How To Create a Tickler List of Good Ideas



“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” — Albert Einstein

Jotting down one-sentence thoughts is a simple way to turn insight into action.

I come across “ah-has” all the time, and I take the extra step to write them down in a sticky way.

For example, while strolling through the blogosphere I came across a nice little pearl of wisdom on The Cranky Middle Manager Show:

“We impact our own mood through the people we meet and the input (books, blogs and stuff) that we read.”

I wrote it down in a simpler way and added a point about focus:

We impact our mood through people and input — and what we focus on.

The act of writing it down forces me to think about it a little more, and it makes it easy for me to scan as a reminder at a later point.

I can flip through my insights for the day, the week, the month or whatever.

How To Create a Thought Catcher

My process is simple.  I write down the current date, and list any ah-has.

My only criteria is that it’s an interesting thought that I might want to remember.

It can be my own or trigged by something I come across.

If it’s some I come across, then I add the link back to the source so I can easily go back to it.

Example Thought Catcher

Here are some examples from today…

Each of these one-liners is a trigger that reminds me of a little piece of wisdom or insight.

The ones without links are the random thoughts that pop in my head.

Writing them down frees up my mind.

While I don’t keep a quota, I can easily see the ebb and flow of my mind over time.

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  1. Hi J.D.
    This is a great idea. It’s like a condensed journal. Our minds are running so quickly it is a challenge to keep up with those juicy tidbits. I especially appreciate your thought “Spend more time where it counts, then time takes care of itself.” Thought that was brilliant. When you’re focused everything just seems to fall into place and time/circumstance supports the process.

  2. This is clever, simpler than a journal. Do you write them on cards or on the computer? Do you actually go back and review them, so you don’t lose the force of that insight?

  3. @ Davina — It’s basically a way of chunking up learning as you go. From these tidbits, I can then easily spin up a checklist or elaborate in a post. They’re really my mental springboard and a way to make insights stick. Thank you.

    @ Sandra — Great question. I carry a little yellow sticky pad around with me for jotting things down. When I’m at my computer, I use EverNote. I periodically take a scan through each week and each month.

  4. Hi JD .. thanks for these .. How do you use Evernote? .. ie do you just use a simple A-Z system, or do you sub file things .. Notes under notes – actually tickler list I see?!

    I’m about to re-start using Evernote .. and would be grateful of an overview re ‘filing’ .. in it – thanks so much!!!

    Bye for now – Hilary

  5. Hi J.D !
    Praise or Blame ?

    Ideally I would like to be praised for the good things I do but never blamed for the bad things I do. It would be nice if whenever I did something good, I could proudly praise myself and pat myself on the back and say “I did it!” but whenever I did something bad, I could take refuge in some form of “determinism” and say things like :”It was not really I who did it ; it was ‘fated ,’ it was determined by past causes; I had nothing to do with it, action came not from me but through me.” Yes, this is the attitude I would like to have. I realize, however, that is hardly a fair one ! A more realistic and fairer question would be “Would I rather be both praised for the good things I do and blamed for the bad things I do, or I would be neither ?”
    My answer is unhesitatingly and wholeheartedly “Neither.”
    In actual fact, though, I think I tend to praise myself for the good things I do but not to blame myself for the bad things I do. Or is it that I really do the reverse and only wish I did this ?

    …..Oops! When one shuts up, he “does something”; when he remains silent, he merely remains silent. In the words of the profoundly wise :

    The sage is quiet because he is not moved,
    Not because he wills to be quiet.

    Still: Closed Systems of Thought
    One of the human phenomena I find most disturbing is that of a person whose system of thought is such that there is no possibility of his ever finding out he is wrong – even if he is. Any rational objection to his system can be explained away by a rationalization within the system, whose validity can be known only only when one accepts the very premises of the system which are in question.Consider some obvious examples:
    1)A Calvinist who, when questioned as to the fundamental tenets of Calvinism,will exclaim:”Of course you cannot see that I am right. Your trouble is that you haven’t been saved.
    2)A Dogmatic Theist who, when questioned as to God’s existence , will say:”Of course you cannot believe in God! You are too proud to admit
    the existence of a being greater than yourself.”
    3) A believer in the existence of the Devil who will say:”Of course you don’t believe in Devil. The first thing the devil cleverly does
    is to convince people he doesn’t exist.”
    4)An Atheist who will say:”No rational argument I can give you will will convince you that there is no God .You have a childish, superstitious need to believe in one.”
    5)A Marxist who will say: “Of course you cannot accept the Economic interpretation of History nor realize that the Class Struggle is the central issue. Your upbringing has been too bourgeois.”
    6) A Freudian who will say:”Of course you cannot see that I am right.
    All the reasons you have given me against psychoanalytic theory are
    purely defensive rationalizations against realizing that which to you
    is most threatening.
    7)A Feminine Liberationist who will say: “Of course you cannot realize that this is a man’s world and that men are dominating women,
    not only on the economic level, but equally on the personal and psychological level. Of course you cannot see this;you are a man!”
    (Or, if she is speaking to a woman: “Of course you cannot see this;
    you have been dominated by male chauvinistic ideology, which only proves my point!”)
    I have perhaps given more than enough examples.The interesting thing is that in the majority of cases, each of the groups I mentioned can
    easily see through the prejudices of the others. And surely I must be in a similar category without realizing it. I wonder what my prejudices could be?
    Let me answer: Somebody modest enough to think that he can straighten
    crooked cucumbers with the means of formal logic.

  6. @ Hilary — I keep Evernote as flat as possible. For my “thought catcher”, in Evernote I simply:

    1. Make a folder called “Thoughts”
    2. Make a single note inside of “Thoughts” called “_Daily Insights”

    Then, inside this one note, “_Daily Insights” I track like this:

    – thought 1
    – thought 2
    – thought 3

    – thought 1
    – thought 2
    – thought 3

    – thought 1
    – thought 2
    – thought 3

    It’s one very long list, but I’m always adding to the top so I only have to scroll when I’m reviewing. It’s very scannable and at a glance I can flip back through it. In fact, I just scanned and I see my first one is from Jan 1st, 2009:

    – Success Takes Years

  7. @ Alik — It definitely gives you more options. I find that as long as I catch a fleeting thought and have a trusted place to look, I can be more thoughtful about how or what I share. I like to share and share often, but it’s a balance.

  8. @ Michael — Great insights and I can say a lot here, but I’ll try to be tight:
    – I do a deeper, balanced “Reflection” on Friday’s at 10 (a recurring appointment) where I check “3 things going well” and “3 things to improve”
    – I always “carry the good forward”
    – I stay out of “learned helplessness” for negative events (I don’t make things personal, permanent, or pervasive.)
    – When it’s a losing proposition, I let it go
    – If it’s worth a fight, I check that I’m “on path” and know the trade-offs (if it’s on mission and living my process/values and creating the experiences I want … I’m golden)
    – I test myself against “what do I want to accomplish?” vs. “what am I trying to do” (one is strategic and flexible, the other is a “how trap”)
    – I think on paper and check my thoughts and I know the negative thinking patterns and the “Triple Column Technique”
    – If something bugs me too much, I schedule a “worry break” and I limit a short amount of time, but worry all I want within that time limit.
    – I think in versions — and perfection is a path, not a destination, and I can improve along the way (age like a fine fine 😉
    – I always ask, what am I going to “do” about it (to avoid analysis paralysis)

    Mostly for my tickler list, it’s actually for insights and ideas so it’s really an inspirational constellation of “ah-has” at a glance 🙂

  9. Hi JD .. thanks for that .. and your thoughts .. simple to find and straight to the point ..

    I think I’ve worked out what I need to do .. re Evernote & re my categories when I move the blog across to WordPress ..

    So I’m grateful to have your ideas .. and approach – simple, clean and clear …
    Many thanks – Hilary

  10. JD –

    I like this approach – I find that I read so much, have fleeting ideas and most of this slips away from my mind. I’ve just started using Sticky notes on my computer to keep track of my to-do list and will set up a new inspiration file too. Great idea!


  11. @ Hilary — WordPress has a lot of advantages and I think after the initial learning curve you’ll be very happy with the platform and possibilities. I did a post on choosing an effective blog theme a while back that might help you out.

    @ Phil — I think it will serve you well. The act of turning them into one-liner insights really helps them stick. Thank you!

  12. What a great idea! I have too many “aha!” moments each day, and rarely do they get more use than the subject in a confusing dream. Do you use Evernote to capture all your aha moments? Do you use a smartphone app or the like?


  13. Thanks JD .. I’ll have a look in a little while .. great to know – many thanks for the link over .. have a good Friday .. Hilary

  14. @ Brian — My favorite tool of choice is my little yellow sticky pad. It’s easy for me to carry it anywhere. In fact, I don’t bring my laptop to meetings — just my sticky pad. Evernote is my main “personal information manager” so I port any of my relevant sticky notes. This gives me multiple chances to think about an idea: 1) when I first write it down, 2) when I choose to port it to Evernote, and 3) when I review it. It’s iterative idea hatching.

    @ Hilary — and a good Friday to you too.

  15. Hi JD .. amazing resource .. and I’ve just printed it out .. easier for me to absorb that way. Thanks – very grateful .. any questions I’ll give you ‘a buzz’ .. – now that would be the day! Thanks very much .. bye for now .. – you’ll see how I get on anon ..

    I’ll definitely have a good read through .. lots of it there .. wonderful – thanks … Hilary

  16. “Spend more time where it counts, then time takes care of itself.” I really like this observation. It seems to really simplify time management.

  17. I now want to learn Evernote…now I just write on note size pieced of paper and I have a hand woven flour basket that I drop them into…I pull ideas out of the basket when I need them – or quotes or great lines and I do give folks credit for what they have said…

    I am still working on getting my Dragon Dictate to work – installed since December….and I realized again just last night, if my IT -abandons me I will not be able to blog, except to write comments, because I can not figure out how to get a post up

  18. @ Hilary — Thank you!

    @ Vered — It really helps me keep things in check. The other piece to this is setting boundaries and time limits on things, as needed.

    @ Patricia — Evernote has turned out to be my friend for a while now. I really like that I can keep things as simple or as complex as I need to. I use a lot of lists to free up my mind and move up the thinking stack.

  19. Davina & Vered snapped up my favorite line of yours. Hw true! Talk about Ah-has!!

    I still like my little digital recorder over pen and paper because it can be operated easily — in the dark, or while driving, as I know exactly where all the buttons are on it by touch.

    Hope all is great with you!


  20. @ Jannie — Once you have a system that works for you, that’s the key. I’ve tried many flavors and my favorite by far is my little sticky notes. I tried a digital recorder, but I couldn’t keep up with my flow. I tried going from digital recorder to DragonSpeak to text (text is where I can manipulate ideas best), but that didn’t work for me. I also tried dumping more right through DragonSpeak, but that didn’t work either. However, DragonSpeak does work for me when I go from my notes to text file, but I only use this when I’m really backlogged.

    @ Michael — Thanks for checking in. I’m going to have a slow going next couple of weeks. I had family in town, I have some heavy lifting at work, and I’m about to do another blits on my book now that the ball is back in my court (the signficant editing is done, so now I have to sweep it, then ship it.)

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