Saturday, January 20, 2018

Top Five Free Apps to Capture Ideas & Leverage Creativity*

Use these 5 free tools on all your devices
to capture ideas, then clarify & refine them!

Ever notice that some project teams seem more productive than others?  ... that some people are a constant source of creative leaps and great ideas?  So what's their secret? It's no secret. As I discussed in my book Worth Sharing...:
"... Everyone is creative... But why do some people seem to produce more creative output than others? The answer is they leverage their creativity.... nurture it... capture the shimmering bubbles that float into their consciousness [&] treat these like the magical gifts that they are... by employing some fairly mundane, everyday practices."  -- from 10 Simple Practices to Keep Your Creative Output Flowing
In this article, I share my favorite free, cross-platform apps and tools to automate the creative-insight-capturing techniques recommended in my book. And you can have all these tools available to you 24/7, on your smart phone, tablet, and computer. So whether you are at work or out hiking or shopping or just hanging around home, you can capture that inspiration on your phone or tablet without losing it. And when you're ready to expand, refine or finalize it, it's right there in the cloud, easily accessible from any device. The result: No more lost flashes of insight -- and a steady flow of creative output!

(Note: The tools described below are all available free from Google Play Store (Android), Apple's App Store (iOS via iTunes), Google's Chrome Store or on the web using your favorite browser.)

Google's Keep

Google Keep captures sketches, dictated audio notes,
lists & snapshots on any device.

How it's used: Captures raw ideas like a shoe box full of paper scraps. But unlike a shoe box, your Keep-captured notes are cloud-synced, updated and searchable across all your devices. Always got your smart phone nearby? Then you are always ready to capture that creative insight with Google Keep!

Features: Snag your ideas in the form of text notes, dictated audio snippets, screen-drawn sketches, checklists, camera-based direct-captured photos or gallery-inserted photos. Whatever media form your inspiration takes, Keep helps you save it effortlessly before it evaporates. Each item you save can be tagged, color-coded, enhanced with scheduled reminders, shared among team members and more.



 SimpleMind: Mind mapping & brainstorming on any device!

How it's used: Creates conceptual "mind maps" (networks) of related concepts, idea flows, people, places or things. (Learn more about mind mapping here.) Mind mapping can be a powerful way to help you brainstorm and visualize complex topics without prematurely locking in ideas like you might if you're using an outline or list. And because the ideas seem more "raw" or fluid, you can easily invite others to participate playfully in team brainstorming.

Features: Start with an empty screen on which you can drag and drop blank, pre-formatted network nodes (a fancy word for "goofy little bubbles"), label them with text, draw lines between them to show relationships, add images and lots more. It's sort of like you're creating an org chart or a flow chart, only it's a more fluid and relaxed a process. You can assign colors, change chart structures and make other enhancements to help bring order from chaos via visualization.

* SimpleMind Cost Info:  The free version of the SimpleMind app can be used on each of your portable devices. However, to export and share SimpleMind files among devices via Dropbox, Google Drive or to export your mind maps to other file formats for sending, etc., you'll need SimpleMind Pro for Android ($4.99) or iOS ($5.99). The desktop PC/Mac version also requires a separate purchase fee and download  

SimpleMind too pricey for you? OK -- To create mind maps and keep them in the cloud for free, consider using the shapes, arrows, and other tools available in Google Slides or Google Drawings (described below) or check out MindMeister.

A Bonus Mind Mapping Tool: MindMeister!

MindMeister is an excellent free, all-platforms alternative to SimpleMind. It has lots of formatting tools to create good-looking mind maps. Your free MindMeister account allows you to create and save up to three maps to the cloud. (Though you can always delete an old map so you can make a new one and stay within your quota of three.) Saved maps can be shared for collaboration and exported as PDF files or PNG/JPG image files. MindMeister has a Chrome browser extension, an Apple iOS app and an Android version. Learn more and take a test drive at the MindMeister website.

Google Slides

Organize (and sell!) your ideas as a set of slides
using any device with Google slides

How it's used:  Make a "story board" that explains your concepts as a visual summary, using powerful presentation-building tools. Or (my favorite) make individual slides that can be later be used as annotated images to enhance a written article or report. The introductory graphic in this article is an example. (You might also check out Google's free Chrome-based app, Google Drawings. It makes individual drawings only and saves them in many formats. And like Slides, it can work offline with the Chrome browser.)

Features: As feature-rich and easy-to-use as Microsoft's PowerPoint, it's loaded with pre-formatted shapes, fonts, layouts, templates, etc. And you can easily add your own photos, graphics and text to help summarize your ideas and create a powerful single visual or multi-slide presentation. Exports PDFs and several other graphics formats.


Google Docs

Share, edit & finalize your document
using Google Docs on any of your devices.

How it's used: Google Docs is my multi-platform replacement for MS Word on my PC. It's all about helping you write articles, reports, web pages, brochures and more. Use it to create drafts, then polish and finalize the finished product. And use it on ALL your devices for FREE.

Features: It's a high-powered word processing app that has everything you need to go from rough draft to beautiful finished pages that include tables, graphics, multiple fonts/columns and much more.

Links: (web-based infographic maker)

Use easelly's website to create infographics
that help explain complicated ideas.

How it's used: (online only) Sign into your free online easelly account to create beautiful, link-filled infographics and then save or share them as PDF or JPG files. (See "The 7 Common Types of Infographic" for easelly's introduction to infographics.)

Features: Includes lots of user-created examples, templates, graphic dividers & arrows, enhanced background patterns & colors, shapes, fonts, and much more. Export your infographics or link to them so they can be shared (and hosted) by the easelly website.

Link: (available for online use only)

Bonus Tip:  Since's free version has some limitations, you can always use Googles online app, Google Drawings to create, share, and download/distribute your infographics. See the detailed review in my article:  A Dozen Free Google Apps to Keep Your Family or Team Organized [Part 2 of 2]

So What About Evernote?

Before Google introduced Keep, I used Evernote as my "go to first" tool for capturing rough ideas. And Evernote remains a cross-platform powerhouse for note taking, collaboration, capturing and organizing research documents, photos, etc.

However, since Keep feels like it's lighter weight (it seems to load more quickly for me) and has a simpler user interface, I have gradually come to use it more than Evernote -- especially in the early stages of a project.

You can learn more about Evernote through the many free video tutorials that support it. See my "Video Tour: Evernote's Buried Treasure... Video Tutorials!"

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* Links marked with an asterisk (*) are subject to change. If you can't find the post you're looking for, email me at or try a Google search. Sorry for any inconvenience!