The Importance of a Catch Sheet

One of my most valued characteristics is both a blessing and a curse. I have a creative mind and am constantly coming up with ideas for projects, gadgets, games, apps, solutions, etc.

This is awesome, and I love it, except that it never takes a vacation, including and especially when the time comes around to actually execute on anything. As anyone who has ever tried to build something knows, it’s really hard, and requires a huge investment of time, work, and emotional effort. This is difficult enough on its own, but when ‘focus time’ becomes beset by every shiny cleverness vying for attention, it becomes demoralizing.

In an effort to quiet this noise, I’ve implemented a process using a tool I call the “Catch Sheet”. I’m not sure where that name came from, and there may be some ‘more official’ term, but, whatever.

The process works as follows:

My Catch Sheet is a Google Doc of the same name, full of half-thoughts separated by double spaces. Any time something interesting wanders into my head and distracts me from the task at hand, I immediately open the Catch Sheet, and jot it down at the bottom of the list. Knowing that it’s in there, and knowing that it won’t be lost frees me to forget about it in the moment; the moment when I should be focusing on something more current or pressing.

Later, when I find myself with spare cycles (or, if I’m really on my game, I’ve scheduled time,) I revisit the sheet in full. I either skim or peruse the items in the list, and occasionally, if something sparks, I’ll flesh out the idea a little. Notes, angles, challenges, etc. I’ve got items in my Catch Sheet as long as 150 words across two paragraphs, and as short as a single word… (Monadnock. Not really sure what the story was there.) Honestly, this is by far my favorite part, as I get to spend an hour or so doing nothing but riffing on (insanely good! ;)) ideas.

This step also operates as something of a triage mechanism. The ones that resonate with me time after time become increasingly defined, while the ones that don’t, languish (like Monadnock… wtf?). Once an idea has become unwieldy in the Catch Sheet, I “promote” it to its own Google Doc: Copy/paste the Catch Sheet block, and make a note near the top of the page along with a link to the new Docs document.

As an aside: at one point, I thought perhaps this process could be SaaS-ified. I whipped up a proof of concept Catch Sheet App (Heroku free-hosted, may be slowish), and sent it around to a few testers. Feedback was mixed… but tepid. Ranging from “I don’t think I’d use this” to “What advantage does this provide me over Evernote?” and most positively “Looks interesting… let me know if you build it out more and I’ll give it a try.” I decided my efforts were best spent elsewhere. That link is live and the app works, though, if you want to take it for a spin.

My Catch Sheet has been fertile ground for a number of things I’m extremely proud of: Mobility on Demand, Valour, and Short Story RPG, to name a few. And to boot, has been a huge help in running interference as those projects developed from “exciting and shiny” to “oh man, this is a lot of work” and were susceptible to newer, shinier distractions.

Do you have a process like this? How is it similar/different? Would you use a SaaS tool to implement something like this in your creative life? Post to comments.