The Power of a Spark File

We’ve probably all experienced it; I know I have.

You’re in the middle of doing something that needs to be done, like writing a blog post, and an idea pops into your head. In my case, that could be an idea for a future blog post, a new way to teach an accounting concept, or what to do this weekend.

So you’re faced with a dilemma.

Do you stop what you’re doing and spend some time flushing out that new idea, which would totally break the flow of what you’re currently working on?

Or do you try to put that idea out of your head, and hope it comes back later, so that you can finish what you’re currently working on?

Well, Dan Pink offers a solution in his latest Pinkcast, and he calls it a “spark file”.

In his case, it’s a running Word file which he uses to add these ideas as they come to him, and then he returns to the task at hand. Then when he has the time, he can scroll back through his Word/Spark file and decide which idea to spend more time on. He notes that it is a way to balance the urgent (what needs to get done now) with the important (planning for the future).

Dan gives credit to both Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, and David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done

I know I have certainly had the experience of having an idea pop into my head, and if I don’t write it down immediately, I will most likely forget it.

So I like Dan’s idea of a spark file; but I see a few potential problems.

  • What if you don’t access to your Word file when an idea strikes you? I guess you could use an app on your phone, but now it seems like it’s starting to get complicated, with both a Word file and another file on your phone. I think what might work best for me is just sticking to the phone exclusively, since it’s always with me, and using its note feature as my spark file.
  • What if you’re in the shower when a great idea pops into your head, and you don’t have any technology available to record your idea? I guess you could just hope that you remember your idea by the time you get out of the shower.
  • What if you’re out driving? I don’t think it’s worth pulling over so that I can write my idea down.

I guess no solution is perfect, but even if you are able to write down only half the new ideas that pop into your head, that’s a lot more than you would have otherwise.

And as for the other ideas, I just guess some great ideas were never meant to be.

Here’s a three minute video where Dan explains how he uses a spark file.

Pinkcast 4.08. This is how to capture your great ideas and still get work done. | Daniel H. Pink

36 thoughts on “The Power of a Spark File

  1. The way I figure, any idea I can remember is an idea worth following up on. The rest, meh. Anyway, ideas are sort of like puppies. Never fret over a dead puppy. You can always get a new one to replace it.

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  2. I wish someone would figure out why ideas come to you at the most inopportune time! LOL!
    But I do like this idea. I do keep notes on my phone at times. A lot of times I just hope I remember but….

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  3. Soon we will have an implant in our temple or perhaps the back of our head – whichever is nearest to the part of our brain that has the ideas. Anyway, the implant will transfer your brainspark to the ideas files on your computer, phone, ipad…. Actually you have given me an idea for my next flash fiction…

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    1. that would be nice to have, although I’m not sure I’d want anyone to have access to some computer chip that has all my thoughts on it πŸ™‚

      I’ll keep an eye out for your next flash fiction!

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  4. I am a big fan of jotting down ideas, but where you jot them down is less important. I have used everything from my phone’s note feature to the back of a grocery receipt that I then stuck in my wallet. The one thing it does do is to allow me to return my focus quickly to the task at hand without much of an interruption and without the nagging feeling of trying to remember something unrelated. Great post!

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  5. Other than in the shower, my phone is always handy so I send myself emails. They could be one word or a few paragraphs. My email shows up on my computer, my tablet and my phone and are there when I am ready to execute. I sometimes send multiple emails if my brain is coming up with additional ideas or sentences for that project or blog before I get to it. My phone is also on my bed table because a lot of these sparks come at night and I need to move them forward before I get to sleep.

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  6. MY coworker leaves herself voice reminders on her phone. We could be walking to lunch and she’ll pull out her phone and start talking at it. Seems to work, she has a high capacity to keep multiple balls in the air. I don’t I’m a very linear dude. I prefer to work on something to completion or at least an obvious breaking point. If I pop away, my brain will purge the info and I need to reacquaint myself. My big issue with forgetting blog post ideas is I always get them when I’m falling asleep. I have the same conversation with myself every time. “Oh, good one. I should get up and write this down. No, not necessary, This is so good, I’ll never forget it.” In the morning it’s gone.

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    1. sounds like our brains work the same way. but I’ve also noticed that it doesn’t take a night of sleep to lose an idea; I’ll forget it five minutes later sometimes…


  7. this happens to me at all times of day and night. i tend to write it on a random scrap of paper, which often leads to a loss of the scrap, not understanding what i wrote later, or it actually turns into something. a roll of the dice.

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