How I Capture Random Thoughts

How I Capture Random Thoughts
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

I don’t know if it is just the way my mind works, but I suspect not. Fully engaged in a task, I will suddenly have a random thought pop into my head. If I don’t write them down, I will be plagued with reminders. So here is how I capture random thoughts.

Why This Is An Issue

During one client presentation, I remembered I needed to refill the toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom. Being at work, and in front of a roomful of people, I could do nothing about it at the time. Every time I clicked a slide, my mind nudged me about the toilet paper.

Then there was the time that I was up to my elbows in bread dough, and I remembered I needed to call the project manager for client X and let him know about a possible project opportunity.

The worst part is that if I don’t write these thoughts down, they keep popping back in at the most inopportune times. I find that writing them down, then collecting them into a central spot means that my mind is able to focus more on what I should be doing.

How I Capture Random Thoughts

My capture methods are often in line with where I am and what I have available.

#1: Notepad (the physical object)

I always carry a throwaway notebook with me. During meetings I can be discrete in writing down these random thoughts, and the notebook gets tossed into my in-box every night for processing. If the item is a to-do, it is proceeded with a little box. If the item is thinking-out-loud material, I put lines before and after it.

#2: Voice mail

In the case where I can’t stop and write something down, like when I’m driving, I use voice mail. I call my Google Voice number and leave a message. The best part about this is that Google Voice will automatically send me an email with a transcription of the message. Or at least their best guess.

#3 – Siri/Google/Alexa

I often will ask a device to take a note or memo and then record what I want to say. The problem I have with this is that I often lose track of where the note goes. But if I ask the device to send me an email, I have better luck because it ends up in my inbox.

#4 – Quick Notes on the iPad

This is my favorite method of recording things when I am doing my morning routine. There is something about the morning routine of meditation and journaling that kicks my brain into high “don’t forget” mode.

By dragging from the lower right corner, I can quickly enter the item on a quick note – and then email it to myself when the session is done.

#5 – Sticky Notes

I still have not managed to break myself of the habit of using sticky notes to jot things down. The key, I have found, is to stick them to something that is going to be used later. I generally either stick the notes on my iPad cover, or on my bullet journal. I know they will be seen and processed within the next 24 hours.

In conclusion, capturing random thoughts as they occur is crucial in maintaining focus and productivity. Using methods such as a physical notepad, voicemail, electronic assistants, quick notes on a digital device, or even sticky notes can help in recording these thoughts for later processing. It’s a matter of personal preference and finding what works best for you in your daily routine. Implementing these strategies can greatly reduce the mental clutter and allow for a more organized and focused mental space.


  1. GregC

    Sort of like #2, I have really got hooked on Sort of like leaving yourself a voicemail, this will transcribe your message and drop it in your e-mail – or any number of webservices such as Google Calendar, Remember The Milk, etc. Since I pretty well live out of e-mail, this saves me the trouble of having to listen to my voice mail and transcribe my message – I know that not that much, but it is one less step to deal with and one less thing to remember to do. Besides, I hate listening to my recorded voice. Jott has become one of my ubiquitous capture tools.

  2. LJ

    @Greg: you get a blue ribbon! I had heard of Jott, but never tried it out until I saw your comment. It solves my one problem with leaving voice mails: transcribing them into my systems.


  3. Mike

    I second Jott. Plus, couple it with as a calendar alert system and you are catapulted even higher.

  4. Megan @ Disorder2Order

    I am with you LJ… I love paper. I actually use a Russell+Hazel mini-binder (fits in my purse) and lay it flat on my lap in the car. When I am stopped at a light or waiting to pick up the kids, I make my notes. Great post!

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