Last weekend, I was cleaning out my bag when a pile of paper notes fell out next to the assorted receipts and mystery crumbs. They were covered in notes and doodles, some of which I couldn’t make heads or tails of, even though they were in my handwriting. One of them appeared to be a list of Japanese words. Another one was a crude drawing of a floor plan. One simply said ‘DO NOT EAT THE POTATO!’ One on the back of a business card said ‘Allan Savory Soil Erosion!!!’, which I later figured out was a note-to-self to look up a TED talk somebody had recommended.

It got me thinking about another TED talk I watched a few years ago. Jason Fried is an entrepreneur who’s done some awesome stuff in web-based software development. Ever heard of a little project management product called Basecamp? That was him (and his internationally-based team with an HQ in Chicago). Fried did a presentation titled ‘Why work doesn’t happen at work’. In it, he said:

“I’ve been asking people this question for about 10 years: “Where do you go when you really need to get something done?” I’ll hear things like, the porch, the deck, the kitchen. I’ll hear things like an extra room in the house, the basement, the coffee shop, the library. (…) And then you’ll hear people say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter where I am, as long as it’s early in the morning or late at night or on the weekends.” You almost never hear someone say, “The office.” But businesses are spending all this money on this place called the office, and they’re making people go to it all the time, yet people don’t do work in the office.”

The talk is practically a classic, with around 4.5 million views to date. So what is it about Jason’s theory that has really resonated with people? Could it be that he’s right about work not happening in the office?

In many ways, it makes sense that each individual would know how, where and when they work most effectively. I’m not talking about the cool young ‘creatives’ you see down the coffee shop, who seem to have turned the place in to their own personal office. Or the people you hear about (who I’m still not convinced exist) who run their businesses from their laptops while travelling to exotic locales around the world. It’s more about being aware that anything can inspire you to come up with a really good idea.

Conversely, the random thing that gives you the best idea you’ve had probably won’t be found in the office. It might be on your morning walk/run/ride. You might see something inspiring on TV, or someone might share something on Facebook. Perhaps you’ll be wandering around the shops and spot something out of the corner of your eye. Or maybe you’ll even see a live show or lecture that makes you want to look something up again.

The key is to be prepared, recognise when you’re feeling inspired, and make a record of it – whether it’s a quick snap on your phone, a note-taking app like Keep, or a good old-fashioned notepad and pen. Just maybe keep your notes a bit more organised than I did…