Time Management Tip: Small Business Guide to Organizing Your Ideas

by Joanne Steele on January 22, 2010

photo by Ssmallfry. See link below

photo by Ssmallfry. See link below

I recently had coffee with a small tourism business owner. It was social, but guess what we talked about. Yes, business – our favorite topic.

We spent an hour tossing around some ideas for the upcoming tourism season, and she filled a napkin, a placemat and the back of a receipt with scribbled ideas.

“How am I going to remember all of this!?!” she asked while stuffing the paper scraps into her purse.

That’s a huge problem for most small business owners. We’re entrepreneurs. Good ideas pop up when we least expect them, and some of the best are forgotten because we don’t have a plan for collecting and archiving them.

I’m amazed at the number of small business people who don’t value their great ideas enough to save them in a way to make them accessible.

Great ideas are the life’s blood of a successful small business. You have your own, and you gather them from everyone you meet and spend time with. I rarely end up talking business with people who work for someone else, and I find it hard to talk about anything else with people who are in business for themselves. Ideas are flying around like paper in a tornado!

Get yourself a system for managing your good ideas.

1. Write everything down. Don’t assume you’ll remember something, you won’t.

2. Be prepared to write everything down. I keep a little Ideas Notebook in my purse or pocket to keep track of ideas that appear while I’m on the run.

3. Don’t edit your ideas. If something popped into your head during a Costco run or while waiting for a table at a restaurant, jot it down and look at it later.

Being a small business owner, you’ve segmented off a section of your unconscious brain that is cooking on new ideas for your business all the time. When one pops into your consciousness, honor that, and write it down. You can edit later.

4. Plan regular time to organize your ideas. Move them from your notebook, or those napkins you stuffed into your pocket into some kind of easily accessible system.

Create an organizing system that works for you.

Don’t adopt a system that takes you hours of precious time working for IT. I had a business coach years ago who taught me that everything you do that isn’t directly contributing to your income-making ability is Shelf Building.

Learning a complicated way to organize your ideas is shelf building.  You’re not building the Library of Congress! Pick a method that works best for you, that won’t take hours to learn how to use and that won’t give you fits every time you want to add info or retrieve an idea.

Offline Systems

  • That Rolodex that you don’t use for phone numbers anymore.
  • A recipe box and 3×5 index cards.
  • Labeled file folders in your file cabinet that you can drop slips of paper into.

Online Systems – Using your computer

My Stickies files live on my desktop

My Stickies files live on my desktop

I have discovered that the little freeware program, Stickies, is all I need to keep my ideas organized. It lives on my desktop, and just like Post-Its, I can organize them, name them move them around and toss them when I’m finished  . Macs come loaded with it, and there is a version for pc’s that you can download here.

My blogging guru, Sonia Simone, turned me onto Backpackit.com. It’s an online storage destination with lots of functionality and a free trial version.

Google Docs can be set up to do some of the same things as Backpackit. The value of both these systems is that you can access them from any computer.

Set up categories that make sense to you

Set up categories that honor the way your mind works.  If you think in terms of your business functions, set up your categories to reflect that: Finances, Marketing, Online advertising etc.

If you think in terms of the architecture of your business, fine. Your categories might include things like basement, garage, office, storage closet and so on.

It’s your style that needs to be duplicated, so that you know exactly where to look to find your ideas when you need them.

Check your Ideas Lists regularly.

Sometimes just looking through your idea archives will connect you with the perfect idea in the moment.

Every time you sit down to work on a business change, problem, or expansion, go first to your ideas files. THIS CAN SAVE YOU HOURS! You don’t have to start from scratch, your solution is often living in your Ideas Files, and if not, some of those ideas might send you on a short cut to the solution you need.

How do you store your great ideas? Send us your tips for managing ideas.

If you found this post useful, check out these other time management ideas:

A To Do List Technique for Small Tourism Business Owners

Make Time For Online Marketing By Getting Control of Your Email Box

Check out Ssmallfry’s Flickr Photostream

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