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Ask HN: Where do you keep your ideas?
42 points by laurencer 1792 days ago | hide | past | web | 62 comments | favorite
Where do you keep all of the ideas you come up with - and if you decide to work on an idea where do you keep everything related to it?

Right now I email everything to myself and have a GMail label, but I'm sure there are much better strategies out there. I'm keen to see how HNers keep there ideas (e.g. writing them in a moleskin, using Evernote, etc), and how they work on side-projects/ideas (e.g. if you decide to start researching one of your ideas where do you keep it all).

I literally wrote an entire app just for this exact use case.


There's a REST api and an email API. You email ideas to a special address and it creates notes for you. You can append further refinements when it replies with a note-unique email address.

You can sort notes into projects, add tags, search, sort, and export to plain HTML or PDF.

I recommend putting at least a screenshot on your landing page. Whenever I'm looking for software, I'd like a quick look at the UI to decide I want to try or not.

If there are a lot of competing services, I tend to pick one that has UI previews to save time.

Thanks for the tip. I have some screenshots on the tour page but you're right, there should be one on the homepage too.

Workflowy (https://workflowy.com/), which is a web-based outliner. Good because it's fast.

Me too. I'll second the opinion of others and mention that paper is hard to beat, but for me paper happens at either end of the idea (jotting a quick note in my notebook/whatever paper is around, and later sketching layouts/business models/user flows/etc to flesh things out) while Workflowy happens in between.

Most good ideas happen when I'm in the middle of another project. By the time I'm able to devote any serious thought to it I've already gone through five notebooks and oodles of scrap paper, so I make a point of entering at least the basic elements of every idea into Workflowy the same day that I initially write it down on paper. Then I have a searchable record, and it's really easy to expand on various points in five-minute chunks or on sleepless nights. That way, whenever I'm looking for a new project I have a bank of ideas to pull back out onto paper.

I also use Workflowy to keep track of goals and sort of the "big picture" TODOs.

This looks like a great tool.. but for these kind of sites, I always feel uncomfortable to signup and then store my personal information in their databases. I could easily end up giving them my personal ideas and my professional work related stuff.. We really don't know who is looking at our data on other side and what kinda security measures(if any) they are taking to secure the same. Your thoughts?

A valid point. I've been using Workflowy for a few months (I'm a long-time "outliner aficionado" who has happily jumped into using this tool with both feet due to some HN postings), and when it comes to entering work/professional data, I make small efforts to obfuscate key items. But some cannot be obfuscated w/o invalidating the content itself...

I haven't been sufficiently concerned/motivated to investigate their privacy policy further.

[edit:] https://workflowy.com/privacy/ may raise concerns; I need to review this policy later (and compare it to those of other free services such as Google which I also use).

Interesting point about privacy. Does anyone else have similar concerns?

I am of the opinion that life is too short to worry, plus people generally aren't able to steal ideas. Execution is always very different. Look at the Xerox-Apple-Microsoft implementations of GUIs... All very different.

My ideas start on napkins or Notes on the iPhone, get translated to Workflowy and then fully drafted and edited into a blog post: http://rayhano.com

The hope is others take the ideas and use them with their own. Ideas should be free, only then can society benefit.

Sharing explicitly versus gaining access to your data are completely separate things. Moreover, how about pushing your professional data to these sites? I don't want to use separate tools for ideas which I'm fine if someone steals them and which not..

I've been using WorkFlowy for almost a year now, and it has soon become one of my "Pinned Tabs" because I use it every day. It's the most flexible tool I have found to literally organize my brain. Since there are no predefined rules how to organize your stuff in WorkFlowy, you can use it just as individually as your thinking works. The great mobile version of the website is useful for using it on the go.

I love those products that look minimalistic and trivial on first sight but that are feature-packed underneath for power users: full keyboard use, sharing, search & tags, copies/templates, "hidden" timestamps, ...

All my best ideas are on paper. I find a pencils far more effective than any digital tools for sketching out ideas.

I agree. Paper is under-rated by geeks. I use a Muji A6 dotted paper notebook because the grid helps me draw boxes but is light enough to also let me ignore them when I feel like it. Some of them come with an elastic band on the cover to help keep it closed. The paper is cheap enough that I don't feel like the ideas have to be important to write down. I find that I am a bit reluctant to write in a super nice notebook.


I keep a Frixion erasable pen hooked in the spiral part of the notebook.


The only downside I have found is that if you freeze the notebook your erased writing will come back! I thought that the friction from rubbing destroys the ink, but it seems like it just transforms it into a new stable state. It's a really interesting fluid.

I studied architecture (of the physical buildings kind), so I may be biased (its reasonably common practice to do this sort of thing), but I completely agree.

Whilst some things are fine to write on paper or in a web app etc, I think generally writing on paper still has a bunch of advantages because you simply have far more control as to what you are doing (emphasis, location, style, adding sketches, etc.) - people just tend to be afraid of it for some reason.

My set up is generally a small notebook (approx. passport sized, not too thick, stiched rather than ringbound) so it can fit into my pocket easily, along with a simple pen (0.4 felt tip). I like this because I can carry them around with me for use when the occasion arises (eg. lunch break, waiting for a train, at a cafe, etc.). Other people I know prefer big notebooks (carried in bags back and forth from the office) - depends on your routine and personality I guess.

Expensive ones (like Moleskine) aren't really any better than some of the cheap ones for my purpose, as long as the binding is solid and the paper is of reasonable quality.

Also, I agree that light dots (or light grids) are the way to go.

I used to consider pen(cil) & paper as the only medium worthy (and secure) enough for transcribing the ideas that popped into my young head, although now I use an iPad, a Bamboo stylus, and either Paper or Penultimate to record all my thoughts.

I think my preference for paper stemmed from a childhood experience I had with keeping my first journal on an old DOS/386 in a password-protected WordPerfect file (and I still remember that password! :-) Originally, my intention was merely to try to use up all the memory on that machine, but I soon had a fond habit of taking 15-30 minutes per day to write about the world around me. What I wrote would likely be mundane from an outsider's perspective, but there was a sort of innocent joy in noting all the tiny insights and observations I had that were important to me at that age.

One day, I went to update my journal, which was entitled MY LIFE, and discovered it and its backup had been erased from the drive. My father must have found this strange document that he could not open taking up loads of space on his computer and deleted it without a moment's hesitation.

I was devastated. I swore to never save anything of personal value to a computer again. I think this bad childhood experience actually engendered a deep technophobia that I harbored from high school throughout college and didn't really overcome until the last five years. This same experience also seems to be the root of a lifelong passion for writing.

In any case, I began keeping a more "formal" handwritten journal in the latter years of college up until a few years ago. It was written in pencil (preferably 0.5mm) on lined looseleaf paper contained in a large, unmarked 3-ring binder. I wrote in it daily, not really trying to distinguish "good" ideas from "bad" ones, but just concentrating on getting at least one complete thought on paper per day. Though I used pencil, I only erased obvious errors (like misspellings) choosing to strike through parts that didn't seem to fit at the time. I did this because when I looked back on what I wrote after significant periods of time, it often gave me further insight into how I had come about thinking what I was thinking at the time I wrote it.

It wasn't until about two years ago that I switched to using an iPad and a capacitive stylus for jotting down my ideas. Although it certainly doesn't have the same feel as working with pen and paper, I really like having a compact, infinite canvas to work with that I can take anywhere, and am reasonably confident that when the tablet grows up, it will transition from disrupting the PC to doing what it was meant to do in the first place — make paper obsolete.

In the event I get nostalgic for paper, I prefer using a blank 9x12 sketchbook — for the most part, I can't stand to be restricted by lines anymore — and my favorite Zebra multi pen:


Ultimately, I agree that paper is vastly underrated by geeks, but let's face it — after thousands of years, we're always trying to eye something better.

*Note: Safari quit unexpectedly before I could post this and I had to rewrite everything from scratch. Talk about coincidences!

If you have that original hard disk, have you thought of using recovery software to see if fragments of your file still exist?

I might give that a try sometime (I'm sure it's around somewhere) just to see if I can get something back. I vaguely remember a little of what I wrote, but it would be intriguing to reread what I was writing all those years back. Thanks for the idea.

I carry a contractors cliboard in my bag with a stash of regular- and graph-paper (I print them - http://konigi.com/tools/graph-paper), especially like the dotted versions. I shuffle the new sketches and ideas to the back and clean them out once in a while. I do a lot of sketching as well so it's easy to add a clean sheet on top of my latest sketch and re-draw, test various poses and expressions. I've earlier used regular sketchbooks, but I find the contractors cliboard better. Gives you a solid board to put on your lap while commuting, you can easily discard a paper and start fresh, and it let's you store. Also - single sheets of paper is always avaiable.

A great point with using paper is that anyone can draw on paper. Just take out the contractors board, give your co-worker a pen and you're creating something together.

When I'm on the go and have some good ideas lying around I might shuffle them in with the other paper just to develope them further when I get a slot. The good ones get photographed and stored, the not so good I try to give a second round of thought and fresh sketches. If that fails it's straight to the bin.

I also keep a simple notebook app in my mobile which I use just for ideas. Lately I've been testing Trello and also Hollyapp.com, task tracking for nerds. I like the markup syntax of Hollyapp. Very fast to write. I like splitting my ideas to managable chunks and todos since I in the moment of the idea often have a picture on how to accomplish it. I'm writing more and more Markdown for this

A lot of credit to Mårten Agner http://angner.se/ for the sketching techniques I use daily.

I think a Trello board works perfectly for this.

Whenever my business partner or I have one of those "WE SHOULD MAKE A GITHUB FOR BIOLOGY!" moments, we put it on a Trello card in the "Someday" pile, tag it with the appropriate categories, and write all our thoughts on the card. We've also got "soon," "doing," and "done" categories, but we mostly use the board as an idea bank for those "Somedays."

We call it the "Vox Industries Ingenuity Bin."

+1 for Trello.

Emacs, org-mode, org-capture, and a global keyboard shortcut that pops up an org-capture buffer when I have an idea. I just type it in, hit a few keys, and it goes into a nicely-formatted file with all my other ideas. Hitting slightly different keys will capture appointments, todos, read-this-later links, book recommendations, and the like.

Honestly, and sadly, MS Word.

I have a template for startup ideas that is many questions long. It is still easiest to fire up that document and go, where everything is set up with well-laid formatting and bullet points. I am probably biased from many years spent in word processing programs coming from a writing heavy non-technical background originally, but that template gets everything out of the way for me so I can just write. Maybe eventually I'll write a Rails app for myself but I don't think I'd gain much over the current process except version control.

Nothing else works as well locally, which is a lot of the problem. Gmail is getting closer to being able to serve purpose as a general idea store for me, but I am not always online, and the migration cost at this point is not worth switching for, even if Gmail worked flawlessly offline.

"I have a template for startup ideas that is many questions long."

Just curious, can you share that?

Paper or plain text files. If neither is available, then I email myself using my phone.

Paper is the best option because of the limitless possibilities. I can use pencil, pen, color pencil, watercolor, scotch tape bits of junk to it, rip it out, fold it up, and burn it.

I don't use a notebook anymore. Now I start with a small document containing what need the project is supposed to solve, some design notes, and I use omniGraffle to sketch out diagrams. One tip: I save copies of all of my "idea diagrams" in a folder and I often start by grabbing an old file and copying parts of it. I find that using a diagramming tool is almost as fast as sketching with pencil and paper.

I also rely on Evernote (happy paying customer) for storing resources, random thoughts, photos taken with my cellphone of receipts, etc. I don't use Evernote for project materials however, just general resources and a history of what I have found interesting and useful.

Evernote and sketchbooks. (I'm a graphic novelist.)

Sometimes big projects end up with a sketchbook pretty much devoted to them. More often they just sprawl across all the books I use during the course of the project.

Also there's a pile of index cards with a core dump of one story I've been carrying around for a long time. I made it shortly after losing a bunch of sketchbooks in a hurricane because I wanted to preserve every bit of that story I could.

Also my advice is to avoid Moleskines, I find them overpriced and the paper sucks for the way I like to draw. I like the similar form factor books from Hand*book. And softcover books from Cachet. And of course the classic black hardcovers.

I use a wiki I wrote for the purpose. I'm surprised that so many people are talking about text files and outliners. Hyperlinking is really important! Ideas are naturally hyperlinked.

I just looked at workflowy, and I don't see a good way to link from one place to another. That seems to put it more in the realm of TODO list rather than a place for real ideas.

Compare to paper (which I used to use), the wiki has the drawback that you can't draw pictures easily. But it has the advantage of being searchable.

I have 1300+ wiki pages from the last 8 years or so. It's been one of the more useful things I've done since it's allowed me to tackle bigger and bigger projects.

I keep a lot of notes, recipes, code snippets, lists, ideas, etc in Notational Velocity. I keep them in a folder on my Dropbox. That means I've always got access to them, provided I have access to a computer with internet and a simple text editor.

Notational Velocity has an amazingly simple interface. And it's fast. It deals just with text, which is all I need.

To ease online access, I've dived into my first Ember.js adventure and am writing a simple web application that mimics Notational Velocity. It accesses files trough the Dropbox API. It's not done yet, but it's on its way :)

Linky: http://notational.net/

I created a notebook called Projects in Evernote and I keep one note to all the ideas that I could summarize in a sentence. For more mature idea I create a separate note to keep all links and notes related to the project there.

Evernote and moleskines.

My everyday todo and notes are taken in a black a5 moleskine. I go through one every 3 months and have a shelf that I keep all the old ones on, organized by date.

Fleshing out ideas happens in evernote, as well as writing blog posts and longer emails.

I have a couple of notes that I think are relevant to this discussion. 1 is the list of ideas for products or businesses that I would do if I wasn't doing what I am doing right now (and which I might do in the future) and 2 is the list of things I can do if everything ever goes to shit.

I have a stack of notebooks that goes back over two decades. Anything worth writing down goes in the notebook. No postits, scraps of paper or backs of envelopes unless I'm willing to throw the note away immediately.

One of the things I learned in high school is that taking notes helps me to organize and remember my thoughts - even if I never look at the notes again. I don't refer to my notebooks much, but writing ideas down helps me triage ideas for things worth following up on.

I keep a moleskine notebook with me all the time where i sketch and write my ideas on the spot. I use mindjet's mindmapping software to elaborate on those ideas and store the files in a brainstorming folder on my portable harddrive and laptop. A copy of that folder is also in Google Drive to have access to the files and documents whenever i need them. I frequently use evernote and flava and sync them both, especially when i take snapshots with my mobile.

Ideas end up everywhere in my workspace; in my physical notebook, in a moleskin that's always in my jacket, on the whiteboard (which I sometimes take snapshots off), on index cards, in my homebrew webbased project/life tracking app (I have tons of product ideas stashed in a category), in mindmanager and onenote. Each format has it's strengths and all of them are pretty fun to use. I'm looking to add the Galaxy Note as yet another input tool.

I use Dokuwiki https://www.dokuwiki.org/dokuwiki and keep them in a GTD style someday/maybe list.

I find paper to be the best - I keep both a personal notebook for anything I do on my own time whether it be startup ideas, shopping lists, a short TODO, etc; I also keep a work notebook for any drafting I do in the office. It's great to keep things backed up in an electronic sense, but I find it easier to expand on a thought if I just have it in front of me on paper.

I use a combination of Google Docs and Springpad http://springpad.com/about

I keep my ideas in https://AES.io - one of the reasons I created the service.

I use Springpad and its Chrome extension.

Whenever I have an idea, I would add it in an already existung "idea" notebook and if that idea develops then I would create a new notebook just for that project.

Whenever I found content related to the project on an Internet, I would use the chrome extension to pin it to that notebook.

A folder in Dropbox, containing each idea as either a text file or a folder of its own.

Sometimes the whole idea is one line as the file name. The content of the text file is the details of the idea. If I wrote some script or collected some information for this idea, it'll be in its folder.

I developed Task Science (https://taskscience.com) to manage, categorize, and collaborate on ideas and tasks. The goals were to remain quick and responsive so you can add the idea and get back to work.

Fake tool: I write everything down on whatever paper is nearby, but the act of me doing that somehow tricks me into remembering it.

Actual tools: Evernote (on all my devices, plus the email address that I send them to), the iPhone reminder app, Google Tasks.

I use workflowy primarily.. Basically what helps is anything that you can always have quick access to.. Like I use workflowy on my android mobile coz I can scribble on it anytime.. on bus.. while in class.. while jogging..

I keep an evernote notebook for ideas, and drop photos and various ideas into it over time. I revisit every few days to organize and cull the really bad ideas. The ones I keep returning to seem to bubble up to the top.

I run a custom site that I share with a limited group of partners/friends with a rating system where everybody can rate/comment on my ideas. I'm not the only one who posts ideas though.

P.S. Wanna invite? Email me why.

We keep it simple, and use a Google docs spreadsheet. We split the ideas between the ones that we quickly jot down with almost no research, and the ones where we have done thorough research.

I use plain paper most of the time. It's convenient, and I've been used to it.

Sometimes I use the iOS's native Notes app for that. It's pretty basic for writing but that's exactly what I want.

I keep them in a private folder on Dropbox. I can easily sort them by their names and I can access it across all my devices as Dropbox has a client for all popular platforms.

I keep them in a page called Notes and Thoughts: http://kibabase.com/articles/notes-and-thoughts

I'm a huge fan of Evernote! I use it almost everyday whenever a new idea pops into my head. I have installed it on my laptop and my mobile. Highly recommended.

...sometimes I publish ideas that I think have potential (at an early stage, of course) on my blog: if they get commented, then there is REAL potential...

I use a document in Dessk, autosaving and its a really nice blank canvas to work with. Easy to assign to tasks and share with other people to brainstorm

I currently use Apple Notes (iMac, iPad, iPhone using iCloud sync).

I've previously used Devonthink, personal wiki, Basecamp, Asana, GTD, and others.

Ideas are on one of the greatest apps ever made: Evernote

Then I start a folder in Google Docs to keep everything related to the project.

Gollum, which is a markdown powered wiki system. In fact, it has all my notes (programming, lifehacking, etc).

I keep all my Ideas in Gmail Draft with subject Name "I.D.E.A.S". I keep appending all my ideas into it.

iPhone and text docs, and when I want to think a bit more about the idea, Google Sites. The latter has a wiki-like structure with lots of useful structures (e.g. headings, LHS hierarchy, some widgets, lists) and I can share it with others very easily. Keeps version history.

Old notebooks from school or my head.

I figure if I forget it probably wasn't that important in the first place.

Yeah, same here. Raw ideas come to me in such an unorganized manner, it makes no sense to try to write them down. I won't know what I meant when I look at them later.

If good enough, with other people.

I use my own weekend project(look in my submissions) and tag 'em "#ideas."

Notes file on my phone. I need backups! :)

Google Drive.

Google Docs

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