2 tools that enable 15-minute bursts of creativity

In a recent Medium article, Herbert Lui explained how working on your creative project in short bursts of time can be more productive than devoting large, uninterrupted blocks of time to it.

Two productivity tools can help you make the most of those fleeting moments: Evernote and Notion.

According to research cited in the article, using this approach helps keep your project at the forefront of both your conscious and subconscious minds, which enables you to be significantly more creative.

Like most of you, I don’t have big blocks of time to work on creative projects. I work full-time and must care for my wife and an adult son with Asperger Syndrome. I work on my creative projects — several blogs, information products and training programs focused on creativity and visual thinking — whenever I can find 10 to 15 minutes of unoccupied time.

Those creative snippets include driving my car, waiting in line at the store, cutting grass and other times when my conscious brain is disengaged. That’s when ideas bubble up from my subconscious mind.

Over the years, I have explored and evaluated a variety of digital tools to capture, organize, distill, improve and take action on my ideas. I’ve experimented with everything from index cards and pocket-sized notebooks and pens to audio recorders and personal productivity smartphone apps.

After much experimentation, I’ve decided that I prefer digital tools because they enable me to capture ideas quickly and easily in a variety of formats. In addition, my notes and ideas are instantly synchronized to all my devices, so I can continue to develop them anytime, anywhere. And the most important benefit: I can edit, add to, divide, combine, distill and manipulate them in almost any way I can imagine.

My current favorite digital tools for capturing and manipulating my ideas are Evernote and Notion. Here’s how they support my creative work:

Evernote

Evernote enables me to create an almost unlimited number of notes and tags — and up to 250 notebooks (Evernote’s equivalent of folders). This enables me to organize my ideas in any way that makes the most sense to me.

When I’m working on a larger project, I create notes for each of its major elements. They act as “containers“ that can each hold multiple notes. Notebooks give you a rudimentary structure into which you can pour ideas and insights whenever they strike you.

In most cases, my initial notes, dictated using Siri on my iPhone, are half-formed ideas, thoughts and inspirations that need further development. Evernote makes it easy to return to them at any time and continue to flesh them out.

I’ve even learned to leave notations for myself to help me remember where I left off and what needs to be done next. Expressions such as “start here” and “I need to do more research on this point” help me to resume the action quickly — ideal when I only have a small amount of time to take the next step on a nascent idea. I highlight these notes to myself in yellow to make them stand out from the rest of my ruminations.

You may not think of your notes as creative prompts, but they fill that important role, too. In other words, when you return to a note a day, a week or a month later, you’re in a different state of mind. That means you can read and think about what you’ve already captured with fresh eyes. That often results in new insights and ideas — which you can then add to your existing ones.

It’s a marvelous way to construct ideas over time, almost like building blocks. Or additive manufacturing for your ideas.

You can also create notes that serve as reference tools to help you brainstorm more effectively. My Evernote database contains a number of notes with creative problem-solving and brainstorming techniques and prompts to help me access A-level creative thinking any time, anywhere. This week, I’m transcribing a list of several hundred “power words” from world-famous copywriter John Carlton into Evernote — so you can access them any time, anywhere.

Another advantage of Evernote is that it can take input in almost any way you can imagine:

  • You can dictate notes into Evernote using Siri on the iPhone and the Dragon Dictate app on either Android or iOS (this enables you to capture your ideas at the speed of thought — much faster than typing them, especially on a smartphone!)
  • If you see something that inspires you, you can snap a picture and store it in Evernote, along with a note about its significance and how you intend to use it.
  • You can use the application’s web clipper to capture part or all of any web page, which is extremely useful when you are gathering research for a creative project.
  • You can record an audio note for yourself, which becomes attached to a note.
  • You can send a message to your personal Evernote email address, which gets placed in your default notebook

In short, the developers of Evernote give you numerous ways to gather, organize and take action on your ideas.

One final point about Evernote: If you want to go deeper to use it as a tool to manage your creativity, you can configure it to support a 5-step creative process — everything from problem definition to ideation and evaluation, using Evernote’s standard toolset.

Notion

Notion has only been on the market for about two years but has already made a big impact in the world of personal information managers. That’s because of its extremely modular approach.

Every bit of information you store or create in Notion is a module. That means every headline, paragraph, image and table can be manipulated in multiple ways.

The significance of this is that you can make up your own way of organizing your notes and ideas and research — on the fly — with even greater flexibility than Evernote allows.

For example, any page you create in Notion can contain links to other pages, tables, images and more. This enables you to create rich multimedia pages that collect all of your important resources for an idea or project in one place. Think of it as an infinitely configurable dashboard.

Lists of information can be turned into tables and simple databases. This enables you to attach metadata to your ideas, such as status, evaluation ratings, how you intend to use it and much more.

You can create galleries of images, designed to inspire you and evoke new insights.

You can store brainstorming techniques, such as lists of questions and keyword prompts within pages in Notion — so you can be creative any time, anywhere. Just like Evernote, Notion can function as a content creation, reference AND inspiration tool.

What I like most about Notion is it enables me to arrange my ideas in rich hierarchies that make the most sense to me on any given day — and continue to morph their structure and arrangement as needed.

Evernote’s organizational metaphor is a timeline, which doesn’t make it especially easy to find half-finished blog posts and ideas. Notion solves that problem by enabling me to build containers for my ideas and classify them in meaningful ways.

One Notion user I interviewed for my Notion.ist blog actually created what he calls a “thought forest,” with pages devoted to every topic he’s interested in. Over time, he’s built up an incredibly rich and diverse collection of information, knowledge and inspiration that he can access at any time.

Conclusion

Using Herbert’s mindset, it IS possible to accomplish a lot in this way. You just need the right tools to help you!

Notion and Evernote are tools that creatives from past decades and centuries could have only dreamed about. They provide us with a cornucopia of ways to make our idea seedlings tangible and develop them into full-fledged, valuable solutions.

Best of all, they’re ideally suited to the type of “short burst” creativity that most of us can manage in the middle of our hectic daily routines.

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Thought leader in mind mapping, visual thinking and creativity for 15+ years. Relentless explorer, learner and dot-collector. I help you elevate your thinking.

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Chuck Frey

Chuck Frey

Thought leader in mind mapping, visual thinking and creativity for 15+ years. Relentless explorer, learner and dot-collector. I help you elevate your thinking.

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