I’ve been a huge fan of Twyla Tharp and her use of project boxes for things she’s working on. Here’s a brief primer on the idea from Twyla if you’re not familiar with it:
The Project Box. Everyone has his or her own organizational system. I start every dance with a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.
The box documents the active research on every project. For a Maurice Sendak project, the box is filled with notes from Sendak, snippets of William Blake poetry, toys that talk back to you. There are separate boxes for everything I’ve ever done. This archive provides material to call on, to use as a spark for invention.
The box makes me feel that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet. It represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work. The box also connects me to a project. It is my soil. I feel this even when I’ve back-burnered a project: My box may be away on a shelf, but I know it’s there.
Most important, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it somewhere safe.
The purpose of the project box also has to do with efficiency and ease of work. A writer with a good storage and retrieval system can write faster. She isn’t spending a lot of time looking things up, scouring her papers, and patrolling other rooms at home wondering where she left that perfect quote. It’s in the box.
For years I’ve been struggling with keeping my own idea boxes, quotes I like, photos I’ve torn out of magazines and other misc creative snippets organized. My ideas and things are scattered across moleskins, random notebooks, multiple text documents, emails to myself, moving boxes, rubbermaid totes, a del.i.cious account, bookmarks in books and on and on. Being a nomad for the last few years of my life having physical boxes just isn’t practical for me. For the most part I didn’t have a system when it came to organizing my things; it was and still is a creative disaster.
Slowly thanks to Evernote I’ve been working to change that. I signed up for the free(there’s also a premium version) service of Evernote and downloaded the app for my Mac and iPhone. I’ve had the app on my iPhone for months but never really used it. The other day out of necessity I finally gave it a shot. Jenn and I have been holding little mini workshops and the last one was a marketing workshop with a focus on defining our list of ideal clients. I was paging through past Communication Arts Photography and Advertising Annuals looking for ad agencies working on projects I like and projects that might be a good fit for my way of shooting. My problem was that I wanted to have a visual documentation of the ad agencies and the work they commissioned. If I didn’t care about preserving my annuals I could just rip out the photos, but seeing as I enjoying flipping through ‘em and at 24 bux it’s not exactly like ripping a photo out of a free weekly. I needed to a find a solution that visually allowed me to document the work and the ad agencies that did the campaign.
I was able to quickly flip through my annuals and with my iPhone take photos of the work I liked. From the iPhone app I was able to sync my snapshots to my Evernote account and within seconds I had a visual archive of potential clients tagged, cataloged and all indexed in an easy place to find them. The killer part is that Evernote has ability to search beyond just simple text in a document. It can search for text in images. I’m not sure how it does it, but it’s really helpful. So not only do I have a visual archive of creative inspiration it’s an image archive that’s searchable beyond simple text.
There are a million other uses for Evernote, but others have covered that a lot better than I could. See these few posts for more uses: How to Use Evernote to Create the Ultimate Post Conference Reference Guide and 14 Practical Ways to Use Evernote
Either way give it a look if you’re looking for a way to visually organize your ideas and inspirations. As a photographer I couldn’t think of a more useful productivity/organizational app.
Here’s an ad campaign I cataloged in Evernote that I liked and it shows an example of Evernote’s ability to search an image for text.
A screenshot of my photo inspiration notebook in Evernote. Any images I come across that I like I throw in this inspiration notebook.
Read more from Twyla in her article titled Why Creativity’s a Habit and Everyone Can Learn It.