Getting It Done

Save Random Sparks of Genius

By | Feb.05.13 | Daily Dispatch, Get It Done!, Law Practice Management, Productivity

I’ve talked about how to become a more productive and successful lawyer (and person) by leveraging David Allen’s time management system, Getting Things Done, and either Evernote or Springpad. In this post I am going to home in on the first stage of the GTD workflow: collection—or, in particular, capturing what I like to call “random sparks of genius.”

Random sparks of genius come to each of us, all of the time, and they need to be remembered. They need to be captured in some physical or digital way. For instance, last night I was ready to doze off when I thought of a great introduction to a new blog post I’m working on. The challenge, though, was that I was in bed and not at my desk. If I didn’t have my iPhone close by, or a small notebook on my nightstand, I would have easily forgotten something I thought was wonderful.

The Art of the Capture

Finding a way to capture information anytime and anywhere—and then do something with that information—is critical to our success. It allows us to snare random sparks of genius like a hunter gets his prey.

Think of all the places you might come up with these sparks of genius: in the shower, laying in bed, in your car, while daydreaming, in an empty elevator, or while in line at Starbucks waiting for your triple-venti-soy-upside-down-no-whip latte. Have you ever wondered why those great thoughts occur at these particular moments? It’s really not too surprising. Your mind is relaxed and at ease. It is silent. It is not being bombarded by texts, emails, social messages, ringing phones or people randomly entering your office to chat. When we are alone with our thoughts, our minds kick into high gear. It’s almost as if the creative part of our brain can’t wait for these moments—it becomes illuminated like fireworks on the 4th of July.

Wait for these moments, and get those thoughts down before they are lost, because this is when you are most passionate. To accomplish this, of course, you must have a ubiquitous capture device—the same trusted one you will always go to. You want to avoid the fumbling and questioning about which app to use—it should be instinctual and easy. I’ve written productivity ebooks on Evernote and Springpad, and I’m a big proponent of leveraging either of these tools to quickly capture your thoughts. But you don’t need to keep your smartphone or tablet with you everywhere you go. You can also leverage “analog” tools—notebooks, dictation and even random scraps of paper—and then get them into either app as well. There are even third-party apps that integrate with Evernote to help you capture information.

Next time, I’ll talk about three ways to capture your random sparks of genius and how to get them right into Evernote.

Next Actions

Let us know in the comments below about a situation where having your ubiquitous capture device helped you collect a random spark of genius!

Daniel Gold is a productivity author, podcaster, keynote speaker and consultant. He is the moderator of the GTD Virtual Study Group podcast, co-host of The Productive Life Show podcast, author of  author of Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done and Official Springpad eBook. In addition to his column at Attorney at Work, you can read Daniel’s posts on the official DEG Consulting website, or join him on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

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10 Responses to “Save Random Sparks of Genius”

  1. Paul Burton
    5 February 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Daniel: Another great article for all of us challenged with staying on top of a busy professional life. My system (QuietSpacing – Amazon) terms the “Capture” step the “Gather” step. The idea is to grab everything, then determine what’s important and what’s not – the “Assess” step in QuietSpacing.

    As an old-school professional, I have adopted various new technologies (Evernote in particular), but still strongly believe in pen and paper. In fact, when Charlie Rose interviewed Quentin Tarantino recently, Quentin confessed that he still wrote out all of this screenplays long hand, using pen and paper. For Quentin, the physical act of writing added tremendous value in his Gathering step.

    Leveraging our various tools – physical and electronic – to Gather together all that must be stored and all that must be tracked is a key step in a successful (and relatively stress-free) professional practice.

  2. Dan Krohn
    7 February 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Thanks to your writing, I’ve acquired Evernote for my iPad. Now I’m waiting for your advice as to how to best use it. And do you also have advice as to adding keyboard capability? I’m new to the iPad world and ready to rock.

  3. K Cole
    8 February 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    I use some analog capture tools.

    As well as digital.

    But the key seems to be capturing ideas in a way that is retrievable easily later. So that the captured ideas don’t just become intellectual clutter.

    I imagin your next article will deal with that.

  4. Paula M. Williams
    12 February 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    We use Daylite, another GTD-type product, in our practice and I’m very interested in using Evernote for research. But I am concerned about confidentiality issues with syncing through the Cloud. I’d like to hear your thoughts about this.

  5. Daniel Gold
    14 March 2013 at 5:41 am #

    @Paul – Thanks for the great comments, and sorry for the delay in my response! I couldn’t agree more. There is something amazingly liberating about writing things done with a pen and paper. Very interesting about Quentin. He’s one of my favorite directors! You may also enjoy my most recent post on my site where I talk about how to reinvent paper with Evernote. Let me know and thanks again Paul!

  6. Daniel Gold
    14 March 2013 at 5:42 am #

    Dan – Great! I encourage you to e-mail me at and I’d be happy to assist you!

  7. Daniel Gold
    14 March 2013 at 5:44 am #

    Hi K Cole – You’re absolutely right: “the key seems to be capturing ideas in a way that is retrievable easily later”. That’s where the beauty of Evernote comes in – it’s got an amazing search tool that allows you to find literally anything. But again, storing it properly also helps. I’ll make sure to discuss that in my next article. Thanks!

  8. Daniel Gold
    14 March 2013 at 5:51 am #

    Hi Paula – I agree that there are always concerns about syncing data in a hosted environment. The upside with Evernote is that they’re very transparent in their security provisions. Certainly, you need to measure your own threshold of risk, but I can tell you I do feel confident. I encourage you to take a look at these links from Evernote that discuss security: