Do you feel like ideas slip out if your mind at the same speed they go in? Or conversely, the more ideas you get the more chaotic your brain becomes? If you´re not one of those that practice efficient memorization techniques, it is hard to remember the brilliant idea you got in the shower, the perfect solution you read about online or that cool lab device you saw in a brochure that made you think it might be the perfect answer…

A human’s average short-term memory can only hold between five and nine pieces of information for between ten to fifteen seconds. In order to remember the recently acquired information you need to make a conscious choice of actively remembering it; harnessing your ideas.

In previous blog posts I presented techniques that can make you more creative. These tactics are about getting new impressions by changing surroundings and breaking habits, observing and connecting thoughts. If you have read them I hope they have led you to getting more ideas, and in this blog post I have some suggestions that can make it easier for you to harnessing your ideas.

Idea journal
As a scientist you are used to writing a lab journal. As a lab journal is a log of what you do in the lab, an idea journal is a log of your ideas. Write your ideas down – big and small – harnessing your ideas. If you write in a book, leave some space around each idea and you can go back and build on them further. Make the idea journal into a scrapbook with drawings and pasted clips from papers, brochures, magazines and web pages. If you write the idea journal on your computer or your tablet or smart phone, scan or take pictures of what you find interesting and paste it in the electronic journal. Many of us come up with interesting ideas at night so if you don’t already have one, keep a small tablet and pen by your bed.

Whenever you come over something interesting in a book, magazine or online; bookmark it. Always having some small sticky notes around will make bookmarking in books easy. If the small sticky notes are big enough, you can also make notes on them. When you come over something interesting online, bookmark it or put it in your favorites folder. In my experience online bookmarking can turn into a mess and it is hard to recall why a certain page caught your interest. Sort favorites in lots of folders and sub folders with descriptive names.

Index cards
If you want to be organized but also be constantly reminded of your new ideas you can go old-school and use index cards. These can be easily taped or tacked onto your wipeboard or office wall and as they are larger than post-its, can contain enough info to actually be useful. If you want to be hyper-organized, your index cards can be easily organized into a filing system by category.

I have found Evernote to be an incredibly useful program to keep track of all sorts of texts and files and harnessing my ideas. You make notes by writing text, pasting pictures, and attaching files. You can sort the notes in different notebooks like a regular filing system and one of the best features with Evernote is that you can make different tags on each note. You can also cut from your web browser directly into Evernote by using Evernote Web Clipper. The program also has a good search function that recognizes not only words that have been typed, but also text in attached pdf documents and hand wrtitten notes. All notes are stored, both on your computer and on the cloud, so you can access it from any computer. If you have Evernote also on a tablet and/or a smart phone you can easily access your files from those devices and write new ones. And – it is free up to a specific memory capacity, when you can upgrade for about $45 per year.

I hope that at least one of these tips can be useful for you in harnessing your ideas. In the past, I have had a hard time remembering ideas without writing them down one way or the other- and doing so quickly before they are forgotten. I´m sure there are more smart ways to collect your ideas out there. If you have found any of these tips useful or if you have your own special way of collecting your ideas leave a comment.