• Tammy Layman-Hall

5 Tips to Organizing Your Ideas

How decluttering your physical files, journals, and snippets helps you write for kids.


So many ideas! I've never been one not to have an idea. When I read about writer's block, the problem is often from the "where do you get your ideas" point of view. I don't have that problem. I have the opposite problem. I have so many ideas that I don't know which one to pursue! So, I started to go through my boxes, journals, and ideas over the pandemic. Here are five easy steps to help get you started.


1. Get Organized!

The first step is to get organized. (You knew that!) Our goal is to take inventory. There are two options here:

  • Option A: Drag it all out. All of the ideas, notebooks, journals, napkins, and all of it. Put it together in one spot. Put it in a pile. Look at all of that content! Yes, it's overwhelming. It's also a testament to your work ethic. Celebrate that!

  • Option B: Black bag it. Bin it. Take a piece of paper, decide. Then, keep going through the next one until your space is clear. I opted for Option B. Option A took up too much real estate in my little house - especially sharing space with remote learners.

2. Divvy it up.

Next, time to sort into categories. Personal and professional intertwine in those journals, notebooks, and boxes if you're like me. First, let's find a timer. Work in sets of 20 minutes. That's 20 minutes of work, then a 20-minute break. Repeat.

3. Decide quickly.

Now, we're going to sort into broad categories. Here's mine:

  • Keep it. This is a project that has merit. These items will go on the Master Idea spreadsheet.

  • Kill it. This project is not worth pursuing.

  • Quick kill. These are things that, well, are easy to do, such as blog posts, newsletter paragraphs, activities, and the like.

  • Red tag. These are ideas, projects, and items that may be used - I don't know yet. Time will tell. They are marked with a date then set aside. After a year, I review them to see if the idea is worth pursuing. If I reach for the file before then, I put it into my workload. (Red Tag is from Lean Manufacturing).

  • Memories. My personal and professional life are intermingled. So, my kids' first steps, recitals, and all are in those journals.

Sorting papers goes quickly if each piece has a place to go. Identify the broad categories, set up a bin, label it, and then get the timer.


4. Do the work.

Again, two approaches work here.

  • Option A: Schedule a day to tackle the pile.

  • Option B: Do it in little sets of 20 minutes.

I opted for a combination. On days that I had a lot of time, I spent the better part of the day sorting through journals. On days that I had 20 minutes, I would sort through the journals and boxes. I packed journals into bags to sort through as I waited in the pick-up lines for my kids when school was in session. I tackled large boxes when the kids were bumped back to remote learning. Do what works for you. Use the timer. Remember, this is heavy work.


5. Reflect.

Yes, sorting through the journals is heavy, emotional work. Take time to enjoy the memories with a cup of tea. I found toddler drawings on my pages that I shared with the middle schoolers. We laughed. Then, that drawing went into the recycling bin. I snapped a picture of a few of my favorites. Mourn, if you must. I had so many nearly completed articles on remote work that I didn't know I had. Had I realized what I was sitting on, I could have at least queried them as the world shifted to remote work. Alas.


Still, there is a lot to celebrate. At the end of this exercise, there is a stack of workable ideas. Now, the next step is to take inventory.



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