Organizing your miscellaneous thoughts and ideas? UGH! The topic of getting organized comes up frequently in coaching, and I can relate to that personally. For instance, there’s a miscellaneous drawer in my kitchen. It’s the depository for things that don’t have a home. The top drawer of my bedroom chest serves the same purpose. Ditto my workbench in the garage.
If something is unique and I don’t know where it goes, I put it in the miscellaneous drawer. If I need something that doesn’t have a home, I rummage through that drawer. That’s well and good for organizing tangible items, but the question is, how do you organize thoughts? What do you do with them so you can find them later?
While I have my own challenges and theories of what such things look like, I’ve often wondered about others. So, I asked other ADHD thought leaders about their systems. I had a hunch that most of them have the same struggles, but I was hoping that maybe just one had a perfect system.
The responses were very similar, but one in particular caught my eye. It was so well articulated and seemed to communicate my exact system metaphorically that it just may be the universal system among creatives. That response was from Rick Green, CHADD Hall of Fame member and founder of RickWantsToKnow.com. With his permission, I’m sharing his response.
“How do I capture ideas?
“I have to admit, not well. I have so many ways to capture ideas. Too many. And it’s exhausting. I say that because retrieving them is a problem. Did I write it on a Post it? On a scrap of paper? Could I have I recorded it as a voice memo on my phone? Is it on one of the 12 lists that are piled on my desk? Or the 23 lists on the other desk. Is it on the bulletin board? Is it in a file folder? If so, which file drawer? One of the 6 in my office or the 12 in the basement? Could it be in a Word document on my computer? What was the title? What key words did I use? How can I find it again?
“It’s bad. How bad? I have come across a note with an idea for a video (or a document with six ideas) and one jumps out at me and so I start writing it. Only later, after I’ve finished a first draft, or a second, a third, or actually recorded it, do I find that I’d already written a script around this idea. And when I read it I’m either relieved, “Oh, what I recorded was much better than this,” or else I am disappointed because there are a couple of really great lines that I would love to include.
“That’s the worst case scenario. The best case? I have an idea and I open a document and start writing. Throwing down a few ideas, capturing some thoughts, a funny line, a clever observation, and perhaps a couple of choice quotes from the 70 experts we’ve interviewed over the years. Just getting it down, basically bullet points. The key is to label the document so when I search for it it shows up. I used to create funny or clever titles that were intriguing. But had little or nothing to do with the content. “The Best Lesson I Learned From Mrs. Femson” doesn’t help me if I’m looking for the idea I had about finding a hobby that is complex enough to keep you intrigued.
“Now I have learned to label the documents with keywords only. The name of the document is not necessarily the title of the video, blog, or presentation.
“But for capturing ideas on the fly that come to me at odd times I definitely rely on the voice memo app on my phone. We also use an app (I think it’s an app?) called Trello where we can track all of the current projects and capture ideas for blogs, videos, etc. David Riddles, our one employee (You only need one when you have David), is great at capturing requests from our patrons and putting those into the appropriate column. Trello is like an online version of a huge bulletin board of 3×5 cards that you can capture anything on. Only each card can be expanded with all kinds of options to include references, descriptions, steps involved, deadlines, contacts, etc.
“The challenge is not that I need ways to capture ideas, it’s that I have too many and I don’t stick with them. Sound familiar?”
In October 2014, Attention Magazine printed an article I wrote, titled “Ugly Organizational Systems” The point of the article was to highlight that organized is knowing where things are. Something might look like a pile of clutter, but if you know where everything is in the pile, it is organized. All too often we associate organization with being aesthetically pleasing.
I wrote the article in the hope that many with ADHD would feel validated. That validation would give them permission to acknowledge they were in fact organized. Organization can be pretty, but it doesn’t have to be. Even if your system looks ugly, it doesn’t mean you are not organized. If you can find what you’re looking for, you are organized.
Rick Green’s narrative of his system echoes the ugliness of organizing one’s thoughts. I really identify with his description and have come to accept that, by definition, my system is all over the place because that’s what a miscellaneous idea organization system looks like. In that realization, I feel validated in accepting my system for what it is.
My thanks to Rick Green on behalf of so many who may read this article, identify with it, and find some peace in their miscellaneous system to organize thoughts.
[Published with permission: https://chadd.org/attention-magazine/attention-magazine-april-2022/]]
Editor’s Note: For more insight, check out my video, “Ugly Organizing Systems Are Not All Bad” (http://digcoaching.com/ugly-organizing-systems/).