Review Your Entire Idea File Every Few Months To Keep Ideas Fresh

Review Your Entire Idea File Every Few Months To Keep  Ideas Fresh
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The idea that you want to write down all your ideas is common sense. Author Steven Johnson recommends not just keeping all those ideas in a single document, he recommends reviewing that document every few months.

Photo by Dvortygirl

Johnson keeps all his ideas in a single “spark file”. He doesn’t tag different notes, use various notebook for different projects, or divide up ideas. They’re all right there in a single document. Then, every couple of months, he digs in:

But the key habit that I’ve tried to cultivate is this: every three or four months, I go back and re-read the entire spark file. And it’s not an inconsequential document: it’s almost fifty pages of hunches at this point, the length of several book chapters. But what happens when I re-read the document that I end up seeing new connections that hadn’t occurred to me the first (or fifth) time around: the idea I had in 2008 that made almost no sense in 2008, but that turns out to be incredibly useful in 2012, because something has changed in the external world, or because some other idea has supplied the missing piece that turns the hunch into something actionable. Sure, I end up reading over many hunches that never went anywhere, but there are almost always little sparks that I’d forgotten that suddenly seem more promising…

In a funny way, it feels a bit like you are brainstorming with past versions of yourself. You see your past self groping for an idea that now seems completely obvious five years later. Or, even better, you’re reminded of an idea that seems suddenly relevant to a new project you’ve just started thinking about.

If you’re not keeping track of all your ideas and hunches — good and bad — you should start doing that first. Then as that document grows and turns into something larger, take the time to review it. You might be surprised at how dumb ideas are suddenly more feasible a few months down the road.

The Spark File [Medium]


  • I’m sure it’s great to write and keep ‘ideas’ as you think of them, but who exactly is this strategy aimed at? Novelists? Politicians? Inventors?

    For an ordinary white-collar worker like myself, how is making a record of my ‘ideas’ of any relevance to my life?

    • Do you have ideas about how you might like to revamp your home kitchen but its not going to be this weeked? I’d love to add some USB inclusive wall sockets and build a portable island but I’m busy for the next few months….spark list.
      My wife has a business and occasionally I think of things that my good for her but not at this moment in the growth of the business.
      I have some hobbies I enjoy, drawing, building things, etc but I am in no way capable at the moment of achieving some of things I want within those so if I have an idea or concept I can put this down then revisit it later. ie revisit the list and see it – I now know how to do that join, I’ve practised it and have the tools I might try and make that now.
      I have read an article on a particular holiday spot and would like to keep that idea for a future family holiday!!
      Be creative, I’m sure there are things you could use this for? We all have ideas about everything so write them down.

    • Technically everyone can be each of those things, and thinking creatively and extensively beyond your immediate job or lifestyle can make life more fulfilling in my opinion. Its not even just the concept of having a little book of ideas, but encouraging you to use the part of your brain that creates new ideas that makes the most sense to me. No creative thinking can lead to complacency which is worse than anything, again imo.

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