I've read the answers to this question but they focus on getting ideas written down pretty much as they occur, that's not my issue, I have both digital and analog methods for doing so with me at all times. But I can't always use them right away and I often lose the thread by the time I can. This is usually because I'm either already writing something else down or I'm on a phone call.

At the moment I have to rely on recurrence of the idea and hope I'm less busy when I remember it this time but I can't help thinking there has to be a better way. So my question is does anyone know a reliable technique for retaining an idea few a few minutes so you have time to write it down?

Please note that I really do need a technique rather than technology as if I have time for the latter I have time to write it down.

  • It might help if we understand the reason you can't write it immediately. For instance, I ALWAYS have a pen with me that will write well on bare skin, and I pull it out and jot a quick note on my palm. Just a three or four word reminder. Understanding the reason that doesn't work for you would help give you a proper answer.
    – IchabodE
    Nov 21, 2018 at 17:35
  • @IchabodE Fair point, edit made.
    – Ash
    Nov 21, 2018 at 17:38
  • "I'm either already writing something else down or I'm on a phone call." This seems like simple time management. Interrupt what you're already writing to jot down a couple of words to jog your memory later. Or ask the person you're on the phone with to hold on for a minute for the same purpose. If you simply don't have the time to do either of those things, I doubt you're going to have to time for any mechanism that might be presented in an answer. Nov 22, 2018 at 3:49

3 Answers 3


There's the Memory Palaces method, which dates back to antiquity. There are whole books written about it, but here's a much simplified version:

Imagine you are standing on a street. Stretched out in front of you are ten objects, representing the ten numbers from one to ten. One is a giant bun. Two is a shoe. Three is a bee, and so forth. To remember something, create a vivid mental image of it interacting with the "number object." For instance if your first scene is two people fighting, imagine them fighting on top of the bun. Then when you go back to remember it, just picture the bun, and the other image will automatically come back to you. This will get you up to ten remembered items, in order.

The theory behind it is that the really tough thing about memory is that it doesn't have an index. This method creates an index.


Tell someone. The act of speaking (or writing) an idea will reinforce its memory.

You can tell whoever you happen to be with. Or call someone and leave them a message. Or call yourself and leave a message (but that would fall into the methods you've already considered I'm sure).

If you can only tell yourself, do it, just say it out loud.

If you're somewhere where you can't say it out loud, or write it down, then rehearse it in your head as if you were saying it out loud or preparing to write it down. Try to say at least a couple key words out loud. Mouthing or whispering them also works.

I can imagine places where you wouldn't be able to stop and write. Maybe you get your best ideas in the shower, or during your morning jog, or while driving, or in a meeting at work where you're supposed to be paying attention.


I was cleaning the barn one afternoon and the first four lines of a ballad came to me. I repeated them, many times, letting it grow longer until I had the entire piece, which I continued to repeat.

By the time I got to pen and paper, I had 210 lines memorized. It was very old school.

On another occasion, I was working when a plot idea came and I memorized the bullet points until I could commit them to paper.

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