Software for managing ideas?

I’m curious if anyone has any recommendations or workflows for managing ideas, particularly software that works equally well between iOS and OS X. I can never figure out where to house ideas I have that I may wish to develop into something more substantial in the future. I am comfortable with my workflow for developing and acting upon ideas, but I remain uncertain for where I might store ideas that pop up into my mind and might be worth considering at some point in the future. Here are some workflows I’ve tried:

  • Having a project called ideas in OmniFocus. The ‘review’ feature of OmniFocus nudges me to revisit them, which is helpful. The problem is when you get to hundreds of items, then it becomes impractical—at least for me—to review such a large number of items. Also, ‘ideas’ don’t really feel like ‘tasks’ to me, so it feels like OmniFocus is slightly inappropriate for managing them.
  • Break them up into different OmniFocus projects on different review cycles for different areas of life/work. This could make sense, but it can be impractical in terms of deciding where something might go, as some ideas overlap for me. I’ve tried simply housing ideas within different projects tagged with ‘idea,’ but then the reviews end up all over the place.
  • I’ve kept ideas in Drafts. Great for quickly dumping content into the app and filing them away. The problem is I may hit the ‘archive’ button and not see them again, unless I add review tasks in OmniFocus.
  • I feel like MindNode is superb for fleshing out an idea, but I feel like it’s the next tool I would use after I have a repository of ideas to act upon, and I’m just trying to figure out where to keep that repository of ideas.
  • I could see keeping a DEVONthink database for this, perhaps, but have never tried it. Or maybe Obsidian is part of this conversation.

Anyways, any suggestions or successful ways for managing ideas?

Mixing items you have no plan to start, and items you are more serious about but want to work on slowly, causes problems. This might work, though:

Say you have a note with all these ideas. The note is divided into two sections. The first section contains ideas you just want to store. The second section contains items that are also in a place you review and develop the idea periodically (like an OF project.) If you are good about keeping most items in list one, then you can afford to spend more time reviewing and expanding on the list two items elsewhere, and you won’t feel bad that you hardly ever review the whole note.

In OF, by the way, you probably want to set these kinds of things to review much less frequently. I have a couple backburner items I have set to review every 9 months, and I might only set one or two small research tasks when they come around.


Why not set up an email account just for ideas? For a quick note you could put everything in the subject line. Include a keyword and you can have server side rules automatically sort/file the messages.

Gmail or any service with good server side rules would work.


My during the day inbox for quick thoughts is Things just like it is for tasks. Irregularly, but mostly at the end of the day I’ll go through it and redirect the snippets of information to the app they belong in.

Maybe you can utilize your todo app of choice as a starting point. And then put them in something dedicated like Craft, Notion or WorkFlowy. Workflowy is probably the most simple tool to develop ideas further. I ike their new “board view”, which you can toggle on and off and switch between an outliner-style list and a kanban board.

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Definitely agree!

Say you have a note with all these ideas. The note is divided into two sections. The first section contains ideas you just want to store. The second section contains items that are also in a place you review and develop the idea periodically (like an OF project.)

Interesting idea. Not sure how scaleable it is, but maybe if I had a few notes like this, so I don’t mix the personal ideas with the work ones, etc. Going to think about this a bit more.

In OF, by the way, you probably want to set these kinds of things to review much less frequently. I have a couple backburner items I have set to review every 9 months, and I might only set one or two small research tasks when they come around.

Also an interesting idea. Perhaps I could have, say, three or four idea projects, with each one having an increasingly long review period, but for the ideas I’m most likely to do something about getting reviewed more frequently. The OmniFocus review is, for me, uniquely useful.

Thanks for your suggestions.

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Interesting idea. I think I gravitated away from using email for anything but email over the years (I used to store all sorts of stuff in email a couple decades ago). I can see what you are suggesting here, however, but I could imagine doing something similar with Drafts.

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Yeah, it feels like using the task manager in conjunction with some kind of PKM tool is sensible. I spent a fair chunk of time with Notion a year or two ago, but haven’t seen how it’s evolved since then. These days I’m exploring Craft and Obsidian. WorkFlowy is unfamiliar to me, so I’ll check it out. Thanks.

I use OmniFocus for this, primarily because I know I’ll review it that way. Anything that’s not there slips away too easily.

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The question is how you develop your ideas? Do you enrich them with third-party information you gather or do you just add more details to them that you came up with?

If it is the latter than I personally wouldn’t bother putting them into some “PKM” system, but more so having a focused silo for them.
Or use a separate Obsidian vault or Craft Space. The advantage of (local) Obsidian would be that it can be indexed by DevonThink.

If you use Craft you could also create a Shortcut and have it append the entered text to an inbox style page from where you then sort ideas. Sometimes Craft just feels slow to me. And too often it requires me to switch from keyboard to trackpad/mouse on the Mac. Workflowy is just always fast and has great hotkey support.


For a long time I’ve maintained a few projects in OmniFocus for the broad category of “ideas”:

  • Maybe Someday for activities I’m interested in doing
  • Writing Ideas for all sorts of writing I want to do; use tags to differentiate genre and form
  • Photography for possible photo projects; use tags to differentiate subject, location, etc.
  • Things to See and Do for possible places to go, museums, etc.

The regular review is important, my lists are long. I have a rule to never delete anything from these lists, because of the pleasure of thinking back to what was once interesting enough to record on these lists.

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There are some good ideas posited above.

I’m getting away from “app first” thinking. If you want to build a curio cabinet, your first action item isn’t to go buy a planer, but to design the cabinet.

So I would work through a list of some sort step by step in excruciating detail. At the end of that process, you can see which tools will help you do the steps.

This is how my thought process goes as of late:

  • When I have an idea I want to ____________ (what/why do you want to do with it?)
  • In order for that to happen, I need to ________________
  • Some ideas won’t be worth retaining, this means I need to _________________
  • For the ideas that remain, I don’t want them to languish, so I will _________________, and I’ll do this every _______________ (time interval)
  • I’ll be on the go sometimes, so to capture quick ideas I will ______________________
  • If I have more time, I can capture ideas ________________________
  • To help me remember these steps, I will create templates _______________________
  • To help me remember that this is my process, I will create flashcards in Anki and review them every _____________ (time interval)
  • If I find that this system is not working, I will make a note in _________________ to use this feedback to improve the system.
  • If the system is working well, I will make a note in ___________________ to reinforce my use of the system.
  • Above all, I will not go app hunting if the system itself is deficient, but use my own feedback to help the system learn so that it can help me.

I put them into Things, Agenda or Scrivener even. I think the trick is putting them in the same place.

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Obsidian is the place where I put my ideas. The great thing about it is that you can create links between your ideas. And then you can see a graph of how your ideas relate to each other. There are lots of posts in this forum and on the web about Obsidian, but I think this would be the tool that fits your needs.


If it’s a blip on my radar - something I’m not going to think about now… and maybe not even later - and I’m on iOS, I just message myself.

For transient notes I will use DEVONthink To Go and Apple Notes sometimes.

For more in-depth notes, Markdown in DEVONthink, housed in their own group, in a database specific to the topic.

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Good ideas, and all with tools I’m already using, so food for thought. Based on what’s been shared in this discussion, I’m leaning towards, perhaps, a setup where I have a hierarchy of ideas projects in OmniFocus (next, someday, etc. and then each idea is a task with a linked note in a PKM app.)

This makes sense to me, at least the multiple projects for ideas. The idea of never deleting anything from these lists I am a little unsure of, as I think the lists, at least for me, would get quite long!

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Thanks for sharing your insightful thought process, @JohnAtl. It’s really well thought out! I think I’ll need to refer back to this as a way to analyze some of my workflows.

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Agree about the having things in the same place, which is why I came here looking for ideas. Actually, I bought and used Things back in 2009 (!) and at the time, that app had all kinds of issues with syncing between Macs and iPhones and I had to stop using it for the unreliable sync. Looks nice today, but that syncing issue still lingers in my memory.

Yeah, Obsidian might be the right PKM tool for this. I use it, I just haven’t completely dived in. I think the graph is neat, but not sure how meaningful it would be with thousands of notes in it.

Yeah, that makes sense. Maybe a per-database ideas group in DEVONthink, since most of the ideas relate to projects I’m already maintaining in DEVONthink anyways.

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