Organizing your creativity Summary

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Author: Daniel Wessel

A book about organizing your creative projects, ideas and life.

rating 3


The book is free to read at


5 Key take-aways:

  • Ideas are important and should be captured and collected as you can execute and build upon them later.
  • You should create a system to organize your creativity but don’t lose focus from the core project.
  • Creativity demands both, originality of the idea and implementation
  • Learn the domain and then only you can think of inventing something.
  • Don’t rely on shiny things to explain your identity.

Overall a nice read, but I felt that the tips section was too broad. Most suggestions are Mac and Windows specific while I had to search alternatives for the Linux.


The book aims to teach two things

  1. To value our ideas
  2. Optimize the creative process at every single one of its stages.

The Golden age of creativity

Real creativity is hard — and always will be. If it was easy, it would not be praiseworthy.

There is no single solution for organizing creativity.

Musicians, photographers deal with creativity unstructured while programmers benefit for organized creativity.

What is creativity

Creativity means deliberately creating something that is new and useful

A Creative work must be

  • deliberate
  • created
  • new
  • useful

Creativity in the interaction between an individual, who “is” creative, a domain, in which the creative work is situated, and a field, which judges the work as creative. ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity needs knowledge of domain and can’t occur in vacuum.


  • Creative project gets complex very, very quickly.
  • Its much more than a single idea.
  • Organizing allows you to resume your projects instantly as you might return to the project months later.

Plagiarism leads to short term success but the downfall starts as soon as you get caught.

Generation and realization of ideas are different things. You can’t capture a masterpiece in a single sitting.

Keep the focus on the product, what you create, not the organization for the product. The product is evaluated and must be excellent, not the organization behind it.

Organization is only a supporting function. It is ‘only’ instrumental and not the final goal.

Key point: Over-Organization does not help much once you figure out the skeleton of your project. These days productivity apps are ridden with excessive feature leading to distraction rather than assisting the users.

It’s beneficial to evaluate at your workflow. Find the dead-ends and bottlenecks.

Log how you learn about the topic, generate, capture, collect, realize and archive ideas.

Organization takes time and effort to do so. Creativity evaluation criteria:

  1. the amount (quantity) of work you produce,
  2. the quality of the produced work.

A focus on the infrastructure places a high work load in the beginning of the work.

We admire the great scientist for her knowledge and contribution to science, but never see the hours of learning/reading she has done. {: .notice–danger }

Hard work is necessary for creativity. Thus, in creativity, originality of the idea and implementation, both are needed. Have to many interest at the same time just distracts you. Your time is limited and as it takes time to become skillful in a domain , you cannot realize everything.

prioritizing projects.

  • Work on a single core project at a time.
  • Collect ideas so you don’t lose the ideas.
  • Don’t start implementing other projects at the same time.

Note to myself: Tip to self: Note the idea and keep working to finish the core project.

Realize core project –> then only pursue central projects.

Time management

  • Resist internal and micro external interruptions.
  • Imagine your work as a confidential conversation where you can allow any interruptions.

Reserve one day for your creative work, e.g., Saturdays. You can do the shopping on weekdays, after work.

It is easy to lose the big picture. It is also easy to get lost in the daily todos.

Make sure you have feedback about your progress

Developing knowledge and skills

  • Choose the domain.
  • Learn fundamentals.
  • Understand.
  • Principles over procedures.
  • Keep good notes
  • Create questions.
  • Start a project: Learning is not a game, you have to achieve something with it.
  • Have a growth mindset and experience failures.
  • Have a beginner mindset. ~ Don’t hide your ignorance.
  • plan and prepare for long term learning. ( It take years of hard work)
  • Learn from others.
  • Be responsible for your learning.
  • Learn to deal with feedback emotionally and constructively.

Understanding something like the ideas of great philosophers has merit but it is not equal to coming up with something creative yourself. Key point: Reading anything is still being a consumer until it helps to produce something.

How to test your knowledge

  • Take exams
  • Build something
  • Teach and explain to others
  • Think globally instead of locally.

Generating Ideas


  • Define and recognize the problem.
  • Have necessary data
  • Acquire required skills and knowledge

learn a topic ————> only then ideas come

Time for incubation

  • Walking, bathing, shower, car drive , meditation, yoga daydream are good time for ideas to occur.
  • Solo activities give time to think such as jogging or solo travelling.

Creativity Techniques

Techniques are for ideas but not a blueprint to being creative.

StructuralBe independent. Ignore Authority or traditions
PerspectiveChallenge your own assumptions. Redefine the problem. Look for new solution and don’t rely on past solutions. Question your methods
InspirationAnalogies, Associations, other fields, Collection,Travel
Getting HelpDiverse team, talk to expert, Argue
DistanceTake a break or Dive in completely
Change of Options pagereduce the options. complete freedom brings paralysis
Changing YourselfDreams, change mood
Just do it TechniquesJust do it - stop over thinking
Use the CollectionCollect ideas and review

How to capture Ideas

  • Have notepad with you at multiple places (shower, bedroom, kitchen).
  • Immediately, fast, effortless and don’t sort ideas while writing.

Ignore the endless discussions about “the best” paper/pen/ app/whatever. The best tool is the best tool for you, the kind of idea, and the situation at hand.

Evaluation technique: Do it for a month ———> look at the amount and quality of ideas

  • Aggressively select, aggregate, build upon the ideas to reach higher levels
  • collection: not a landfill but a systematic, structured, and ordered way of collecting ideas.

The aim of the collection —> foster the development of ideas and creative projects.

Don’t neglect backups

When realizing ideas becomes difficult or boring, it is tempting to invest huge amounts of time and effort on organizing ideas. Don’t. It’s a service, a tool — it should help you realize ideas, not become a project in its own right

The collection must be very well suited to collect your ideas.

Also, in science and engineering, an accurate documentation is essential for writing the paper or report about your work or getting that patent.

Archiving projects

Many creative projects do not leave traces once they were implemented.

  • Archiving completed project template -What inspired you to do this project?
    • What would be possible projects that build on it?
  • Time
    • When did you begin and finish the project?
    • How much time did you spend working on it?
  • Purpose
    • Why did you do the project?
    • What did you do with it after it was finished and why?
  • procedure/materials
    • How did you do it and why?
    • What did you use for it and why?
  • evaluation
    • If it succeeded, what where the reactions to it?
    • If it failed, why did it fail?

Structure to store archives

  1. A page with archived project list.
  2. A mini list for project which small projects.

Tools for organization

No best Tool:

A tool should helps in bridging the gap between imagination and realization, whether you can realize your ideas with it. Everything else is secondary. Tools need modification and adaptation like scripts to generate layout.

Tools are no substitute for knowledge, training, or experience. You need to understand the basics of the area you are working in to be creative, and you need to be able to handle the tools. This usually requires training until the tool becomes an extension of yourself. And while tools can correct some mistakes, they are blind and need an educated and creative mind behind them.

Sometimes a new, unbroken Moleskine notebook, or a notebook made out of fine leather exerts a lot of pressure only to capture the “best” ideas. However, the selection of ideas should come later. Tip to Self: I have experienced this when I bought a Da Vinci styled leather journal.

How to store references

Within the collection:

  • Either make a folder for the idea and put the material with the document containing the idea, or change the filename of the reference to the name of the idea filename with “_ref1” to it.

An outliner is good for one project and excellent for note keeping, planning and restructuring information. You can list your todos and use checkboxes to quickly resume the project after interruptions.

Wikis like DokuWiki

  • flexible structure
  • you need strong discipline to keep the structure.

✴️ Note: I am trying DocuWiki. Earlier, I tried Joplin, BoostNote on Ubuntu. Both didn’t run.Also, My experience with EverNote is that it became a landfill for notes and scrapped web pages in a year as I have around 1400 notes.

General Tips

So make sure that you decide what you want, independent of what others want. This means taking their arguments into account (after all, they might have a point), but ignoring their position and the social relationship with them completely. Own your emotions and motivation, do it because you want to do it. If others want or do not want you to do it too, that’s none of your concerns.

Depressions, Drugs and Creativity

To be creative, you have to deliberately create something that is new and useful, and on this journey psychological disorders and drugs are ballast, not fuel.

⇒ Avoid creative Glitter

  • The cheap and easy admiration distracts from focusing on the work (which is hard) and finding an own voice and path (which is even harder).

  • Don’t rely on shiny logos to explain your identity.

  • Do not adopt symbols of other creative people as you can’t overshadow the prior owner.

  • Do not copy the eccentricities of other creative people.

Becoming a professional

  • Set it up parallel to your day-job first:
  • Earn your living: creative people did “mundane” jobs to secure their existence.

Self Discipline

cost time and attention > Money.

Digital Lifeboat

  • Backup your device.
  • Use light encryption.

Hostile Environment: School

Survive school for as long as it lasts, with as few emotional scars as possible and the knowledge, skills, and grades you need for your future

Working with tags

  • you can hierarchically order tags. eg education:school
  • Most of the time it is better to give the tags separately (education school)

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