For years I've flirted at the edges of the online passive income community - reading the blogs on and off, thinking about rolling out a niche site or a monetized blog, etc. - without ever really taking the plunge.  Recently, though, I decided it was time to give it a try, with article-writing for revenue sharing sites as a starting point.

Based on a number of recommendations from bloggers who were successfully earning there, I decided that InfoBarrel would be where I'd begin.  The same question arose for me that I'm sure occurs to most new InfoBarrel members:  "Where am I going to come up with ideas for enough writing topics to make this worthwhile?"  My attempted answer to this question is to train myself into a new mindset - one where, with each new activity I'm involved in as my day progresses, I have to train myself to keep asking, "can I write something interesting about this?"  More often than I expected, I've found myself answering "Yes!" and made a mental note to get writing as soon as work and family obligations allowed the time.  But it seemed that within an hour or two of daily life, my latest grandiose plans to conquer the world through AdSense-laden prose were mostly forgotten beyond a vague sense that I'd had a good idea earlier in the day.

It quickly became clear that I needed a method of jotting down those ideas as they occurred, at home or at the office.  The simple paper notepad method would be the easiest, but it's vulnerable to being lost or misplaced, or skimmed through by the nosy guy down the hall who then complains that I'm doing personal work on company time.  I wanted something online, easy to recover, and convenient to access from any of the four computers I might be using on any given day - or any other machine I might happen to be sitting at, for that matter.

There are a variety of sites that offer services like this - "To Do" list applications and the like - but they were overkill for my needs.  I decided to take a simpler approach by taking advantage of a free service I already use for various reasons:  DropBox.

Edit Your Ideas from Anywhere with DropBox

DropBox is a free service - free, that is, unless for some reason you need huge amounts of disk space - that essentially provides an online storage mechanism for whatever files you want to upload to it.  It has a number of unique features, though, that make it much more than a place to dump your data:

    DropBox Integration with Windows 7 Explorer
  • It integrates cleanly with your operating system so you can copy files to and from it as if they were on your local machine.  Just drag and drop the way you would with any other file.  Of course, you can use a web interface also, if you really want to, or if you're sitting at a PC without the DropBox software installed.
  • Files in your DropBox folder are automatically synchronized between every machine that's linked to your account.   This means that if you add or edit a file in your DropBox folder on machine A, it will be copied out the DropBox service and the most current version will always be made available in the DropBox folders on machines B and C.
  • This synchronization means that copies of your files are potentially available on PC you log in through, in addition to the online copy.  It's the ultimate backup strategy!
  • Should you choose to take advantage of them, there are features to allow you to share your files with other users you designate.  This could be useful for collaborative efforts.

I've been using DropBox for a while to move files between home and work, to make the latest copy of my résumé available at a moment's notice, and to store the draft of That Book I'm Writing That I Really Am Going To Get Back To Real Soon Now.  From now on, it will also become my "idea repository".

When I installed DropBox I chose the option to run it at system startup.  On machines where I have control over who uses them, I saved my login information; on the laptops where there's a chance I'll be using them in less controlled conditions, I've set it up I have to enter my account credentials to use the service after each boot-up.

The High-tech, Feature-Rich, Super-complex Solution to All your Idea Tracking Needs is...

... a text file.

That's right.  A text file.  Just create one in Notepad or whatever editor you prefer, and drop it into your DropBox directory.  Create several, if you want some categorization.  It may seem simplistic, but do you really need a Web 2.0 Enabled, Facebook-and-Twitter-connected app with pretty graphics and fancy layout just to jot down your brainstorm of the moment?  I hope not.

Wrapping Up

For a lot of folks who are looking for a simple tool to track ideas across multiple PCs, the above advice on its own will suffice.  For those who want more, my follow-up articles in this series will address some useful added functionality:  part 2 will show you how to use a tool called RainMeter to display your idea lists in the background on your PC desktop; and in part 3, I'll be attempting to take my idea tracking on-the-go by integrating a cell phone into my system.

A Note on Installing Software

This tutorial and its follow-ups will make frequent mention of installing software on a PC at a place of employment.  I'm able to do this because the small company where I work has a fairly loose policy about what we can do with the PCs they assign us; almost everyone here has a favorite utility they use to increase their productivity.

This might not apply where you work.  Your employer might have policies forbidding the use of unauthorized software, or a network set up to block services like DropBox.  If you're going to try to follow this tutorial on a PC at the office, please review whatever policies are in place and don't get yourself into trouble!