A reflection on the surprising (or not-so-surprising) power of how writing down ~1000 ideas in the past 10 months has been constructive.
If you asked me three years ago about some of the great ideas I had that past month, I would have said there were a lot, but I wouldn't have been able to tell you any. (And that's not because I don't like sharing my good ideas – much to the contrary.) I remember many occasions back then when I would be taking a shower, practicing viola, looking at blog posts, etc., and an idea would suddenly come to mind. What would I do? Probably think about it for five minutes, tell myself that I should follow through with it, and then a few hours later forget what the idea was and be really frustrated that I didn't remember it. Granted, most of my ideas back then were either nonsensical or way too complex to ever actually implement. But it still would be very frustrating.
I can't believe it took me until last spring to realize there's a pretty simple solution. (Well, I probably thought about it earlier but forgot to write it down, haha.) By the title of this blog post, you probably already realized what this solution is. As my 9th-grade Geometry teacher would have put it, “Just write it out!” For me, writing down my ideas take the form of one-line bullet points in Evernote – but they could be in any form. As long as they're jotted down someplace where you can retrieve them later, you're good.
Looking back on all my note cards with the title “CS Miscellaneous Project Ideas”, I can hardly believe I have filled up almost 50 Evernote note cards with an average of about 25 ideas per note card. That's a little more than 1000 ideas collected over the course of 10 months.
There are many benefits to writing down your ideas besides being able to laugh at yourself for having 90% of those ideas be complete crap, however. Although sifting through the many bad ideas takes time, you'll be thankful you've saved the good ones. I swear there are about 20-30 ideas in my Evernote library that I could probably take and convert into successful startup companies. If I keep this up through the years, that's an average of about 2-3 ideas (written down) per month that, given a lot of time and nourishment, might make me pretty successful. So if you're ever wishing to start a company just for the heck of it but don't know what that company will be about, you can fall back on one of the many great ideas collected over a long period of time. (Disclaimer: starting a company just for the heck of it is probably about the worst reason one can have to start a company!)
Let me now give you an example where looking back on my ideas has actually helped me. If you're a part of the “hacker” community (not as in “hack into people's bank accounts” but as in “write cool pieces of software just for the heck of it”), you'll maybe have had this experience too. Three times this past year, I've gone to 24-hour “hackathons,” where people break up into small groups and try to produce neat software products/Chrome extensions/games/other cool stuff in the span of 24 hours. Before every one, I would carefully sift through most of my “CS Miscellaneous Project Ideas” and highlight the ones I thought were suitable to try to develop in 24 hours. Even though I never actually implemented any of those ideas, the ideas I did work on were very similar in scope to those I had highlighted, and/or were combinations of my highlighted ideas and other people's ideas. What would you know, the things I worked on at my last two hackathons were formally recognized! (That is, they won awards.) Although making those hacks took a lot of effort and I couldn't have done it without my great team members and StackOverflow, chances are I probably wouldn't have had that much success if it had not been for the many ideas I had sifted through prior to those hackathons.
Well, I know this is a very bad way to end a blog post, but there was another reason about how writing down ideas is beneficial that I wanted to write about. Unfortunately I didn't write it down, and I can't remember it (I kid you not, I feel like an idiot). If I think of it later, I'll append it to this blog post as an edit.