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Productivity hacks weekly in bite-size chunks. Just up your alley if you're at least slightly geeky or a tad bit obsessed with Evernote or WorkFlowy!

Capturing fleeting ideas

Frank Degenaar

Going, going... gone

Is this a picture of what happens to your brainwave ideas? Does the fragile membrane of their existence disintegrate, barely allowing you the chance to entertain them, let alone capture them, before they are no more?

My quest to find out why bubbles pop - and if there was anything we could do to prolong their stay with us - was an enlightening and ephemeral journey. A Google search instantly bubbled to the top.

Among the reasons why bubbles burst: evaporation of their water content and dryness in general (in all its shapes and forms) are the main culprits. In the image below, which I delicately lifted from, you can see with your very own eyes that even a nail does not pop a bubble when puncturing it - if one such nail is wet. 

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket...

As it turns out, there are a couple of things we can do to keep these transient visitors with us at least a tad longer... and then grab them for posterity (or better still, collect them for real actionable projects). Wait... are we talking about bubbles or ideas here? There are actually best practices for making bubbles, in case you didn't know, which include: the right timing and atmospheric conditions, plus the right tools. A couple of pointers from the same site, which will help to offset evaporation and dryness:

  • "Try making bubbles right after the sun sets.

  • Play with bubbles after a rainstorm. When the air is full of moisture, bubbles will seemingly last forever.

  • Keep you bubble tools really wet with bubble solution."

The when and where of getting into the zone or finding your creative flow are beyond the scope of this brief post. What I would like to put out are a couple of tools that get the job done for me: at the very least, capturing your ideas with a minimum of fuss and expanding on those ideas at the time of inspiration, if possible. You see, the right tool can be like a bubble gun... or a well-developed bubble-blowing technique that yields the most bubbles per blow. A proliferation of associated ideas and the ability to grab them is a great combination.

Grabbing actual real, live bubbles and archiving them is beyond the scope of bubble blowing, unless we're talking about taking a snapshot. By recording your ideas while they are in play and still up for grabs, you're basically taking a snapshot of your brainchildren (I know... the plural sounds funny)... and then just by getting the idea(s) out of your mind and into a decent capture system, the proliferation is unavoidable. 

An app for all seasons

Now, if I were famous or some sort of productivity guru (or both), you'd probably take the following list - of tried and tested tools I use to capture my ideas - more seriously... So in my defense, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm going to have to tell you that I am a kick-butt harmonica player (for what it's worth). Anyways, here goes:

  • WorkFlowy
    • Outliner supreme, giving you one sublime "zoomable" document
  • Gingko 
    • My writing app of choice, Gingko is the only tree-based word processor. 
  • SnapEntry (iOS)
    • Lightning-speed entry to Evernote with the ability to preset notebook destination and/or tags
  • Penultimate
    • Evernote's iOS app which I use for freehand writing and the drawing of simple mind maps

You'll find much about WorkFlowy, Evernote and Gingko within the pages of this blog... and much more to come. The thing that all of these apps have in common, is the ability to quickly capture and spread your ideas out. In spreading your ideas out, particularly WorkFlowy and Gingko do a bang up job of helping to reorder, reshuffle and then hone in on ideas as you drill down further... and then equally as important, pinpoint your ideas when you need them - whether it's to finally harvest your ideas for the chapters of a book or to remember the ingredients that worked out rather nicely the last time you made pancakes. 

Without decent capture tools, there are going to be a lot of forgotten bubbles... and unsung ideas. Find a good fit, whatever it is, and grab those ideas. If you have any words of wisdom, please capture them below in the comments.