Keeping track of all your great ideas while you’re busy running your business is no easy feat. Many potentially profitable ideas may slip your mind before you can flesh them out, do research, or bring them to fruition.
There are dozens of tools that can help you document and organize your ideas on the fly for later reference. But small-business owners we spoke to recommend the following seven tools to keep tabs on the many ideas that occur to them. Many of these tools offer additional productivity enhancements, too.
1. Microsoft Outlook
Maura Thomas, speaker, productivity trainer, founder of RegainYourTime, and author of Personal Productivity Secrets, recommends Microsoft Outlook for Windows users due to its comprehensive calendaring and email capabilities. She does advise using a secondary app for note taking, however.
One of the better-known apps for note taking and organizing related information, Evernote is a favorite of both Thomas and Matt Herrera, CEO of tech startup Foiply. Herrera likes that it syncs data across all your devices, while your information is stored on secure servers. Katie Mayberry, principal of Spyglass Digital also relies on Evernote. “You can tag any item, whether it’s an image, video, or text,” she explains. “I can capture my ‘back of the napkin’ brilliant idea with Evernote by snapping a picture and tagging it with ‘perfection.’”
Jonathan K. Duong, president and founder of Wealth Engineers, an investment advising firm, loves mind mapping for brainstorming and planning. While you can do this with pen and paper, Duong recommends MindMeister (pictured), an easy-to-use app with a built-in icon library, diagram templates, and other handy features. MindMeister allows you to share your mind maps publicly or collaborate with colleagues in real time.
While the idea of using an email application to organize ideas might not seem intuitive, Todd Horton, founder and CEO of Boston-based HR tech company KangoGift says Gmail is his go-to tool for keeping tabs on the flow of ideas. To do so, he creates a draft email for every idea. “Right now I see that I have 280 ideas in my draft folder. I do this because I am always in email, and this approach makes the ideas very searchable,” he explains. “I can always scan the ideas, make adjustments, and keep a list.”
5. Microsoft OneNote
OneNote is Microsoft’s venture into the note-taking and mind-mapping arena. With intuitive tools to add diagrams and other visual elements, along with task tracking, searchability, and collaboration features, OneNote is a go-to tool for Dana Manciagli, global career expert, speaker, and author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job. In addition to managing her day-to-day ideas and activities, Manciagli uses OneNote to create an individual binder for each of her clients for easily sharing ideas and information specific to their goals.
Romain Damery, digital marketing strategist at New York ad agency Path Interactive, says XMind provides the bird’s-eye view he needs to efficiently organize thoughts, processes, and ideas. John Halko, mechanical design lead at prototyping company Oat Foundry in Andalusia, PA, also favors XMind, noting that he uses it to “organize everything from business strategies to product needs and specifications.”
Trello’s streamlined interface makes it especially appealing to small-business owners who want to simplify their routines. Sierra Elmore, founder of graphic design agency 13 Elm Streets, uses Trello to set and track business goals. “I use green and red labels to mark if I completed or failed one of my goals for the day,” she says. “I also mark down daily habits that I’m trying to build, like cleaning my hard drive every day for 15 minutes.” With an intuitive, card-based layout, you can create a card for every idea, organize ideas into categories or lists, create task lists and checklists within cards, color-code items, and attach files. Organization is as simple as dragging and dropping cards to new locations.
Whatever tool you select to track your ideas, notes productivity expert Thomas, just be sure it suits your personal style and fits into your workflow.