I don't know about you, but I always seem to have about a thousand things to juggle all at once. In addition to all the writing, recording, and touring for my band, I do a lot of mixing, remixing, and production for other artists as well. Add into this designing the merchandise, running my band's online store, maintaining the website and social network sites, answering e-mails, and - oh yeah- writing this blog, you get the picture. I'm a bit busy.
Inspiration, when it strikes, usually does so out of the blue, and almost always when I am in the middle of doing something else. Since time is not a commodity I have a whole ton of, I wanted a way to be able to get ideas down quickly so I could get back to whatever the task at hand is. My solution was to create a template for my DAW with a basic layout designed to let me get my idea down fast.
This has been something I've done for years, but now Logic allows you to save different templates that come up whenever you open a new file. Regardless of your DAW of choice (others may have this feature too, I'm just not familiar enough with them to know for sure), all you really need to do is set it up and save it as a song file you can load up whenever a cool idea pops into your head.
What your template contains will largely depend on what kind of music you make, but try to make it as flexible as possible to suit any sort of idea you might need to jot down. You just want to create channels of software instruments that are preloaded with the types of sounds you need just to make a basic sketch of a song. Don't worry too much about picking cool sounding patches, you want something pretty generic and boring just to get the idea across. You can worry about the sounds themselves when you actually start working on the song later.
I usually start with a drum loop of some sort so that I have a rhythm to write to. Nothing fancy, just a four on the floor kick, snares on the 2 and 4, and an eighth-note hi-hat line - something that can be used with just about any idea. Then I make a channel with a generic synth bass, one with a generic lead sound, one with a generic pad or string sound, and one with a piano sound of some sort. This way, I have pretty much every type of sound I need to get the very basics of an idea down. All I have to do is have an idea, open up my template, play my idea into the sequencer, save it to a separate file (don't overwrite your template!), and I have a (hopefully) cool idea I can come back to later to flesh into an actual song when things are a bit less hectic.
This technique has another advantage as well. Because you're using the same sounds every time you sketch an idea out, you aren't distracted by fancy presets or ear candy. Instead, you can concentrate on the actual musical idea itself to sort out whether or not it's as good as you initially thought it might be. It's often been said that a proper song is something you can sit down and play with just a guitar or piano. This isn't quite that extreme, but it plays to the same basic principle: sticking to a few generic sounds will make you concentrate more on the music itself and less on the gimmicky parts of a song (as fun as those may be).
Do you use templates to get down ideas? What's in yours?