Most people are full of ideas. The light bulb comes on, a brief internal conversation ensues, and then…well, that’s usually it. The reason most people aren’t entrepreneurs is because most people end up leaving ideas—even really good ones—exactly where they found them: in their head. Ask yourself (and answer honestly) how many times you’ve thought of a potentially great idea, and ultimately done nothing with it. Chances are, for each one you’ve remembered, you’ve forgotten a few.
I’m of the opinion that an idea is a terrible thing to waste. It’s not our fault, per se; the human mind tends to generate far too much thought to be actionable. Plus, great ideas come at the weirdest times. It’s hard to start implementing your latest stroke of brilliance when you’re on the subway or at your bi-weekly chest-waxing (right, fellas?). Fortunately, technology has given us a solution to the problem of idea neglect. It’s called Evernote.
Before you get the impression that this is an advertisement, it’s not. My job here is to muse as honestly as possible about business, based on personal experience. It’s been my experience that Evernote is invaluable for turning thoughts into results. Nobody is paying me to say that, any more than Google pays me to recommend using Docs or Apple pays me to use iTunes. It’s just that kind of blog, friends: honest.
Rather than trusting in my flawed human brain to store my best ideas, I reach for the nearest connected device and open the app. Evernote is accessible on laptops, desktops, phones and tablets. The mobility means that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, short of giving a keynote address or delivering a baby in the back of a cab, I never have to worry about forgetting an idea.
So how do you go about using Evernote to turn ideas into reality? I use a fairly simple 3-step system to store, organize, and act on the whims of my businessman’s brain.
Step 1: The Brain Dump
Evernote allows you to create multiple “notebooks” with which you can categorize different texts, links, web pages, images, and in this case, thoughts. The first place a new idea lands is on my “Brain Dump” list. It’s important to use the to-do list feature here, because you can check the ideas off as they progress to the next notebooks. At first, though, I simply jot down whatever inspiration has struck me, without bothering to think about how to move forward…yet.
In this step, it’s important to be specific. Often, people are tempted to write only a keyword or two that makes perfect sense at the moment but isn’t very useful later. With so many ideas and so much to do, it’s important to describe to your future self exactly what you were thinking in at least a sentence. You may think you’ll remember what “hamster manicure” means, but by the time you get around to it, you may not. Was it a new spa service? A short story idea? A band name? Be clear and direct with yourself.
Step 2: Idea Implementation
Schedule a time every week (about 30 minutes or so) for the next phase Take an idea from the Brain Dump, and create a new to-do list under the notebook heading “Idea Implementation” (or whatever you’d like to call it). There, list what needs to be done in order to move forward with the idea. For example, let’s say I had the idea of collaborating with John Corcoran of Smart Business Revolution on a webinar. In my implementation list, I’d have items like “create a proposal,” “email John,” “meet with John”, “create webinar,” “promote webinar,” etc.
Once you’ve established everything that would need to be done, cross it off the Brain Dump list. In this way, you can take your ideas one by one from the Dump to this more actionable phase, ensuring that no idea gets left behind (unless the idea turns out to be unrealistic or impossible). If you’re not sure how to implement it, simply leave it on the first list. Either way, the app functions as your memory while you move on to real-world action.
Step 3: Order of Operations
The last notebook to create is what I like to call the “Order of Operations” list. All you’re doing here is taking the necessary steps identified in the “Implementation” list and putting them in the order in which they need to be accomplished. This is where the plan becomes concrete. This is where the path to realizing your ideas takes its ultimate shape, becoming the roadmap to fruition.
Again, use the to-do list feature. Once the Order of Operations is established, you simply have to check off the actions one at a time until your idea is a reality. Careful planning and solid critical thinking in this stage is what will make execution strictly a matter of doing. You’ll be free to take the bull by the horns without second-guessing or strategizing on the fly.
Why Ideas Are Lost
Great ideas are lost far too often. That’s not because they’re unfeasible or the resources aren’t there. It’s because most people lack the organizational skills to see them through. Even people who take the time to write down their ideas (or enter them into Evernote) tend to let them stagnate indefinitely, as the rest of life happens around them.
This is because a list of ideas is NOT a to-do list; it’s the seed of a to-do list. So many factors have to be negotiated between the idea phase and the action phase that simply having ideas is no guarantee you’ll ever do anything with them. Actionable steps have to be plotted and planned in a way that maximizes efficiency.
Evernote is a free app, with a premium pay version that offers even more organizational tools. Start with the free version and create your three notebooks. Schedule your weekly “idea time.” Go where those ideas take you. They won’t all work out. Even if half of them don’t—even if most of them don’t—some of them will. On top of that, you’ll develop the organizational habits that make an entrepreneur effective, not just creative. By developing this consistent approach to translating your thoughts into action, you’ll find your way to success one great idea at a time.