On my drive to Minneapolis to serve on the faculty of Northwestern Christian Writers Conference, I listened to podcasts: one after another, back-to-back.
I welcomed that stream of input filling my mind with ideas, strategies, and solutions that I can apply to my writing life.
But it’s easy to listen and then forget what I heard. What a waste if I devote hours to listening but never remember or apply what the experts recommend!
Life is short. I want to learn and grow and transform—I want to become wiser and more discerning. I’m committed to implementing those ideas!
Sort and Stack
So first I capture the information. Later, you know what I do?
I sort and stack it.
I’ve done this for years without having a name or phrase to put with it, but author Robin Jones Gunn said it in her keynote address: we must learn to sort and stack.
Sort and stack.
Sort and Stack Conference Notes
Sometimes conference attendees report that by the end of the weekend they feel like they’ve been drinking from a fire hose. They’re blasted with so much new information in session after session, they feel hit with input and ideas and vocabulary and concepts they’ve never heard before.
It would be easy to set aside the notes from those sessions and return to status quo when they arrive home.
But life is short. Those attendees came to learn and grow and transform, so I hope they’re committed to implementing those ideas.
Avoid the Overwhelm
Hopefully they scribbled down copious notes, captured them someplace—to sort and then stack them into logical, usable groups.
My breakout session offered probably 30 ideas, maybe more, of ways people can put some heart, soul, and a little laughter into social media. Another session may have offered 20 or 50 more ideas. Soon, the writers will have filled a notebook.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. We don’t have to do it all, and we don’t have to do it all right away.
But we don’t want to lose those ideas.
The conference attendees don’t have to implement every idea the day they get home from the conference, and I don’t have to implement every idea I heard on the drive home in those podcasts I listened to.
We want to sort out what to do when so we try things out in an order that makes sense.
Create a Master Stack
If we successfully capture the information, we can create a master list and continue to work through it, sorting and stacking over time.
We can convert our notes from the master list or “stack” into more lists, labeled however we wish:
- Try next month
As you sort notes from your master list into these sub-stacks, you can label them in many ways. Use the nomenclature from the organization, time-management, or productivity systems that make sense to you.
Again, think of each new list as another stack. Move notes to one stack or another, sorting as you go.
Sort and Stack Based on ROI
The Writer’s Guide to ROI series helps with sorting and stacking. By thinking through return on investment of any given idea, I can comb through the stack of ideas I collected from my podcast marathon and sort them based on values and goals and efficient use of time.
Then I can sort them into new stacks or categories to figure out how and when to implement them. This moves me closer to action I’ll take—specifically the very next step.
What’s the Next Action?
Long ago I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, which explains his productivity methodology. He recommends a Next Action list formed by asking, “What’s the next step?”
For a long time I stuck a Post-It on my computer monitor with that on it: “What’s the next step?” Asking that helped me sort all the possible actions I could take and zero in on the very next one to do. The rest could remain on the Next Actions stack.
I learned to phrase each item with a verb so the task or action would be expressed as a specific, measurable step leading toward a goal. A few items on my Next Action list today might look like this:
- Record episode 207
- Edit episode 207
- Upload episode 207
Sorting the Podcast Ideas
During my podcast marathon, I heard about an app called Emoji-m, a free app to search for emojis you can use for, well, anything. This idea came from the Social Media Marketing podcast in an introductory segment where Erik Fisher shares new technology he’s discovered. https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/linkedin-page-content-strategy-what-marketers-need-to-know-michaela-alexis/
I sorted that idea of trying Emoji-m into a Next Action stack, or list, and bumped it to the top not because it was important, but because it sounded like a quick, fun “win.”
I got back to my desk, pulled up that page in my browser, searched for an emoji, and added it to a note to my kids. It took no more than two minutes.
Now that I know where to search for and find emojis, I can copy and drop them into anything from Instagram or emails to newsletters or texts—wherever I want to add a little levity. Don’t be surprised to see smiley faces and hearts showing up here and there.
Using Apps as Stacks
I’ve also learned to use specific apps as stacks.
I start with a to-do or list app like Todoist, Trello, Google Keep, or Workflowy. These apps allow me to dump all the notes I’ve taken, all the information I’m learning, and all the tasks I must accomplish into one big stack. A master list.
Most of those apps have ways to create subcategories, so I can continue to sort and stack right in that space.
Sort into Apps Dedicated to Specific Categories
While I like having almost everything in one place, sometimes a specific app will work well for a category of information.
For example, while I was at the conference a few newsletters arrived in my email inbox with links to articles that looked fascinating. I wanted to read them and learn more, but didn’t have time to drop everything and read them right then.
So I used an app called Pocket, which allows me to quickly save links to articles online using a Chrome extension or the app on my phone. It’s a really quick sort.
I “saved to Pocket” several articles, creating a virtual stack that formed a to-read stack. When I have a few minutes, I can pull up Pocket and read with intention.
A similar app I use for dedicating to a specific category is Goodreads. You could create a to-read stack there.
If someone recommends a book, I pull up Goodreads as a page in my browser or as an app and add the book to my “Want to Read” bookshelf.
Sorted, stacked, saved.
Stack, Sort, and Save What You Collect
Don’t lose what you’re learning.
Instead, save and implement ideas, solutions, tools, and tips by first capturing them all in some kind of stack, whether paper or virtual. Then sort it all into usable stacks.
Even the writing itself can be sorted and stacked like this, especially if you use the modular approach.
We can transform as a writer and person because we’ve not only saved information, we’ve also sorted it into tasks so we can implement what we’re collecting along the way.
- Robin Jones Gunn
- LinkedIn Page Content Strategy: What Marketers Need to Know (Social Media Marketing Podcast with the Emoji-m recommendation)
- Enjoy Creative Freedom with the Modular Approach to Writing [Ep 202]
- Increase Writing Quality by Both Filling and Stilling Your Mind [Ep 148]
- What’s the Next Action? [Ep 6]
- Subscribe to Podcasts to Learn on the Go [Ep 161]
- Next Action List (David Allen’s explanation)
- Google Keep
- A Writer’s Guide to ROI series
- Next-Level Writer series
- Write to Discover series
- All podcast episodes
You can subscribe to this podcast using your podcast player or find it through Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.