Capture Thoughts & Ideas & Save Your Brain for the Important Stuff

Cindy Vanhoff is an Organizing & Productivity Strategist.  She believes in being as efficient and effective with her time and space as she can be, so she has the time to do the things she loves with those she loves.  For over a decade and a half, Cindy has been sharing with others how they can make the most of their time and space, so they too can make more time for the things that matter.  

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen

The brain is a complex and intricate organ.

It is capable of storing and recalling memories, emotions, feelings, thoughts, and ideas. However, it can’t store all of these things forever. Our brains have limited storage capacity, so we must figure out another way to capture thoughts and ideas so that they aren’t overloaded with things that may not be important at the moment.

I have never really relied on my memory, as I have never felt it worked very well. I also have a Visual Learning Style. This means I find it helpful to capture thoughts and ideas, as well as other important information on paper.
I also came from the generation that only had paper and pencil to capture anything! I know that’s hard to imagine for many of you.

Consequently, I ended up with tablets and planners full of notes and lists of things I wanted to do or needed to do at some point in my life. These tablets and notebooks were my capture and storage system.
My problem was I captured too much, wanted to do too much, and didn’t review my lists often enough to remind myself what was on the lists. What I found was that accessing these things I had captured could be quite difficult and sometimes time-consuming. When I did take the time to review them, they were so overwhelming I would just start a new list and leave the old list(s) behind. And I would keep the old list – just in case.

As an entrepreneur, I have a multitude of business ideas that enter my head. If I don’t find a way to capture thoughts and ideas quickly, I will easily lose the thought or idea. Learning to capture thoughts and ideas is beneficial to learn early on in life because as we get older, our memories aren’t what they once were. Add to the fact that daily we are inundated with so much information, how in the heck could we remember where we put our shoes on some days?

And there is the personal side of things. I have lots of other thoughts going through my head that don’t include business. Home improvement ideas, self-improvement ideas, what to make for dinner ideas, and the list goes on.
Just ask my husband. I can almost see his brain exploding when I share my newest home improvement idea with him. I definitely need a way to capture thoughts and ideas for my personal life.

There are really only two ways to capture thoughts and ideas.

Using an analog system or digital system. Digital systems are a game-changer, especially in the retrieval process. Digital systems allow me to be efficient with my space and my time because I can find what I need more easily, and I can store more information. Everything is quicker and easier. To type something is so much faster than writing something. However, when I am using my phone, I don’t think “typing” is faster than writing. So, I may switch up the way I capture that idea that comes into my head. Oftentimes it’s easier to grab a piece of paper and write something down than to find the app I need. Oftentimes, by the time I find the app, I have forgotten my idea! Maybe some of you can relate, and maybe some of you can’t.

Also, when we are driving, exercising, and especially in the shower, we come up with some pretty amazing ideas. We can’t write them down, so recording our thoughts and ideas is a great option, and our phones make it easy for us to do that.

Regardless of the option you choose to capture and store your thoughts and ideas, here are some options that will help with the capture, storage, and retrieval process.


The best analog systems are those that work best with the way your brain thinks and allows us to capture ideas quickly using the least amount of mental energy possible. If you are more visually oriented and like to sketch out ideas, then analog may be your best bet. Index cards, sticky notes, notebooks, or graph paper might be best for you.

Here are some analog systems and how you could use them for capture and storage.

Index cards

Use these for recording small amounts of information quickly. You can make them as elaborate or simple as you want. Write down your idea and file it using a consistent filing system. Having them handy is essential, so you will need some at your workstation and placed throughout your home and office, as well as in the car. I have always loved Levenger products for their look and feel. They are quality products. Here are a few that would be helpful with an analog system.

  • These are nice and portable and will fit in a pocket or bag.
  • This is a nice way to store the cards on your desk and these cards fit perfectly inside.
  • For easy access to the things that you are working on, this is a great way to keep the cards where you can see them.
Sticky notes

Sticky notes are great until they aren’t. They are good for jotting down an idea or reminder. The problem with this is once something has been stuck on your computer screen for weeks, you no longer see the note. This is just visual noise, and it’s easy to ignore when overdone. If you are going to use sticky notes, I suggest you place them in a manila folder with a label for the project they are associated with, and they are looked at daily. They are great for capturing all the things that need to be done in a project, placed in order by the date due or to who assigned and then entered into a digital system of some sort for easy access and retrieval.

Pads of paper or Notebooks

This system works well for anyone who likes writing by hand or wants to organize their thoughts by hand first before transferring them into a digital system. This is a great way to transition from paper to digital. I like 3-ring notebooks as you can move your paper around easily, but I love this notebook as it’s small, lightweight, and easy to move papers into different categories as well. If you are using a 3-ring notebook or pad, it is quite helpful to divide them into sections. A minimum of 2 sections; one for personal, one for work.


I think if you are going to use an analog system, planners are the best system out there. Here is why. Most planners are well organized, which in turn, makes it easier to find where your thoughts and ideas were captured. Planners come in a variety of formats. This article will help you find the one that would work best for you.

Digital apps

There are so many digital apps that will help you capture and store ideas. So many in fact, that if you are using one that works well for you, keep using it.
If not, I have a couple of options for you.


I use Notion. It’s free and pretty easy to understand. It took me a little while to figure it out, but not so long that I abandoned it. I was intrigued by its ability to link things together, its search function, its web clipper, and its organization.
It has so many free and paid templates available and there are many Notion experts out there that will explain just about anything you want to know about Notion.
I love the Ultimate Brain template by Thomas Frank. It is so easy to capture, store and retrieve any thoughts or ideas I have. Since I also create content, I ultimately purchased the Ultimate Brain + Creators Companion. Together, these are invaluable when it comes to planning projects, creating content, and integrating items. With the purchase of these templates, we also get access to a community where we can ask questions and find answers. There is also a support team if you just can’t figure something out or come up with a problem. Notion also has a web clipper where I can capture things I find on the web and place them in Notion. I like Notion.


Evernote is a very popular note-taking app and one I used to use extensively. It is available in a free version and is pretty easy to use. Evernote allows users to create notes, organize them into notebooks and tag them as needed for easy retrieval later on. You can also upload documents, emails, and pdfs. I do still use Evernote but on a limited basis. I have purchased a scanner and scanned all my important documents into Evernote. I also use it to store digital information I find interesting on the web. It’s a great app and worth looking into.

There are always things to consider when choosing the best way to capture thoughts and ideas, as well as storing them and retrieving them.

I think the most important thing to consider is what works best for you. If you already have something that works amazingly well for you, then continue to use it.
However, if there are things you don’t like about the current system you use to capture thoughts and ideas, write those things down and figure out another way.
For me, it finally came down to what was the most efficient, easiest, and made the most sense for the things that I do. I can type faster than I can write, and I like to be able to find things easily. I can’t do that with paper. However, when I want to get down to brass tacks and get things straight in my head, I will use paper.

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is helpful when assessing what capture method works best for you.

It’s also great if the system is flexible enough that you can change it if it’s not working. Try different methods to capture thoughts and ideas until you find one that keeps you on track!
And, don’t be afraid of trying new things!

Action Step(s)

Consider your current system. Is the way you capture thoughts and ideas working for you?
If not, what is an alternative?

e.g., You are a paper user, and your workspace is inundated with stacks of papers, and you don’t know where anything is. Maybe it’s time to start scanning that information into Evernote and from here forward, clip the items you find on the internet into Evernote. These are articles you would normally print out but will now clip and save electronically. Down the road, if you have to print out that article, you can. Remember to be picky about what you keep, even in the digital world!

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