The problem with trying to organise content is it relies on ideas. And ideas are hard to control. They burst into being when you least expect it and do a disappearing act when you need them most.
While searching for an answer as to why creativity comes in waves, I found an excellent article by author and speaker Tanner Christensen, titled ‘Why does creativity seem to come and go?’. In the article, he explains that for creativity to occur we often need freedom to think or have a creative task to work on. When we have freedom to think — like when we’re in the shower or taking a walk — our conscious state only needs to worry about basic tasks, giving our subconscious state freedom to roam and flow freely from one idea to another.
This changes when we’re faced with tasks and emergencies that demand our conscious attention and stop free-flowing, creative thought from happening.
“The things that end up affecting our creative flow are simple to spot: stressors, energy, and immediate success. Creativity comes and goes because our stressors and necessities change often. And there’s a delicate balance to all of this.”
While that’s all well and good, finding that delicate balance isn’t always possible when trying to organise content for upcoming months or, like me, when your job relies on having a near-constant stream of ideas. So, it’s important to make the most of highly-creative times, when the balance is right and ideas keep popping.
The next challenge is knowing how to keep track of all the ideas you have and then organise the content so it’s useful for your business. And that’s what I want to discuss in this article.
What doesn’t work
Working with lots of business owners means I get insights into different ways people try to keep up with their ideas. What doesn’t seem to work is jotting stuff down on hundreds of sticky notes (“I had it written down on a bit of paper, hang on a sec.”) or relying on your memory to keep hold of that idea (because it’s so great) until you need it several months down the line.
When you’re busy running your company, you need realistic ways to keep hold of those ideas and a place to store them. A physical something you can dip into and pluck an idea from as needed.
Capturing your content ideas
Challenge number one is capturing ideas. This is especially tough when they come at you from nowhere during those times when, as Christensen says, when your subconscious mind has freedom. So how can you capture ideas when out walking, in bed or in the shower, and before they fade away?
A few things that work for me:
- Make a note on your phone. I’d be lost without my note app.
- Jot it down in a small notebook. I have small ones that fit in handbags, pockets and my bedside drawer.
- Make a voice note. You have a voice recorder on your phone like a Dictaphone. Make the most of it.
- Message it to someone. When all else fails send your garbled, random gubbins using your favourite messaging app.
With that last one, you may just need to tell your friend not to worry about it too much. Just that you needed to word vomit an idea and had nowhere else to stick it.
Now we know how to capture out of the blue ideas, where should they all go?
3 Ways to organise content ideas
I thought I’d have loads of suggestions on where to put them. But I don’t. Over the years I’ve found three ways that work. Turns out how I do it are all incredibly simple. They don’t involve expensive, overly complicated management systems. Let’s keep it cheap and easy. I mean, at this stage it’s just an idea. It might not even be something that comes into being, so it doesn’t need to get complicated.
So here are three low-cost, easy ways to organise your ideas that I know work.
1. In Word doc placed in an ideas folder
Or a Google Doc. Whichever you prefer. But this method really is as simple as the title suggests. Create a folder on your computer (or Google Drive) and name it ‘Content Ideas’ or just ‘Ideas’. Then brain dump each idea into a word document and save it in your folder. Essentially, you’re giving yourself a very rough brief that you can refer back to.
In this document, I like to make a note of:
- A working title
- Any keywords that spring to mind and I can research later
- Bullet points for sections or subheads
- A call to action (if applicable).
2. On a whiteboard
This is good for one big idea that needs to simmer and stew for a few days or weeks. It’s nice having the board in the background and adding to it at a leisurely pace. What about when I need the board for something else? Easy, I just take a photo of what I’ve got so far and then wipe it clean. The photo either goes into that ‘Content Ideas’ computer folder I just told you about or bunged into a Trello card (coming up in point three).
I have a confession though. Since I found a digital whiteboard programme, I’ve been using a physical whiteboard a lot less. My go-to is Miro. It’s easy-to-use and comes with plenty of funky features. Plus, I love that doing it digitally means I can have many, many, many whiteboards on the go at once. All of which I can easily share with clients and collaborators because it’s all online.
3. Trello or Kanban board
Trello is life. Well, it is for me. I track client projects, my own website projects and all of my own blog ideas on there. If you’re not familiar with Trello and Kanban boards, it’s an agile working system. You have a card with a task, or in this case an idea, on it and then you move the card along a row of columns until it’s complete.
I have a whole board dedicated to my website ideas. Things I want on my site, ideas for services I want to try and blogs I want to write. Each idea gets its own card. This is what the one for this blog looked like.
I then dip into my list of possible ideas, picking out the ones that have legs. They’re moved to the ‘In Progress’ column or, using the ‘due date’ feature, I set a deadline. This is a great way of staying accountable and making sure I use my ideas.
Note: They recently added a calendar view. This makes Trello even friendly if you want to use it for all of your content marketing organisation. It gives you a ready-made content calendar setup.
Find a way that works for you
The most important part of all of this is finding a system that fits in with your way of working. If you’re more of a pen and paper person, then a dedicated ideas notebook is more useful than setting up a digital whiteboard. And it’s OK to change your systems and try different methods until you find something that sits well with you.
Playing with ideas is the most fun. Digging into research and bringing an idea to life is exciting and satisfying when you get to hit publish. So make sure you do something with those ideas, whether it morphs into a different angle, is only worked on from time to time or put in the bin. Doing something with an idea is better than leaving them to fester.