The Idea Dump

The Idea Dump
Photo by NeONBRAND / Unsplash

A safe place for my ideas that doesn’t distract me.

I walk down the street to the grocery store when it happens: a fantastic idea for a future project. So what to do? Usually, I would write it down in my ToDo list, and then it would sit there for some time until I transfer it into a document - just to reorganize it a few weeks later. [In the last article], I said that there should be no ideas on my ToDo list because this is happening to me all the time; I don't know what to do with my thoughts, and they end up cluttering everything else.

When James Clear talked about the difference between being in Motion and taking Action, he pointed out one of my biggest problems with productivity. I spend too much time on things that don’t bring me closer to my goals, and how I store my ideas is one reason for this.

Action vs Motion - What is that?

I highly suggest [this] short except from James Clear’s book [Atomic Habits], in which he explains this concept. In short: Actions are the things that bring me closer to my goals by producing an outcome (like writing an article, working out in the gym, or signing the purchase agreement for a house). Motions are the activities that I do to prepare for these actions but don’t produce an outcome (writing down ideas for articles, looking up workout plans, or researching potential houses to buy).

Abraham Lincoln once said, „If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.“

Sharpening the axe is the preparation (Motion) for chopping down the tree (Action that delivers the outcome). Preparation is important. I shouldn’t buy a house without extensive research, and sharpening the axe can significantly reduce the effort I need to chop down a tree, but I have to be aware that only the final act of chopping produces an outcome. When there is a healthy relationship between Action and Motion and when all my motions lead to outcome-producing actions, I am on an excellent way to reach my goals. I realise though that this is not the case. I spend most of my time in Motion without producing any outcomes. I feel stuck in a big circle that turns within itself, continually revealing new tasks I have to do while not moving forward. It is dangerous to misinterpret being busy as being productive and getting stuck in a loop of Motion.

Action vs Motion will be a core concept of the Digital Oase, and I will dive deeper into this topic later. So be sure to subscribe to the [Digital Oase Newsletter] to follow this journey.

Idea Dump - Theory

Since I am a little kid, I have had ideas - lots of them: businesses, products, projects, or stuff I like. I stored everything in my ToDo list, separate word files, Ulysses, or physical notebooks and tried to organise them into categories. I was afraid to lose any of my thoughts, and I didn’t realise I forgot the essential thing: turning my ideas into reality.

During the last ten years, I spent most of my time in Motion, keeping myself busy without producing any actual output. I felt like I was working towards my goals, when in reality, I was only moving and reorganising my thoughts again and again, always “preparing” to work on them. Ideas should inspire Action and not require any upkeep. Surprisingly, the solution to my requirements is just a simple list - my idea dump.

🌊  I am just starting a journey about reaching the goals of my life. You can follow along [here] if you are interested.

Idea Dump - Praxis

I want to create a big pool of ideas where I can throw them in, know they are safe, and then, from time to time, roam through to get inspired. So here is how I do it:

The program of my choice is Roam Research, but any text-editing or note-taking program would be fine. I even thought about just using some plain text files. In the end, Roam feels right for me, and you should choose the program that you like. For an idea dump, nearly every tool in which you can write is okay.

In Roam, I have a few loose categories and then just all the ideas in there. As the name “dump” suggests, there are no further categories or structures (I even debate only having one big list), but it is really just a long list with ideas. And it is perfect. I spend no time on administrative work, and whenever I need some inspiration (usually there is too much to do anyway), I just get inspired by this list.

Screenshot from my Roam

It sounds so simple. I was even debating not writing about it. But, from all the tips and guides in the Digital Oase, this might be the one that improved my productivity the most. There were times when I got so overwhelmed with the mess of ideas and half-started projects in different projects that I spend most of my time just with administrative work.

The key: the idea-list is one part of the perfect digital setup. It does what it is supposed to do; it is a safe place for my ideas that lets me focus on Action instead of Motion and inspires me in the moments I need it. It is a separate place just for my thoughts and nothing else.