Why the Most Successful People Keep an Idea Journal (and Why You Should, Too)

Leonardo da Vinci. Marie Curie. Thomas Edison. Beatrix Potter.

What did all four of these people have in common?

Not only were they all highly motivated and creative individuals, but they also all kept some form of an idea journal.

An idea journal is not a diary where you have to record all of the details of your day. Rather, it’s a place where you jot down daily goals, achievements, observations, ideas for projects, quotes, or other bits of inspiration.

If you’re working on a project, you can fill your journal with updates on your progress, thoughts on how to improve the project, and anything else that motivates you. A writer’s might be filled with ideas for stories or articles or blog posts. An artist’s might contain sketches or inspirations for drawings. Ultimately, the idea journal exists as a private place to plant your thoughts and watch them grow.

Here are four reasons why some of the most successful people keep one (and you should, too):

1. It Helps You Remember and Develop Ideas

Leonardo da Vinci may not have kept an idea journal strictly speaking, but he did fill hundreds of pages with sketches, scientific diagrams, ideas for new inventions, and reflections on art. These pages were bound together as books after his death.

To make his writings even more private, da Vinci often employed a kind of shorthand and didn’t worry about perfect penmanship or proper punctuation.

What he did care about was carefully recording his lab notes and his many ideas for new inventions—everything from a flying machine to a submarine prototype.

Whether you’re researching an article or a novel or planning any kind of project, you need a place where you can organize all of that material. Like da Vinci’s notebooks, an idea journal helps you clarify your thoughts and express them more clearly. The action of writing down an idea forces you to think more deeply about it.

2. It Helps You Evaluate Lessons Learned

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only person to win in multiple sciences. She also kept detailed lab notebooks that described her discovery of two elements: radium and polonium. These notes gave her a permanent and immediate record of her experiments and accomplishments.

Though you may not be a scientist, an idea journal acts as a lab notebook of sorts. While working on a project, you can use it to record each step of your journey: the difficulties that set you back, the hurdles you overcome, the milestones you make, and your final achievements.

The idea journal helps you avoid repeating mistakes in the future. And, you can flip through it to see all the steps you took toward completing your goals.

3. It Motivates You

Here is a photo of a page from one of Thomas Edison’s notebooks. He writes at the top of the page things doing and to be done. His to-do list runs for several pages and includes an amazing number of ideas, including an electrical piano, “unflammable” insulating material, ink for the blind, and an apparatus to help the deaf.

Edison’s to-do list shows how we can use an idea journal to warm up our creative muscle. Your lists can reveal to you a detailed picture of the things you’re passionate about and can even show you what field of study you should pursue.

Best of all, it motivates you to fight procrastination, list your goals, and start working to accomplish them. It reminds you to not abandon your dreams, but continue to strive to achieve them.

4. It Makes You a Better Observer

Beatrix Potter is most famous for her children’s stories about Peter Rabbit and her beautiful watercolor illustrations. However, she was also keenly interested in the natural sciences, especially botany.

From the age of 15, Beatrix Potter kept a journal in a secret code she had invented. The code was not cracked until 15 years after her death. Potter’s journals are filled with accounts of the long walks she took and her observations of the natural world. It was in this journal that she began to outline her scientific theories. She also recorded her opinions on society, fashion, art, and current events.

Potter practiced her observational skills by writing in her journal. Your notebook will train you to be observant as well. Writing encourages you to be curious, ask questions about the world, think innovatively, and find creative solutions to the problems you encounter.

Ready to start your idea journal?

Ultimately, there are no rules set in stone when it comes to making yours. It’s up to you to decide what to fill it with—just remember that its purpose is to inspire you.

An idea journal doesn’t have to be a physical notebook, although writing with a pen and paper will give you the feeling of creating something and make your ideas that much more real. (You can see how other creatives have used their notebooks here.)

Personally, I have several idea journals. For example, I love using Evernote to store the many articles and quotes I collect when I’m researching writing projects. Evernote has a feature that allows you to save anything you see online—including text, links, and images—into your account with a single click.

Additionally, I journal almost every day using an app called Day One that has a simple and elegant interface.

Ultimately, the idea journal is a portable laboratory where we can record our own unique perspective on the world, note the things in our lives that awaken our muse, and experiment with new ideas.

As Ray Bradbury observed in his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You:

We never sit anything out. We are cups, quietly and constantly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.

Keeping an idea journal helps us collect all of the beautiful stuff that we experience in our lives so we can eventually share it with the world.

This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.

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