8 Tips on How to Start and Organize an Idea Journal

by Jacki Andre March 06, 2019

8 Tips on How to Start and Organize an Idea Journal

Cooooool cats!!

Another day, another mind-blowing journaling revelation.

Who here has heard of idea journals? Yeah, well, not this girl. Nuh-uh.

Turns out that an idea journal is just what it sounds like: a place to record ideas.

Alrighty, then. Class DISMISSED. Go pick up a journal and jot down your ideas. This week’s blog is done and dusted.

Except. Except what exactly is the point of an idea journal for a regular girl like me?

Now, a few years back, I had a dog treat business. I baked up limited ingredient cookies for doggos and sold them at our local farmers’ market. Thinking back to that, I wish I had had an idea journal then. It would have helped me keep track of things like creative cookie names, packaging ideas, and marketing plans. And I think that by writing down the seeds of those ideas, I would have created a springboard to come up with better ideas and/or action plans.

So, yup, idea journals would be great for entrepreneurs. Or, hmm, maybe influencers who need to generate ideas on how to keep their socials fresh. And … backyard inventors, maybe? Who else has the sort of big ideas that should be recorded?

The short answer is: we all do. Creative types can jot down things like blog topics, character sketches, inspiration for artwork, or scraps of lyrics. Home improvement, interior design, and gardening inspo could all go in an idea journal as well. We’ve all had brilliant flashes of inspiration for things like the perfect birthday gift for a loved one or the cutest name for that doggo we will adopt some day. And, if you have a day job anything like mine, you need to stay on your toes, constantly evolving and looking for better ways to do things.

If you’re thinking that idea journals are for fully-formed, brilliant, world-changing ideas, stop right there. As Nicole Bianchi points out over at The Writing Cooperative:

An idea journal is a place where you jot down daily goals, achievements, observations, ideas for projects, quotes, or other bits of inspiration.

Think of ideas like garden plants: some are seeds that will grow; others will stay dormant. Those that do germinate are in various stages of growth. Some are common everyday plants that grow without much tending. Others are rare and expensive exotics that need a lot of time and nourishment but will be so worth the effort. And, ya, let’s just admit it: some are weeds that need to be yanked.

Idea journals are for everyone. And they’re for all kinds of ideas.

Inspo!

Cool cats, trust me: start here. I was blown away by Avery Hopkins’ idea journal flip through on Youtube. It gave me a better understanding of what an idea journal could look like--and how it could be fun. Check it out and then read on here for tips on how an idea journal can work for you.

1. Pick your poison

How do you prefer to journal? Do you use one writing journal where you jot down all the things? Do you use different journals for different purposes? Do you write, type, paint, sketch, glue stuff in? Are you on the go a lot, carrying your journal with you? All these things impact the kind of personal journal that’s best for your ideas.

It’s a terrific plan to have (at least) one dedicated journal for your ideas. If your idea journal works as intended, it’s going to get full and messy quickly. Choose a notebook that will stand up to the use. Also choose one that works for your purposes (e.g., one with heavy paper if you will be using watercolors or glue). If you need help choosing a notebook, I have a blog for that!

2. Keep ‘em handy

Holly Schindler over at Smack Dab in the Middle suggests “peppering” your home and office with small idea journals.That way, whenever inspiration hits, you have a lined journal nearby to jot things into. If this works for you, great!

I like the idea of always having something handy to write in. But I already know that I wouldn’t stay on top of consolidating things. And, because of that, I also know that I’d struggle to remember which notebook I wrote the thing in. To riff on Holly’s idea a bit, littering my home with packs of sticky notes would work great for me. It would be easy peasy to stick those in my journal later on. Index cards might work for you, or a note-taking app on your phone. Whatever works for you in the moment, use it. You do you.

3.  Organize from the get-go

Let’s face it: ideas are often messy and illogical. The idea generator in your head might feel like a pinball machine at times, ricocheting off in multiple unrelated directions.

If you use your idea journal as a brain dump sort of endeavor, you may find that your notebook also becomes messy and illogical. It’s smart to have some sort of organizational framework in mind before you begin using your idea journal.

If you watched the Youtube video that I linked to above, you will have seen that Avery uses a two-page spread system. Each spread is devoted to a unique theme, like ideas for more YouTube videos or for short films. This gives her room to be creative (and have fun!) with her layout. It also leaves room for her to jot down more ideas later on.

A similar system is suggested by Chuck Frey over at Innovation Management.  Chuck was inspired by Ed Bernacki, who recommends recording only one idea on each page. As with Avery’s system, this gives you room to flesh out the ideas later on, or to jot down related ideas.

Whichever system you use, I strongly recommend also incorporating an index. Indices are a key feature of Bullet Journals, which also capture a lot of diverse information. If you need help setting up an index, I’ve got you covered. 

4. Jot down your ideas NOW

We all know it: ideas are often fleeting. When you have a flash of insight or when you spot something that triggers inspiration, write it down right away so that you don’t forget.

Jotting things down right away also helps to keep your ideas flowing and fresh. In a piece over at Daily Blog Tips, Steven Snell suggests that:  

The idea journal should always be a work in progress. Add new ideas whenever possible. If it sits for a long period of time without any new additions you’ll see a lack of fresh ideas and your results will suffer. 

5. Jot down ALL your ideas NOW

Some of your ideas might seem silly, as if they are long shots or wild dreams. Or, an idea may not seem valuable (yet). That doesn’t matter. Capture them ALL in your personal journal NOW. Steven from Daily Blog Tips also points out that an idea can serve as a jumping off point to other ideas or to something else entirely.

6. Hone your idea generating skills

Many times, ideas surface randomly, unrelated to what we’re currently thinking or doing. Generating ideas is actually a skill, and one that you can refine. There are three ways to do this.

First, the act of creating an idea journal sets you up to be receptive to ideas. In a great piece over at The Writing Cooperative, Nicole Bianchi explains that:

Your idea journal will train you to be observant... Writing in an idea journal encourages you to be curious, ask questions about the world, think innovatively, and find creative solutions to the problems you encounter.

 

Second, practice makes perfect. Teresa Torres has a piece over at Product Talk where she suggests setting aside 10 minutes of your day to record your ideas. She explains that doing this exercise regularly will help you learn how to recall your thoughts more easily for those times when you can’t record your ideas in the moment.

Third, look at the ideas you’ve already recorded and see what related thoughts and plans you can come up with. It might be looking at one potential blog topic to see if you can generate ideas for more topics. Or it might be a little different, like brainstorming names of people you could ask for advice on a particular project. Either way, exercises like this hone your idea generating skills.

7. Use your idea journal for inspiration and motivation

In some ways, an idea journal is similar to a vision board journal. They both give you a place to visualize what you’re dreaming about. But an idea journal is more goal oriented. It’s especially helpful if you work on it regularly. Idea journals encourage you to generate more ideas and plans, and to actively work on making your dreams a reality.

8. Be creative and keep it fun

Some people work best with simple text lists. If that’s you, go for it. But others (like me!) are more likely to stick with a project if they find it fun. Generating ideas and moving towards a goal can be fun and exciting in itself. But the process of journaling can be a terrific creative outlet. Giving yourself permission to be creative in your idea journal can add to the joy of it all, which will keep you motivated to journal regularly.

Adding in sketches, photos, swatches, or inspiring ephemera can help you visualize your dreams. And visualization can assist in generating more ideas for achieving your goals. It’s your journal; no one else needs to see it. Don’t be shy about including less-than-perfect artwork or cheesy motivational quotes.

Or, if you just want to keep things colorful and inviting, you can try different scrapbooking ideas to add visual appeal. Over at To Work with my Hands, Karen suggests doing things like:

  • Using colored markers or highlighters to accent certain types of ideas;
  • Adding stickers, washi tape, or other embellishments; and
  • Using sticky notes.

I’m feeling pretty inspired right now. I just might have to start an idea journal myself. How about you? If you already keep one or if you’ve been inspired to start one by this piece, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Jacki Andre
Jacki Andre

Jacki Andre has been journaling for over 30 years and still has her jam-packed Judy Blume Diary to prove it. Somewhere along the way, she started writing for reals, and is now a published author and Huffington Post blogger. In her spare time, Jacki supports dog rescue, advocates for disability rights, and educates other drivers via hand gestures about the importance of using turn signals. She keeps in shape by chasing joy (and her ‘80s teen idols) in earnest.


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