How I Organize My Thoughts


How often do you have that brilliant thought, tell yourself "I'll remember this later," and then struggle to bring it back from memory?

If you're anything like me, this probably happens to you daily.

My ideas tend to come at all times and seemingly at random. I used to let them come and go, not caring whether I would remember them or not. But over time, I have grown increasingly frustrated when a thought comes to me, I'm unable to act on it at present, and then I forgot what that thought was when I want it later. Chalk it up to my poor memory, or my thoughts getting more abstract and nebulous. Whatever the reason, I knew I needed a better solution.

After studying productivity gurus like David Allen and August Bradley, I've come up with my own system to help me capture, store, and act on my ideas. The main goals are:

1. Capture easily

My thoughts often come to me at an inconvenient time. Having a quick and easy way to capture an idea is crucial. Even capturing a few words as the seed of an idea is usually enough to help me retrieve the memory at a later time.

2. Organize quickly

I don't want to create a dumping ground of ideas that turns into a big mess. Once this mess gets to a certain point, I'll put off cleaning it up. Eventually, I will stop using the tool. Get my ideas sorted, and get them out of the way for new ones.

3. Reference conveniently

If I had a thought, and saved it, I want to be able to get back to that idea quickly. That can involve referencing a specific topic or tag, or searching directly.

With these three goals in mind, here is the system I've built.


Todoist App

Todoist is the quick and easy task management tool that makes thought capture easy.

It offers Projects and Tagging for organization.

It has natural language to schedule tasks for the future by typing in phrases like 'tomorrow', 'next week', or 'every day'.

It has a quick capture that can be accessed from my quick settings on my phone. Just swipe down from the top, tap "Add Task" and start typing.

Android quick settingsQuick add task

It also has a browser extension and Gmail tool to quickly add a site or email as a task.

Almost all of my thoughts get dumped here.

Once a day or so, I'll go through the "Inbox" and tag, schedule, archive, or move tasks. This ritual follows the Eisenhower Matrix to determine what the next action should be and where to focus my attention.

Eisenhower Matrix

Anything that's a creative idea or a thought on a larger project will get shifted over to Notion, which I'll talk about later.

My basic projects are:

Projects will get rotated in based on how often I think about them or how timely they are. When I bought my house last year, I had a project setup for "Mortgage and Move" to keep all of that information in one place. Once I was signed, closed, and moved that project was archived to clear space for the next big project, "Home Decor".


Notion App

Notion is an information organization system that can best be described as a combination of a wiki, note taking app, and project management repository.

At its core, Notion is database of pages. Each page can also be its own database. This unique system allows for a great deal of creativity in organizing your system in a way that best serves you.

Because of how open it is as system, it can be a bit intimidating to build a system that works for you. It also requires you to organize data into databases, forcing you to take a moment to categorize, plan, and input your data. The powerful linking, sorting, and filtering make this all worthwhile when you want to create custom views for your data to help you research and make decisions.

I have taken a liking to August Bradley's Life Operating System as it provides a comprehensive way of organizing life in a way that makes prioritizing, researching, and referencing as simple as possible.

I also use Notion to organize my creative writing projects. Each novel or short story has a database of characters, scenes, story ideas, and a world building wiki. Each scene comes with a template to help me figure out the goal of a scene, how it relates to the previous scene, and how it connects to the next scene.

Notion story scene

Notion takes awhile to dial it in to a useful system that fits your needs, but the effort is worth it when you have everything you need within a few clicks.


A good old fashion notebook is my tool of choice when I'm programming, in a meeting, sketching out wireframes, or jotting a quick reminder.

My notebook offers me a quick "at a glance" tool that doesn't involve any work other than glancing down at the open page. This is most helpful when I'm programming and don't want to tab between apps or have another window open. I have a running checklist of tasks I want to achieve in my programming session, and use my notebook to help me connect pieces of data with flow charts and arrows. All of my front end layouts start with boxes in boxes on a fresh notebook page. Almost everything I program starts with the planning phase on paper.

I don't use my Notebook for anything that I need to remember later. Once I turn the page, I rarely go back and look at my notes. I move "in progress" items forward to my current page if my checklist has become a mess, but I don't do much else with older pages. Anything for reference in the future should be digital, indexed, and searchable.

White Board

Another old fashioned staple, my white board serves as a reminder for tasks I wouldn't think about otherwise.

Items on my whiteboard include:

The white board is also useful for communicating plans with a living partner. My partner and I planned our whole Thanksgiving itinerary and oven schedule on the white board. It helped us keep to the plan while our hands were dirty and the counters were covered. A quick glance up tells us what to work on next and when it needs to be in the oven.

Take it at your own pace

I hope you've found this quick list helpful. It's important to remember that this system works for me. It may not work for you. I encourage you to explore what other people have done, why the do it, and how it could meet your needs. Feel free to mash up disparate systems to help cover all of you bases. Just be kind to yourself if you find that a tool doesn't work, or you forget to do something, or you fall behind and your tasks start pilling up. Productivity is not a system to live and die by. It exists to help you organize and direct your energy when you have it to offer to the world.

Take care of yourself, find what is important to you, and the productivity will happen.