Idea Files: Worth It Or No?

I’ve been trying to declutter a few areas of my house lately. While doing so, I’ve come across a handful of old “idea files.” It always seems like a good idea to start one. At previous points in my life, I’ve been responsible for coming up with 8-10 short article ideas a month for Reader’s Digest’s Only in America section, and now I’m brainstorming 6 blog posts a week (4 here, 2 over at BNET, with a Friday round-up that combines them). Then, of course, there are columns and factoids or anecdotes to include in books and so forth. This requires a lot of ideas, so clipping articles from newspapers and magazines, and stashing notes in a single file sounds like it would create lots of fodder for inspiration.

But, given that these old idea files are buried in other stuff, it doesn’t seem like they’re working that well. And frankly, when I looked through one from October-November 2006 yesterday, I didn’t come up with much beyond the names of a few plants I’d like to use in my someday garden. Nice personally, but not-so-helpful professionally, which was the point of the idea file in the first place.

But I know some people put idea files to great use. Has anyone here used one? What did you put in it? What did you manage to get out of it? Do you have any tips for making idea files more than a yellowing collection of useless clips?

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7 Responses to Idea Files: Worth It Or No?


  1. Jen says:

    I use Evernote for that sort of thing. Easy to store, easy to file, easy to find. I tag certain ones with “time sensitive” if they’re not going to be useful after a certain period of time, and just review that tag every few weeks or so.
    All that said, I should probably cull the inbox and sort the rest; there’s so much stashed in there regarding our move that it’s getting hard to find the important things. It WOULD be a good use of my time. ;)

    • @Nancy and Jen-
      I’m trying to figure out if there is a way that using technology would be intuitive for me. I’m not a very techy person (which people might gather from the low-tech nature of this blog). I also like to physically have stuff. But the idea files of magazine clippings have not really worked, so it is probably time to try something else.

  2. Nancy says:

    I am the queen of idea/to see/to do/to go files and all sorts of other files, boxes, and piles. But I too have just discovered Evernote – and think that it might actually convert the ideas to happenings without all of the the clutter!
    I have a work notebook and personal notebook. I could have really used something like this when we were doing house renovation work (hint!)

  3. Cara Marcano says:

    It seems like getting rid of lots of pieces of paper is key. I keep a bag in my office of shopping things.. .like when I read a magazine and see clothes I’d like or like a cream I’d like I put itin there. It keeps me from blowing money on something I don’t really want and also is the go to place when I do want to shop for an outfit… but it is better to get a computer system..

  4. Cara Marcano says:

    I think ever note is too complicated for me, just went there.. ! What I do is try and keep a list and I think a good place for that is on one’s desktop… if you back it up you won’t loose it.. you could just keep electronic “folders” of ideas on your desktop and then throw the paper away — the paper is my downfall, little scraps of paper everywhere

  5. I’ve tried both physical and electronic solutions and neither work that well for me. Everything kind of turns into a black box once it’s got a bunch of ideas in it. It’s more fun to put stuff into the system than it is to ever look at it again.

    The best I’ve managed so far is to use hot files (clear plastic folders) for particular projects. I throw project-related ideas in those. The hot files “live” in my Tickler files so I at least glance at them once in awhile when I’m dealing with stuff in the Tickler system.

  6. Denise R says:

    Over the years I’ve collected lots of articles for family ideas, and organized them by season, vacation ideas etc, yet found that I never referred to them, b/c the categories were too broad and too full to want to look through. After I further sorted them and set them up by month, (garden ideas for April, snow ideas for December etc.) now I pull them out and ask my kids to pick a few new things they’d like to try each month.
    So many magazines have blurbs or recommendations about books I’d like to read one day, so I cut those out and put them in a binder, organized by genre. When I’m looking for something new to read I can request the book online and my library calls me when it’s in. (a time-saving strategy too)
    I also keep a list of websites I’d like to visit that I’ve seen in blogs or magazines.