Inspiration is a cruel mistress. She has a bad habit of not returning your calls when you’re on a deadline or have a looming problem, only to waltz in, clapping her hands with delight, trailing French perfume when you least expect her.
Like in the shower.
Or while you’re out for a run.
Or on date night with your significant other (causing you to feverishly jot your thoughts down and break the sacred rule of "no working on date night" — and then you get stuck cleaning the cat litter for a month as a penalty. Surely this isn’t just me?).
Why "aha" moments appear out of the blue
Sometimes it literally feels like the second we “switch off” problem-solving mode, our brain chirps up with the long-awaited solution. Turns out, our brains are actually wired this way. The latest studies in neuroscience seem to suggest that you’re more likely to get an insight or “aha” moment when you’re immersed in just the right amount of physical or mental activity.
These perfect moments are generally during familiar tasks that take up only a small amount of your attention and allow for a free flow of thoughts. Your subconscious furiously works behind the scenes, and it can suddenly bring an idea to the attention of your conscious mind.
For me and many of my entrepreneur friends, inspiration often strikes when we're on the go, far from our desks and usually when there's nothing convenient to write on. Which is how I came up with this list of nine apps to help organize your thoughts (and one bonus physical tool for the one place you wouldn’t want to take your phone).
As someone who works with a largely virtual team, finding a way to convey my constant stream of product innovations, blog ideas and pitch notes was challenging. After trying a bunch of different options, we settled on Asana and I love it.
We’ve been able to set up different projects with different views, so I can toggle between calendar (for time-sensitive stuff), board (for brainstorming) and list view (for overall planning). And my team is able to follow the breadcrumbs to pick up the pieces in a really effective, efficient way. Definitely my favourite tool for collaborative ideating.
2. Google Keep
Most people have heard of Google docs. As long as you have an email account, you can type in whatever you want and save it in your Google Drive. But did you know there’s an even better solution?
With its minimalist design, Google Keep allows you to create notes, reminders and bookmark websites. You can even add images or doodle on your notes. Best of all, everything is free, and it’s linked to your Gmail account.
With millions of users, Evernote has been fulfilling its mission to help people remember everything for years now. More than just a digital notebook, the web clipper allows you to save websites and your personal notes about the content on that page.
If you have lots of notes, you can create a library of notebooks and easily organize them. Folks I know even use Evernote to write their books.
Related: 10 Apps to Hack Your Productivity
4. Dragon Anywhere
Unlike most apps, Dragon Anywhere allows voice-to-text-to-action (VTA). This means you can hit record, speak and the notes are created for you, hands-free.
If you prefer speaking to writing, you can say your ideas out loud to yourself, and everything is recorded for you.
Download for Apple or Android here.
5. GoodNotes 4
Using GoodNotes 4 feels more like a digital scrapbook than just a note-taking app. Not only does it allow you to create several notebooks, but you can have individual pages and customize the page styles.
You can add images, doodle and make handwritten notes. Even if your penmanship isn’t great, the app still does a decent job at searching through them.
Although this app is currently unavailable for Android, but you can still view your GoodNotes notebooks on any device by using automatic backup.
Download for Apple.
Notability is simple yet polished. It makes the digital note-taking experience feel very intuitive. You have the option to write or type down your notes, and you can insert images or create your own illustrations.
While you can’t use search for your handwritten notes, you can use it to find any text including PDF files.
Download for Apple.
What if you’re more interested in diagrams? If mind maps are your thing, then Mindly has got you covered. While you won’t be able to write lengthy notes, it helps you jot down random thoughts and connect them together.
Another popular and somewhat similar app for mindmap lovers is Popplet. You can use it to brainstorm, generate ideas and create plans.
It allows you to structure your thoughts no matter how random they may be. It also helps you retain information by connecting facts, ideas and images together.
Download for Apple.
Who knew a default app could be so useful? If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you can use the Notes app to take notes, scribble images and share them with other people. My five-year-old leaves me love notes on my phone every time he “borrows” it (when I’m not looking), which makes it really hard to be mad at him.
Bonus Tool: AquaNotes
Here’s that bonus item I mentioned. It’s not an app, but it’s so innovative that it might as well be.
AquaNotes is a waterproof notepad you can take with you in the shower, bathtub, pool or on a rainy hike — basically anywhere you wouldn’t want expensive electronics getting waterlogged.
Productivity expert David Allen stresses the importance of freeing up bandwidth by pulling ideas, to-dos and insights (what he calls “open loops”) out of your head and onto paper — or in this case, an app. I’ve found taking his advice on this has lowered my stress levels and boosted my creativity.