Whenever I have thoughts on something I am working on, or things that worry me, or just something that might be very cool to do, I press the record button on my phone's voice recorder app and start talking.
I just tell myself what my ideas are, possible solutions, which things are important, and whatever else comes to my mind. Just ramble on about it, thinking out loud, brainstorming, start a continuous flow of whatever is on my mind about that thing.
For me this works best when I am alone, for example in the car, or when I'm taking a walk. If necessary, I make this less awkward by pretending I am calling someone, while I am actually talking to myself. 😉
I not only do this to clear up my mind (all these thoughts and great ideas can really pile up 🤯), but more importantly, it's the first step to actually do something with it.
Every recording is about one specific subject, to keep it organized. The length of these recordings can range from just a few minutes to over an hour.
Then, the next step is to sort out this pile of junk.
I get a notepad, listen to the recording, and write down the most important things I said. While doing that, I reorder and categorize things, maybe come up with additional ideas, and skip things that are not important.
For more task-based subjects, instead of a notepad, putting things on a kanban board such as Trello also works great.
This process gives me a great insight into what the essence is, shapes my random thoughts and I can use it to distillate concrete actions out of it.
I deliberately separate the processes of getting my thoughts out from writing them down. They both deserve their attention because they have different goals. Writing things down immediately, while brainstorming, takes effort and distracts me too much from the actual brainstorming. The brainstorming part is very important and I don't want to miss anything, or at least as little as possible.
Sometimes, after brainstorming, I don't take the next steps, because I conclude it's not important, feasible, or fun enough to work on any further. But then at least it's out of my head.
An example: Switching jobs
Earlier this year I was not entirely satisfied with my job. So I recorded all my thoughts on what I liked about my job, what I didn't like, what I find important in my work, what I am missing now, what to look for, etc.
After analyzing my thoughts it was clear I definitely needed to go look for another job.
Then, after looking for a while, a got a serious offer from a very nice company, and it was time to make up my mind and decide what to do.
So I recorded all my thoughts on what the pros and cons would be for joining that company. After recording, I wrote down all these pros and cons and gave them a weight of how important each thing was to me.
Then, not only I could do the math, but also the feeling I got from the insights this gave me helped me decide to leave my employer after more than 13 years and start a new adventure!
And it was (and still is) an adventure, so I am pretty sure I would not have done it if I did not use this method to make such a well-considered decision. I probably would have stayed because, well, it's also fine like this, and changing things would only give me uncertainty. However, analyzing my thoughts and ideas (and the fact I love my new job) shows it was the right choice.
Another example: Side projects
I like to build side projects. Primarily to learn new things, to improve or automate, and because it's great fun.
So then this great idea pops up, I think about it en then get this feeling of "Yeah, I definitely should do something with this". But where to start? What are my requirements? How should this even work? Which technologies should I use?
So again, I press record and start rambling. During talking sometimes the greatest ideas pop up. I get more focus on what is important and most often can quite easily put things on a Trello board so I can start working on it right away.
But I have many side projects, and although most of them are just for fun and have no obligations, sometimes I lose track of what I should or would like to work on first.
This method is also great for that, defining goals, depending on that decide which project(s) to work on first, which technologies to use, etc.
After reading this, you might not even be surprised I created the blog post you are reading now by first making an audio recording for it. 😄
I am curious what you think of this? Is this something you (would) use? What is your method for dealing with these kinds of things?