change the world or an auto mechanic trying to change the oil—you’ve got ideas about how you can do your work better. Maybe it’s better processes or systems. Maybe it’s a better marketing strategy. But the challenge always seems to be finding and implementing those ideas.

You need a way to catalog and file those ideas so you know where they are when you’re ready to take action. You need an idea file.

I’ve got notebooks half full of quotes, ideas, and notes from various conferences, seminars, and books. But too often those brilliant ideas stay buried in a notebook or a folder amid useless details and noise. And OK, some of those ideas aren’t that smart. But there’s a lot of untapped potential just waiting to be discovered.

You need to mine that material for the gold and set aside the good stuff for processing. If you’re like most organizations I know, you’re too busy to work through and implement those ideas now. But one day you’ll be ready. When that day comes, you need to have those ideas on hand.

  • Catalog: Get those ideas out of a notebook and put them somewhere useful. Set up a way to catalog the actionable ideas. Go digital with a Google Doc, Trello list, or notes app. Go old school with a folder or another notebook. They key is to make this catalog separate and focused. You don’t want six pages of notes from that conference, you want the three useful ideas you generated from that conference. And above all: Make it something you can find and come back to. A Google Doc is great, but not if it’s buried in your Google Drive never to be seen again.
  • Categorize: Part of the challenge is finding good ideas for what you want to fix right now. If you’re looking for a marketing win, ideas to improve productivity aren’t very helpful. So categorize those ideas. Sort them by marketing, productivity, customer relations, or whatever categories work for you.
  • Curate: It’s even better if you can sort through those ideas. Let the best rise to the top. Some ideas might start to sound stale and you wonder why you saved them in the first place. Cull them if you want, but you could also leave them on the list and let them sink to the bottom. It’s a good reminder that you already considered that idea. Seeing the rejected ideas can save you from needless brainstorming.

It’s hard to go from idea to implementation. Sometimes just finding the ideas you want to implement is half the battle. An idea file can make it even easier.