I use to dismiss organizational tools as something that would get in my way and impede my creativity. Spreadsheets? Note-taking systems? Bah, I’ll do it all in my head and on whatever scrap paper happens to be lying around.

And it sort of worked. I generally got things done, paid my rent on time, etc. however, I realize years afterward that I could have gotten A LOT more done for the same, or even less effort, and been a lot more satisfied with life in my 20’s.

Since I moved to NYC, I’ve upped my productivity game, both because I had to and because of the great example set by many of my friends here. Recently I realized that better organization not only makes the mundane part of life easier – it can actually supercharge your creativity.

I first got the idea from Ramit Sethi’s Endless Audience, in which he described how to use a spreadsheet to organize ideas for blog posts that makes it easy to both capture the idea and see it through to final draft.

I won’t say exactly what the spreadsheet looks like, because that’s Ramit’s idea, but suffice to say, it’s very simple, and give me a way to keep track of titles, overarching ideas, publication schedule, and document locations all in one place.

Such tools need to be fairly specific. An un- or barely-structured spreadsheet where you dump everything is likely to be an unhelpful mess. You might have one just for blog posts, one for a book you want to write, etc.

Having it organized means that when you have an insight on a previous idea, you don’t have to go hunting for your notes. You can find them immediately and start going while the inspiration is fresh.

A major underlying, and to this point, unarticulated principle of TFF, is not to optimize everything – that’s tiring, mentally taxing, and very rapidly runs into diminishing returns. Optimize critical or privileged points. Moments of inspiration are one of those.

Note that moments of inspiration are a somewhat overrated – usually it’s have a system in place that carries the day, but such moments are real and significant, and a good system helps you make the most of them.

Decreasing the “activation energy” of turning a creative idea into something concrete means both that you get more mileage out of your ideas and that you get more ideas.

I think there are a number of reasons for this.

The most obvious is that if you have a way to capture your idea, you’re a lot less likely to forget it, so that alone will mean that you produce more.

Another is that actually executing an idea, seeing it all the way through, will spawn other ideas. The other is that you’ll have more motivation, because you associate the act of generating ideas with actually accomplishing things, which is inherently motivational.

I subjectively feel like something even more interesting is true, which is that if you can imagine something coming of your creative musings, you will get more creative automatically, and not just because you’re more motivated.

I think it’s a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. The negative form of this is convincing yourself you can’t do something, so it becomes true even if it wouldn’t have otherwise.

The positive form is that if you think of yourself as a creative person, you will become more so. And there’s not better way to convince yourself that you’re creative, than to actually be creative by bringing your ideas into reality

A well-chosen organizational aid doesn’t cramp your style and just might set it free.


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