How I Capture Random Thoughts

Photo by D'Arcy Norman I don’t know if it is just the way my mind works, but I suspect not. Fully engaged in a task, I will suddenly have a random thought pop into my head. For example, during one client presentation, I remembered I needed to refill the toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom. Then there was the time that I was up to my elbows in bread dough, and I remembered I needed to call the project manager for client X and let him know about a possible project opportunity.

The worst part is that if I don’t write these thoughts down, they keep popping back in at the most inopportune times. I find that writing them down, then collecting them into a central spot means that my mind is able to focus more on what I should be doing.

Here are my three favorite ways to capture random thoughts, in order of preference:

#1: Notepad

I always carry my notebook with me. During meetings I can be discrete in writing down these random thoughts, and the notebook gets tossed into my in-box every night for processing. If the item is a to-do, it is proceeded with a little box. If the item is thinking-out-loud material, I put lines before and after it.

#2: Voice mail

In the case where I can’t stop and write something down, like when I’m driving, I use voice mail. I call the place I am next scheduled to go to (home or work) and leave myself a message. I write down all messages in my notebook (see step #1) at one time, and go from there.

#3 – PDA

Surprisingly, although dependent on my PDA for just about everything else, I have found that making quick notes on the PDA is a sure way for me to lose track of things. I have never been able to stick with entering notes in the PDA into the other programs on the device.

Photo by D’Arcy Norman


  1. GregC says

    Sort of like #2, I have really got hooked on Sort of like leaving yourself a voicemail, this will transcribe your message and drop it in your e-mail – or any number of webservices such as Google Calendar, Remember The Milk, etc. Since I pretty well live out of e-mail, this saves me the trouble of having to listen to my voice mail and transcribe my message – I know that not that much, but it is one less step to deal with and one less thing to remember to do. Besides, I hate listening to my recorded voice. Jott has become one of my ubiquitous capture tools.

  2. LJ says

    @Greg: you get a blue ribbon! I had heard of Jott, but never tried it out until I saw your comment. It solves my one problem with leaving voice mails: transcribing them into my systems.


  3. Mike says

    I second Jott. Plus, couple it with as a calendar alert system and you are catapulted even higher.

  4. Megan @ Disorder2Order says

    I am with you LJ… I love paper. I actually use a Russell+Hazel mini-binder (fits in my purse) and lay it flat on my lap in the car. When I am stopped at a light or waiting to pick up the kids, I make my notes. Great post!