Increasing Productivity: If You Think It, Ink It!

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. — John Steinbeck

My father had a saying he used to repeat often. He always carried around one of those little Mead spiral notebooks, which he liked to call “his brain,” and whenever an idea would strike him he’d write it down and say, “If you think it, ink it!”

That used to just drive me crazy…but Dad was absolutely right. You can’t depend on your meat brain to remember everything, especially when you’re in the middle of another task. Nor is it a good idea to drop the task you’re working on and go haring off after the new idea. Oh, you can do that, but if make a habit of it you’ll never finish anything—and your productivity will be shot to heck.

So when you have a random thought that sounds good, get it down on paper (or electrons) down ASAP. You can use a little notebook like my father’s shirt-pocket “brain,” a handheld device like a Blackberry, a compact voice recorder, 3 x 5 index cards, or a standardized planner—whatever works for you. According to his autobiography, whenever science fiction writer Piers Anthony gets a new idea while writing one of his novels, he just sets off a new paragraph in brackets, types the new idea, then goes back to the project he’s working on. The idea will be lifted out and documented elsewhere during an editing draft, when he has time to deal with it.

Angling for Ideas
It’s been said that ideas are like slippery little fish that you have to capture with a pencil, or else they’ll get away. And as the saying goes, “the dullest pencil (pixel?) is keener than the sharpest mind.” So capture your great idea however you may, and get right back to your original task.

Another great thing about recording your ideas is that when you do so, your brain will think you’ve done something about it and stop bugging you, so you can focus. Even if your idea is of the non-bugging kind, if you write it down, you don’t have to waste any energy trying to remember it later. It’s recorded right there in black and white. By “inking” it, you’ve made it real.

And oddly enough, writing down your ideas often seems to make you have more of them. That may simply be a function of the fact that you’re just not remembering them all when you don’t record them; but on the other hand, some would argue that it’s some Higher Intelligence trying to tell you something.

By the time you review your notes, you may have forgotten the idea altogether, so you may just be pleasantly surprised by what you find. And what do you end up with when you’re done? Why, a little list of things to do…now, why does that sound familiar? Yep, you got it: your ideas (or at least the best of them) end up on your to-do list, so that you can focus your attention on them properly. And if you come up with another brilliant idea while you’re working on your new tasks, well…if you think it, ink it!

From Fish to Seeds
Now, I’ve compared ideas to slippery fish, which you have to capture; but once you’ve done that, they turn into something else. (And I’m not talking about fishsticks here). These ideas you’re struck with—whether while working on something else, during your daily commute, or in the middle of the night—become seeds once you gather them in. They may never germinate, of course; and even if they’re viable, you may never use them. You can’t do everything you imagine, because there’s just not enough time!

But if you carry those little idea seeds around with you like Johnny Appleseed, you may very well come across fertile soil in which they can sprout. That’s when you stick ’em in the ground and stand back, so you can see what they’ll become.

Ideas are important, folks. Even the most audacious and ambitious of undertakings, from the Great Wall of China to the International Space Station, started as nothing more than an idea that someone eventually recorded. Once they did that, it went from meditation to action—and changed the world.



  1. I liked your statement about your Dad. My Dad was kinda wise that way, too. Only, he said,”Get the phone number!” On more than one occasion since then, I’ve forgotten that important form of communication. Sometimes it’s better than email, Facebook, or any other.
    My Dad is gone now, but I try to ‘get the phone number as much as possible.


  1. […] 3. Fear of forgetfulness. You know what it’s like to have an idea flit across your mind and then lose track of it. Rather than have that happen, many of us jump at the shiny new idea and DO it, dropping whatever we’re working on. Don’t listen to your brain! Instead, just write it down—so you can remind yourself about it later—and then move on. As my father taught me years ago, “If you think it, ink it.“ […]