Helping Creative People Create

7 Idea Dumping Tips (How To Manage Diarrhea of the Brain)

Idea dumping is a lot like brainstorming. (I happen to be an expert on idea dumping because I just made the term up 5 minutes ago.). Brainstorming to me is more of a process where you have a problem, and you try and find a solution to it, with the end goal in mind. It’s a great concept in theory–except it never happens that way for me. It seems like whenever I really need a great idea, they are nowhere to be found. Yet when I’m doing something completely unrelated and seemingly unimportant, I’ll be floating in ideas. And when the mind finally does agree to cooperate and turn on, I won’t usually get just one good idea but a bunch of ’em at a time. When it rains it pours, but it’s a summer in Texas otherwise.

It’s more like my brain all of the sudden opens up and throws out a flurry of ideas, a proverbial diarrhea of the brain. Except with a good connotation, (unlike most comparisons to bowel movements). So I’ve decided to call this process Idea Dumping to kind of fuse Brainstorming and, well… the bowel thing. So if you haven’t already quit reading this post, here are my 7 tips for effective Idea Dumping.

1. ALWAYS carry paper

It almost always never fails. I’ll have a great idea, I’ll think about it for a while, and never remember it again. Why? I didn’t write it down. Half of having a good idea is actually writing it down. Writing it down gives you freedom to let your mind explore it even more, because it doesn’t have to work on actually remembering it. If paper isn’t your thing, use a voice recorder, your cell phone’s voicemail, a pda, a rock and chisel… anything so that you can file it somewhere other than your brain.

2. Be descriptive when writing it down

There have also been times where I’ve written an idea down quickly, and then looked at it later and had no idea I was talking about. The more descriptive you are, the better you can get back into your train of thinking when you wrote it down, like picking up where you left off. Also, being more descriptive frees up your brain’s resources to develop the idea even further.

3. Plan for not planning on it

One problem with the way we typically brainstorm is this: it’s unnatural. We bang our heads against the wall while chanting “think, think”. If you’re like me, your brain doesn’t like to be told what to do. The second I sit down and “make” myself be creative, my brain goes on lockdown. Nothing in, nothing out. There’s no such thing as forced creativity.
I’ve found that the best way to allow your mind to form ideas is when I’m doing something else. You have to be ready at anytime to jot something down. I know this point is a lot like #1, but I can’t stress it enough.

4. Good environments matter

Allow yourself time to let your mind breathe and relax. I’ve found that the best times to have idea dumps are when you’re in an aesthetically pleasing environment, or at least one where you’re enjoying yourself. A lot of times the ideas start coming when I’m running, or talking a walk in nice weather. You my find yourself partial to different situations. It really doesn’t matter, just so long as what you’re doing somewhat automated and your mind can freely wander wherever it wants. In short; you’re giving yourself time to daydream.

5. Think big picture down

Ok, so I realize that there will be times when you’ll actually have good ideas when you are forced into brainstorming on a certain problem. A good strategy for finding solutions to a specific problem is always thinking top down. In David Allen’s Getting Things Done, you should always start with asking yourself why you’re doing it. Why are you trying to find the solution? Why is it important? It sounds mind-numbingly simple, but it really helps you focus your thinking on the problem, rather then going off on tangents.

6. Organize your thoughts

Once your ideas have stopped coming, be sure to organize them more coherently once you’re done. This will help you get a better handle on what you’ve discovered, and you’ll remember it better in the long run. (If you were descriptive in writing down your ideas, you’ll find it speeds this process up. ) Once you’ve got them organized, break them into actionable steps ( another component to GTD). You’ll quickly realize what needs to be done next to implement your ideas, in what order, etc.

For me, notecards are my weapon of choice. I always keep a few handy, and I organize my ideas into ideas. If a project has more than one thought to it, I assign it it’s own card. If it’s something simple like a future post title, I put it on the “catch-all” notecard that holds just quick ideas. Later I’ll take the day’s cards and process them further.

7. Know when to stop

Don’t force the issue, man! You could hurt yourself if you’re not careful. If the well of ideas has run dry, pumping it more won’t help. Don’t worry, there will be other times of plenty in terms of ideas. Use what you you’ve been given and start to implement them. Sometimes you won’t get all you need in one dumping session, like this post. Ironically enough, this article was a product of 3 idea dumps, spread over a couple of weeks.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Benjaloo August 16, 2006 at 10:51 am

Great post!

Re #1-“Always carry paper”. You make the point that there are many other collection devices-I’d like to mention a couple that I’ve found useful.

My smartphone has a voice recorder, which I’ve found incredibly useful. Many of my best ideas happen while driving–I can pick up the phone and press one button with one hand and dictate memos into the phone.

My wife wanted the same capability but doesn’t have a phone with this feature built in. Two solutions:
1. program speed-dial to call your own voicemail; or
2. I set her up with a voice-mail-to-e-mail solution (many exist free online) since she uses email a lot and voicemail hardly ever.

Also, I get a lot of great ideas in the shower; somebody on one of the Yahoo GTD lists recommended getting a scuba dive clipboard that can be written on in the shower with a pencil, or using a wax pencil on the tiles. I use the diveboard, and it’s incredible.

Now I never forget a good idea no matter where and when I get it.

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glen August 16, 2006 at 11:36 am

Wow, you’ve taken it to a whole new level with the scuba board :)

I’ll agree with you about the driving. If I have to scribble something down while I’m driving, it’s kind of a hazard. I haven’t messed with the voice-mail to email things yet, but it sounds handy.

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Jennifer August 16, 2006 at 12:17 pm

Great tips. Number 2 is particularly important for me. I’m always taking incomplete notes and left wondering what the heck I’m supposed to do. Lately I’ve been working on being more specific in my to do lists and meeting notes and it’s a big help.

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Matthew Cornell August 16, 2006 at 12:32 pm

Nice post. Another idea that I’ve found useful is to keep a lighted pen next to the side of the bed, along with a pad of paper. Rather than getting up when thoughts strike (and turning on a light, going into another room, etc. and upsetting sleep) I just jot it down right there. Of course one has to *do* something with it later, but that’s what GTD excels at.

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glen August 16, 2006 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for the kind words guys.

Jennifer: yeah, I’ve found that the more I can write descriptive things I can write about my ideas, the easier it is to get myself in the “mode of thinking” I was in at the time of writing them.

Matthew: great idea! Not as many points as the scuba board, but that’s a handy tip. I usually just tell myself “I’ll remember it in the morning…”. Yeah right. ;)

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Ryan Waldron August 16, 2006 at 1:34 pm

So would you call this ‘idearrhea’? Nah, probably not. :)

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Ivan Minic August 16, 2006 at 3:04 pm

Some nice ideas you got there ;)

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Josiah August 16, 2006 at 9:30 pm

The hardbound, sewn, 3×5 mini-notebooks with a band closure work best:
Rugged, small enough for the pocket, everything’s together, not deciduous, no detritus.
Slivine topbound is the best, but Moleskine or Poche de Carnet are OK too.

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Roland August 17, 2006 at 10:42 am

Great points. As for #1, I am addicted to my Treo 650. I carry it everywhere, 24/7, even when mowing the lawn. I keep it by my bed so when I wake up at 3am worry about something, I quickly enter notes into my ToDo list and go back to sleep. Pre-Treo, I used to scribble notes on Post-Its and that got to be annoying after awhile.

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Shloky August 17, 2006 at 11:17 pm

You touched on it, but reviewing these notes is as important as getting them down. I keep a handy dandy little notebook and pen in back pocket all day, and every night get everything I wrote into a wiki and then start anew. I get to go over it again, sleep on it, and get my data in a format that allows for it to be manipulated in every which way (outlook tasks, goals, w/e).

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Oahawhool August 18, 2006 at 12:18 am

Very good!

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Brook Stone August 21, 2006 at 3:16 pm

The best way to download and manage ideas from your mind is Mindjet’s MindManager software. It goes a step further by allowing you to organize your ideas and assign dates and resources for your tasks. http://www.mindjet.com

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Ben August 21, 2006 at 4:31 pm

This is one of the best posts I have ever read. I do my best thinking – without fail – on the elliptical at 6:30am, also known as perhaps the least conducive situation during which to record ideas.
I’d also like to second the voice recorder suggestion as an alternative to #1, and the name idearrhea. Well played.

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Joy August 22, 2006 at 10:18 am

Good idea with an unfortunately repellant title.

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motherduce August 22, 2006 at 4:13 pm

Excellent article. I have a Moleskine, and when I have it with me, it’s great. Unfortunately, I don’t always have it with me. I wonder how many millions of dollars I have forsaken simply because I didn’t write down my idea!

I need the scuba board – that’s a GREAT addition – I often come up with great ideas in the shower or bath, when my mind is as far from work/creativity as possible. Maybe I can find a shower radio that has a voice recorder? Anyone?

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geminica August 25, 2006 at 1:19 pm

I’ve been reading Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose. She talks about having a dedicated “idea journal” and using it to flesh out ideas whether or not they immediately seem viable. She makes the point that the idea should be explored even if it doesn’t immediately seem like something you would ever really do, because exploring ideas is actually the way people like us have fun. Wow – it’s true!

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Daniel Schutzsmith August 28, 2006 at 10:13 pm

Thanks for the great overview of your process. I’ve been following something similar but seeing how you do it has answered some questions I’ve had about how effective I could truly be with my “dump”. Keep on rocking!

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VM September 8, 2006 at 10:37 am

Good post. Title could have been made attractive.

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bublik February 13, 2007 at 8:40 am
Adam Kayce : Monk At Work April 25, 2007 at 7:23 am

One thing I use for my dumping sessions (that I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned) is what’s formally known as mindmapping.

Rather than just list out all your ideas, sketch them. Put them in bubbles, and draw forks radiating out with all the ideas that are related to the main idea in the bubble.

(There can be a lot more to it than that, but you get the idea…)

I find it much easier to make sense of my dumps (ahem) later on if I’ve mapped them, as opposed to just writing lines of text.

It’s like instant recall when you see the picture, the layout, and then start reading your notes.

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glen April 25, 2007 at 11:49 pm

I agree, visualizing your thoughts can sometimes lead to better results. That’s why I like using a pen and paper when I’m doing some hot-n-heavy core dumping. Just letting it all go without any restrictions of software, etc. to get in the way.

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Adam Kayce : Monk At Work May 2, 2007 at 7:13 am

Just something I came across yesterday… http://bubbl.us . Free on-line mindmapping. Very easy. Fun, too.

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Ideaguy May 24, 2007 at 8:00 am

Something I use for my idea dumping and organizing my ideas…http://www.managemyideas.com . Great for quickly listing ideas and then developing them when I get the time.

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Keerthi July 30, 2007 at 11:52 pm

Great post. I too have been writing down: almost for a decade on my mobile phone using the voice recording feature. But despite sharing the tip with friends, not many have adopted todate. So I wish to add, with modern phones the process of capturing ideas become very easy. Record it.

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SNL Financial India P. Ltd

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Hannah April 10, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Just started carrying paper around with me and is working!
Personally I love mind mapping as an excellent way of enhancing ideas capture and often idea generation.

Can’t believe that mindmapping has only been mentioned by one commenter to this blog (Three cheers for Adam Kayce : Monk At Work – response 50)

Hannah

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DemoGeek June 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm

My problem is, as soon as I start writing things down my stream of idea flow stops right there. May be we should have a solution that can read the sub-conscious mind ;)

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Glen Stansberry June 17, 2009 at 1:50 pm

I hear ya. I'm all for the sub-conscious mind-writer :)

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DemoGeek June 17, 2009 at 5:29 pm

My problem is, as soon as I start writing things down my stream of idea flow stops right there. May be we should have a solution that can read the sub-conscious mind ;)

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Glen Stansberry June 17, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I hear ya. I'm all for the sub-conscious mind-writer :)

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