Sunday, October 28, 2018

Research ideas, part 4: Keeping track

What do you do with your ideas? If you’ve been following along, we’ve worked through how to generate research ideas, why you need to have lots of ideas (and be willing to have bad ideas!), and  how to figure out which ideas are the best ideas. It’s easy for this to sound like a linear process that you walk through for each idea, but of course the reality is much more complex. You might have an idea that is initially not that great, but after months of thinking and refining, becomes something you are excited about. Or, you might have two ideas that on their own don’t go far, but become amazing when merged together.

In short, developing your ideas is less like this:

 And more like this:

So, how do you manage this process? How do you keep track of multiple ideas over several months (or years) in a format where you can continually add to and evolve your thoughts, and where you can find all of the information when you need it?

At this point, I need to make a confession – I am not the person who should be writing this post.  I’m terrible at keeping track of my ideas. They live across a combination of paper scraps shoved in my backpack, post-it notes stuck to my desk, notebooks I keep losing, and my failed attempts to use OneNote.  I’ve primarily resorted to just telling my ideas to the members of my lab in the hopes that they will remember them. It’s a good thing I work with incredible people! I know I need to do better, so I turned to the experts on twitter for advice, and they delivered!

By far the most popular option was electronic notebook apps, such as OneNote, iPad notes, and Google docs:

Trello was also highlighted as a more technologically advanced platform with additional options for organizing thoughts and tasks:

For those who like to think while driving or doing other tasks, a great option is to voice record and use audio conversion software to transcribe into text:

While electronic options are popular, there are also many who prefer the classic choice of a hardbound notebook:

Or index cards:

Or post-it notes:

With all of these great options, you might feel lost trying to decide. A good route is always to try the one that seems to best fit your style, but be flexible and willing to adjust as needed. Put systems in place so that you keep the format consistent and can find your thoughts and information when you want them later. The most important thing is to be able to hold onto, refine, and make the most of the great ideas you have!