I’m a bit obsessed.
For over ten years, I have been researching creativity and innovation. I have taken copious notes on sheets and sheets of legal pads and have hurriedly scribbled ideas and insights on Post-its, napkins, journal pages, index cards, grocery bags (!), and notebooks of every size, shape, and color. I have amassed dozens of articles, clippings, and books on both subjects. There were towers of this “stuff” all over my bedside table, dining room table, living room chairs, and writing desk.
I used to consider this disorganized array of paper as a badge of courage and accomplishment: “Look at how productive I’m being! Look at all this work! When I sit down to write, think of how rich the content will be!”
When I sat down to make sense of all the information, notes, and scribbles, I couldn’t find the threads/themes through the rivers of content. Gone were the flashes of insights I had had when I had originally written down the ideas, as well as the connections among those points that were once so clear to me. Instead, what I had was a steamy pile of sloppy thinking, pages of disjointed notes with half-baked notions, and clever starts on book chapters and blog posts.
My outer world was a perfect reflection of my inner world.
I’ll give myself credit that the cleverness of the subterfuge was pretty topnotch. I had successfully hidden from myself that (a) I was not writing, (b) I wasn’t setting myself up for clarity and truly tapping my creativity due to my deeply disorganized state, and (c) I wasn’t letting myself see that I was using perpetual “research mode” as a major league crutch and procrastinating ploy to avoid sharing my own thinking.
If I dig down more deeply, I see an even more painful truth: all the flurry and wing flapping wasn’t leading to taking flight. I wasn’t stepping up or speaking out. In fact, I was very effectively keeping myself quiet and small. I was shouting so loudly with paper chaos that divine inspiration had zero chance of breaking through the din and paying me a visit.
I decided to do something about all of that. I decided to become the Kondo of Creativity.
I began with an honest survey of exactly what I had. I dove into the piles and began reading every note – every scrap of paper. I held each item to the same test Marie Kondo recommends: if I didn’t love it, out it went. I was ruthless, and the purging process was at once cathartic and energizing. Almost immediately, connections and insights began spontaneously generating. Writing synapses fired, and I began getting a torrent of fresh ideas.
After my culling phase, I thoroughly researched the best analog and digital note-capturing options. I am a paper person and wanted to keep most of my system on paper, but I wanted the ease of digital as well. I ultimately created a blended system comprised of a bullet journal, a commonplace book, and Evernote. For capturing notes and brainstorms that occur on walks, I added a Levenger pocket briefcase into the mix for writing on the hoof (notes go into my bullet journal and are properly indexed immediately upon my return from my walk).
Do I have my new system completely rocking a state of perfection? No. This is all very much a work in progress – Rome wasn’t built in a day! However, I am noticing that the more organized I am and able to retrieve my notes/thinking, the more the thoughts come. Creativity chi comes rushing in! Inspiration likes to hang out with me much more now, instead of avoiding me like a boorish guest at a party.
Perhaps most importantly of all, I am treating my work with the respect it deserves. I have cleared the runway for take off and have my butt in my writing chair most every morning. I am willing to speak and share my truth, to get things wrong, to be fully visible, and to ship before feeling ready.
At the heart of a solid system for organizing for innovation and creativity are courage and the willingness to be vulnerable. Until you get honest and real with both, you will continue (via disorganized chaos and other means of distraction) to shield yourself and the world from the best of what you are able to give.