in Work

Almost no one claims to get their best ideas at work. – Michael Gelb

I’ve recently been returning to ideas around Deep Work, and re-evaluating my workflow now that I’m fully settled into life and a new office in Oxford. The vast majority of my work energy goes into running Ellipsis, and I squarely think of this as a creative endeavour and myself as a creative person.

Allow for Serendipity: Move outside your normal realm of comfort and interest, explore far and wide, while stayng open and avoiding jumping to conclusions. Let yourself be surprised and discover new opportunities. Keep a notebook with you at all time and record ideas as they appear to you.

One of the highest-impact things I’ve started doing in the last year is appreciating how important ideas and then following-through with these ideas is in running a creative business.

The problem: ideas get forgotten, and digital tools break flow

If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive – no matter how skilledor talented you are. – Cal Newport

It’s often the little things, at the most unexpected times: after all, when was the last time you heard someone say they get their best ideas whilst sat in front of a computer, at work? Nobody says that – they get their ideas whilst exercising, cooking, reading, in the shower (a classic!), and so on.

Yet, certainly in my case it was only the ideas at work which were being taken seriously and actioned. As we know, these are not the best ideas.

Often I’d have a great idea whilst on a run, but rely on remembering it the next time I sat down to work. That rarely happened. When it did actually write it down, often I’d do nothing else with it. An idea which isn’t actioned isn’t really much help.

Or; if I was reading and had a superb idea I’d pick up my phone to make a note in an app. I’d probably jot it down, but it’s just as likely I’d then see a message, start responding, and end up down a huge rabbit hole.

I needed a way of making notes, and capturing ideas, without breaking “flow”, and at pretty much any time. I then needed a way of following up on these.

The solution: the pocket notebook, and a weekly review

The solution is pretty simple, but it speaks to a wider theme around working deeply, and doing modern, creative work effectively. The idea comes from Robert Greene’s Mastery, a phenomenal book I read last year. Here’s the full section:

Move outside your normal realm of comfort and interest, explore far and wide, while stayng open and avoiding jumping to conclusions. Let yourself be surprised and discover new opportunities. Keep a notebook with you at all time and record ideas as they appear to you. – Robert Greene

In my case, I have a notebook which literally fits in my pocket. I don’t carry it at all times, but I keep it accessible on my desk when at home – useful for quickly jotting down ideas after a run – and carry it in my satchel when out. It’s super-simple, and it does the job perfectly.

I’ve then tweaked my weekly review to include a checkbox for “review notebook”, which prompts me to go through notes from the last week and turn the good ideas into tasks. This makes sure that nothing gets lost. If I haven’t written much in the notebook that week, that’s also a warning light which I can explore further.

Keeping it simple

There’s nothing else to this: it’s not especially complicated, but it fits very smoothly into the bigger picture of doing your best creative work. Since I’ve started doing this I can trace a big chunk of Ellipsis’ revenue directly to the notebook. I feel pretty confident saying these are all things which would not have otherwise happened, too.

Highly recommended: get yourself a pocket notebook!