Hold That Thought!

Hold That Thought!

Pickle Jar 2.0I’m sometimes distracted by too many project ideas. When the ideas pile up, my productivity sinks because I keep thinking about them, and multitasking slows me down. To keep focused, I evolved a mind trick called The Pickle Jar that, despite its hokey name, actually works for me. It got me through my thesis, when writing was the last thing I felt like doing.

The Pickle Jar is an actual glass jar that once held pickles. Next to it is a square pad of paper, about 4 inches on the side. To get unrelated thoughts out of my mind, I write down a brief synopsis down, fold it twice, and put it into the Jar.

The physical act of writing down, folding, and then “pickling” the idea for later consumption is weirdly cathartic. Since I’m no longer in danger of forgetting the thought, I can relax. The act of formulating on paper has also satisfied the urge to follow up on it. The size of the paper also prevents you from writing too much…there’s just enough room to get the essence of the idea down.

The best part: You can see that you’ve got the ideas queued up, but it’s hard to retrieve them. They’re in a jar! Getting at the idea entails trying to stick your hand in the jar (which shouldn’t fit, if you’ve chosen your glassware wisely), or dumping them out in a mess and unfolding all of them. It’s just inconvenient enough that I tend not to look unless I really am in the mood. The use is similar to that of a piggy bank, in that it encourages easy deposit but prevents casual withdrawal. So you tend to deposit and get on with your life, which in my case is getting back to #&!@*! work.

One side effect of the Jar… after pickling, some of those ideas don’t really seem that interesting anymore, so I end up tossing most of them.

Sadly, my official Pickle Jar was destroyed or lost during my last move, so I’m going to try using WordPress as the idea containment system. I suspect it might not work, but I’m curious to see if the physical act of pickling is as important as I thought.

(Update: I repurposed a canning jar as the new Physical Pickle Jar. See the picture!)


  1. kevin 18 years ago

    holy cow. I totally already have one of those. I used to take random notes/jot ideas on 3×5 so that I could ‘look into them’ later (so much free time at school, but it’s not ideal for developing ideas). I’d always get distracted by something ‘more important’ or ‘more exciting’, and I had all these cards all over my desk and room, so I shoved them in this nifty glass pasta jar, which ironically looks JUST like your jar, just a little taller. Maybe I’ll send you a pic sometime. Your site is starting to creep me out.

  2. Dave 18 years ago

    Heh, great minds think alike! :-) Definitely send me a pic, and I’ll start a collection here with everyone’s favorite idea containment system! :-)

  3. Don 18 years ago

    Wittgenstein used a shoebox!

  4. Roy Carlson 17 years ago

    I’m starting this tonight :)

  5. kasualty 17 years ago

    on a similar note (no pun intended), pierre chapel wrote a great little app called sidenote that i use in much the same way…


    worth checking out imho…


  6. kasualty 17 years ago

    my bust — that’s chatel (sorry pierre)


  7. Qrystal 17 years ago

    I’ve been thinking over this idea for about a week now, knowing that I’ve got so many random thoughts and ideas and things that I’d really like to pursue “someday”, but don’t have time now, and don’t even have time to lament about not having time or worry that I’m thinking too much about something I don’t have time for now, if I ever will…. you know that feeling, right?  Anyways, I just finished a jar of pickles, and thought that maybe this way would work for me.

    Until I realized that I already have something I like much better!  I use a beautiful piece of software to store every random thought that ever comes to me, and I can categorize them in several different ways.  Within each category, I can have a bunch of “pages”, and organize them however I like… tree-style, so pages of similar content can branch from a “chapter heading” style page.  The software is called The Journal, and its power and flexibility completely blew me away.  I use it for everything:  daily records, research notes, guitar tablature, amusing jokes, goals for the future, things I want to invent….  I’ve basically got a whole heirarchy of virtual pickle-jars of unlimited size, and just knowing that the ideas are safe makes me not feel like going through them very often (unless I come up with a similar idea or addendum, and then I find it in a snap!)

    The Journal can be found at


  8. Doug Rosbury 17 years ago

    Mr. Shea, Whatever works. Ideas are like children.
    They bug you until you do something. I have a handicapped girl friend who happens to be that way.
    Well, Nothing can be done until it can be done. Where’s your faith anyway. Work on one thing at a time and don’t be greedy about wanting to do everything at once. It’s your business anyway, so I’m out of here.  bye bye , Doug Rosbury

  9. sanat 16 years ago

    Mr. Shea, Whatever works. Ideas are like children.
    They bug you until you do something. I have a handicapped girl friend who happens to be that way

  10. majors 16 years ago

    I ah-ha-ed into a good way to do this today for me.

    I punched a hole in little scraps of paper from my trim board, and then, when i made a note, I started securing them with a brass brad.

    Then I saw it: tape that brad to my desk—point up—and drop the notes turned over onto that. Now I have my eye out for one of those old fashioned pointy things they used to use, they look like a nail sticking up in a base. That should hold lots of ideas.

  11. Peter Armenti 14 years ago

    I realize this is an old post.. BUT.. this has to be about the best idea I have ever read.. and I think I’m definitely going to employ it.. I must suffer from the same debilitation’s as you, because I can find myself ‘stuck’ under the weight of though and ideas as well.  Maybe this really could help me ‘get on’ with my life.. haha.. worth a shot.  Thanks for the valuable post.. however old it might be at this point :)