Always A Pleasure, Never A Chore

Article posted: July 27th, 2016

The Idea Diary: Always A Pleasure, Never A Chore

We can't remember everything, which is why we keep information in databases, lists, and good old-fashioned notebooks. We know you can't remember everything either, which is why we think keeping an idea diary is one of the best things any entrepreneur or inventor can do. It's not even a new tool -- thought-leaders have been keeping journals for centuries and with demonstrable, noteworthy (pardon the pun) and storied success.

A modern aversion to pen and paper means many people have turned away from note-taking, but you don't have to put physical ink to paper to keep track of your ideas and thoughts. Technology offers digital diaries in enough formats that every Rodin-esque modern-thinker can take advantage of the power of note-taking in a way that is easy, convenient, and despite all indications to the contrary - fun.

Why a Diary Is Critical to World-Changing Ideation

Business consultant, author, and professor Michael Leboeuf recommends writing things down because it forces you to focus fully, even if but for a moment, on your idea. "Few of us can write one thought and think another at the same time," says Leboeuf. He calls paper and pencil a ‘concentration tool’. Today, you can get that same moment of concentration by writing, typing, or even speaking your idea into a note-taking journal, document, or app.

The act of recording a thought often leads to a new thought -- recording your ideas as they come to you is a form of brainstorming that can lead to increasingly greater ideas – the writing process can be a literal catharsis, venting the idea out of your subsconscious and into the 3D world – a therapeutic purging which perhaps more importantly can make space for new ideas to fill the newly created room in your brain. With all those ideas swimming about in your mind, we suspect the worst thing that might happen is that you'll forget the best of them. An idea diary means you never lose what could have been your most momentous or potentially earth-shaking ideas, again (because let’s assume we’ve all at some point had flashes of brilliance that flashed back out of our mind just as quickly and strikingly as they flashed in).

Putting your ideas down -- whether on paper or in an application -- makes them more tangible. Note-taking converts ideas from flitting thoughts to the stuff goals are made of, and written goals are critical to success. From the phonetically and memorably named Zig Ziglar to the giant man of giant following Tony Robbins, success and business coaches say written goals create clarity, define direction, and encourage positive movement.

Thought-Leaders and Their Note-Taking

Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder and famously / infamously successful entrepreneur and investor, credits note-taking as a critical tool on his path to success. In a post for Virgin Group, Branson calls out today's executive level leaders for their lack of note-taking, saying he doesn't know where he would be today if he wouldn't have written down ideas as soon as they came to him. He wrote down his own ideas and ideas shared by others, and he says those jotted notes were the basis for new business ideas and some of his most successful endeavors.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, also advocates note-taking regarding ideas, although he goes about it in his own way. Instead of jotting down ideas, Bezos takes pictures, often of bad innovations. Looking back at the bad ideas helps him come up with better ideas and new inventions. Note-taking and the mediums it is executed via can clearly be as individual as the individuals taking said notes.

Bringing Scratch Pads into the Future

Unlike writers such as Hemingway, you don't have to carry a pencil and a laboriously scruffy sheaf of papers with you everywhere you go to keep an idea diary. Here's a look at some of the technology tools we like for idea diary purposes.


The versatile app is available for all major devices and operating systems and lets you take notes, record audio for verbal note-taking, and clip Web pages you want to reference later. The free version is robust enough for an idea diary, but the paid version features additional functions and makes syncing and multidevice use more palatable.

The iPad Pencil

If you want the convenience of technology with the physical action of writing things down, combine the iPad Pencil with an iPad and note-taking or sketching app. We recommend this route for thinkers who are especially visual and like to include doodles and sketches with notes. The pressure sensitive technology and ‘sketching’ emulation have turned the iPad Pencil from the 80’s ‘stylus’ concept into something much closer to an actual, digital pencil.


Combine the best of digital and traditional with this app, which lets you use the iPad Pencil to make notes before saving the documents in Evernote so you can search them later or sync with other devices.

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft's note-taking app is suite-like and offers functionality that includes list making, document creation, and project management. OneNote is a bit heavy-hitting for a simple idea journal, but if you're already using it to manage other aspects of personal or business endeavors, keeping your idea list within easy digital reach seems like a good plan.


At the other end of the spectrum, Simplenote offers a clean, distraction-free interface for creating date-and-time ordered notes. While limited in function, the app is free.

Dragon Dictation

The Dragon Dictation app lets you press a button and convert your speech to text for use in a variety of applications. Speech-to-text lets you record ideas as quickly as they come to you, which isn't always possible on tiny mobile device touchscreens or keypads. The app is free for some devices but doesn't feature integration with major note-taking software, though you can paste your text into any application. The app also requires a network connection during use.

Voice Assistant

Another voice-to-speech app, Voice Assistant learns your speech patterns over time, so it gets better at recording your ideas. You can send copies of your converted text to various apps, including Evernote, and even post directly to social media platforms to share your ideas with others.

With so many great options for tracking your thoughts, there's no excuse not to keep an idea diary. Without getting too grandiose with the visual analogies you could say: if you’re looking for that ‘lightning bolt’ idea, the process of note-taking (whether digitally, vocally or otherwise) is like the lightning rod that could focus and harness that lightning. So it’s importance as part of the ideation process cannot be overstated.



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