Further Thoughts On The Brainstorm Book

Origin Flare

Some time ago I wrote up how I used my Brainstorm Book.  I even did a video on it. Since then I’ve changed and tweaked my techniques, expand them, talked to other people, and found what did and didn’t work. So, a few years later, here’s my improved techniques.

The big change? I found that even after you go through brainstorming, that you still need to sort ideas. Some of this merged with my love of the Getting Things Done Method. So let’s take a look and what I learned!


The goal of the Brainstorm book is to capture ideas. Not to generate ideas, capture ideas. Its a way for your to record your great ideas so you get them down, don’t worry about losing them, and you can get to know and trust your creative abilities.  Creative generation is something to cover for another time.


Get a small notebook – I usually prefer 6″ x 9″ or the 5″ x 7″. They’re just the right size to put in a backpack, briefcase, purse, or large pocket. Keep a pen with it at all times – and it should be a pen, no erasing, just crossing out.


Keep this notebook with you everywhere when at all possible. If you can’t have it with you at all times, have a smaller backup book like one of the tiny Moleskins.


Whenever you have a Big Idea -one that seems great, right, amazing, worth recording, put it in the Brainstorm book with as much detail as possible. When in doubt, record it just in case.  Better to err on the side of inclusion than exclusion.

Don’t get critical or self-edit the idea (though including additional commentary may help), just get it out of your head and into coherent form that you can understand later.


Every few weeks (no less than once a month), review your Brainstorm book. Take the ideas in it and sort them into ONE of these categories:

  1. Your current to-do lists and tasks if they’re something you really want to get to. An example of this is an idea for next week’s column or a short story you can write.
  2. An Incubator list of ideas you review regularly to see if you want to do them. This is something I take from the Getting Things Done method, and I review my Incubator once a month – and sometimes review thing.
  3. An organized set of storage files to store the ideas for reviewing “whenever” – I keep ideas for various works sorted by what they may be used in; one for books, one for columns, etc.
  4. Any other area that’s important or appropriate. An example myself is I have a file for recipes that I may put ideas into because I review and make cooking plans regularly.
  5. The idea really wasn’t that great, not worth it, etc. Just ignore it.
  6. The idea is good but not really you. Go share it with someone – or keep a list of ideas to give out and write them up or post them or something.

#5 may sounds strange, but sometimes it happens.

I would also note that as you get this going it might be a good idea to do this every week until you find your groove. Maybe every month works, maybe every week is right for you.


When you fill up a brainstorm book, store it, and start another.  Keep the old ones so you can always review them later.


Look back at old Brainstorm books when you can.  It teaches you about how you think, lets you reflect on old ideas, and spot trends in imagination.


Now and then review your Incubator and other storage files and look over ideas you’ve had – this can be done “whenever” but i’d recommend once a year. Purge them of any ideas that you’re really not going to use, re-sort them so the best ideas are at the top, etc.


So what did I learn in my Brainstorming Book practices that changes, or that I want to share?

  1. Review rates really vary for people and sometimes situations. i used to do every two weeks, tried monthly, and found that my need to review varies with time, situation, focus, etc. By setting an outlying boundary I am assured I don’t forget – but it may differ for you.
  2. Sorting items into the categories of will do, may do, want to record, and won’t do is very helpful. I don’t try and capture everything, I decide where the idea fits in my life and make that judgement call so I don’t worry, and I think about the idea’s role.
  3. Sorting item also avoids “idea hoarding” where they sit uselessly in files.
  4. Regular purges are needed to see what you’ll use, won’t use, and so on.  You may also learn a lot about yourself and your intentions and goals this way, such as wondering why you were really big on an idea.
  5. Regular purges also help take pressure off of you to use the idea.

At times if you use a discipline like a brainstorming book, you can overdo it, underdo it, have piles of ideas, or have ideas that are sorted too finely.  Good reviews, thoughtful inclusion, and appropriate divisions really make a difference.

Hope this helps . . . well until the next time I come up with some new additions to the Brainstorm Book . . .


– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.