Last Updated on 22 January 2024

The first and best tip I can offer to anyone wanting to be more creative and innovative is to start carrying an Idea Journal… Something to write your ideas on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This could take any form, ranging from 3×5 cards tucked into a pocket or purse to a tablet or computer-based system. No matter which system you choose, the secret is selecting something you can always keep with you that allows you to quickly write down thoughts whenever they come to mind.

An Idea Journal will accomplish a few things for you…

First… and the point of this post… It’s going to allow you to capture the things you think, hear, see, learn, and all sorts of raw material for ideas.

Using an Idea Journal will re-wire your senses to be more receptive to information you may have previously overlooked. These notes are building blocks for new ideas. After you’ve written them, review your notes at a later time. Write a specific challenge in your journal and let it just sit there and incubate. After a few days, come back to that problem and see what answers you have hatched in your mind.

Second… You can write and store important notes to free up brainpower. Since you’ll always have your journal with you, you’ll always have your important lists as well. Remembering lists and random thoughts uses valuable brain RAM. Just like an application on your computer running in the background, it can cause the other apps to be sluggish. Your brain is processing, “I’ve got to bring home a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and a stick of butter,” when it could be working on something more critical. Write it down in your journal.

Finally… your journal will come in handy to capture and recall a phone number, book title, website, or other reminders. You will no longer need to frantically pat yourself down or hope to find an old receipt in your wallet.

So, which tool is best? Whatever is best for your style. Perhaps your current planner can work as your single tool, or maybe you need to add something new. There is something in the idea that if you want to think differently, act differently.


Here are thoughts from personal experience…

  • Use permanent ink or pencil… something that won’t wash away if your Idea Journal gets wet.
  • Use something as accessible as possible. Your phone or a pocket notebook.
  • My tool lately has been the pocket Moleskine* sketchbook. I use the larger sketchbook when I’m working on a specific project and need more space. There are no lines, which allows free-range writing, and the pages are thick enough not to allow ink to bleed.
    *By the way, Moleskine is pronounced moe-lay-skee-nay, not mole-skin as I once thought.


A list of tools ranging from simple paper-based to electronics…


  • 3×5 cards, Small Assignment Pad, Composition Notebook – you can find these everywhere, from office supply stores and drug stores to the grocery aisle.
  • Planner Systems – of course, you can use your current calendar/notebook tool. Just get in the habit of having it with you always. Alternatively, carry a smaller pad when you return to your desk and tape or transcribe notes you gather into your planner. (See also the DIY Planner option below…)
  • Levenger – If you like the 3×5 size but want your system to look more professional, check out the Levenger Company. They have an entire system with pre-printed cards, “shirt pocket briefcase” leather cardholders, the works.
  • Moleskine – These small black notebooks have been around for centuries and have been carried by the likes of Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Hemingway. There is a plethora of sizes and formats to choose from. Get inspired by other passionate users at the Moleskinerie site and images on Flickr.
  • Hipster PDA – The Hipster PDA, introduced years ago on the 43 Folders website, is a stack of 3×5 cards held together with a binder clip. It’s a PDA requiring no batteries, never crashes, and won’t shatter if dropped.
  • D.I.Y. Planner – The DIY Planner is a do-it-yourself system of templates for printing. Hundreds of templates have been created and are available free. Google the “Hipster PDA” and “Hipster PDA¬†templates” that you can print on 3×5 cards.

Digital (Recorders, Phone & Tablet)

  • Digital Voice Recorders – If you prefer to take voice notations, use the voice record feature on your smartphone or get a dedicated voice recorder on Amazon. Computer software can help you transcribe from audio to text.
  • Apps – The Notes app on your phone, tablet, or computer is a good starting point. There are also great apps dedicated to note taking and “personal knowledge management” (PKM). Google “second brain” for starters.

No matter which format you select, if you stick with it, I guarantee you will impress yourself with the thoughts you capture and the new ideas that are sparked!