Don’t Lose Those Brilliant Shower Ideas!

God and I have a little game we play with each other.

Truth be told, I think it’s more of a game that God plays with me, and it’s called “You’re not as necessary as you think you are.”

Here’s how it works: Often, when I preach and I think it goes well and I had good things to say, the feedback I receive amounts to zilch. (That’s Greek for nada.) The times, however, that I think weren’t so great, that I wasn’t eloquent, charming or interesting? Well, those are invariably the ones where someone tells me how helpful I, or rather God, was to them that day.

I did have that rare experience about a year ago where I preached, felt good about it, and received some very kind feedback to boot. That anomaly is part of why I remember it. The main reason, though, is because of how that sermon came together.

In this case, I was preaching for a friend’s church, and I’d had a few weeks to prep my way through the passage. There was plenty to say, but I was struggling to pull it all together and button it up.

Then, one evening while grilling burgers for my family, it finally all came together. I realized there was a very simple structure that I could place on top of all the ideas and meanderings that would hold them together and make sense of them for both me and the congregation.

Capturing Shower Moments

I imagine, if asked, you could relate a similar story of unplanned epiphany. Ideas often come when we aren’t pursuing them — that’s why catalogs in the backs of airplane seats sell gizmos that will help you capture thoughts that to come you in the shower.

Creativity researchers talk about the three B’s — the bathtub, the bed and the bus — as places where ideas come when we aren’t looking for them. When we stop working on something, our brain doesn’t, and I would add nor does the Spirit. It can be in these slower times that ideas percolate out of the muddle of thoughts that we carry around.

Maybe only about half of the content in my sermons come out of my allotted prep and study time. I could even put it this way — time set aside for study and research leads to some degree of understanding of the meaning of a passage. But putting together why a passage matters to the church today seems to come when I’m doing just about anything other than study.

As the truths that come from exegesis jostle their way around through my brain, ways to make sense of them are worked throughout my day as they collide with daily life. You can probably relate, yes?

All of this serves as a long introduction as to why having a good system of capture matters so much. We’ll turn now to what it looks like to grab ahold of those thoughts before they get away from us. As we talked about in the last post, if you don’t have a reliable catalog to store everything, that should really come first. It doesn’t do much good to capture ideas if you don’t have a trusted repository to store them away.

Impromptu Capture

What I describe above are those thoughts on the go that you have to grab. These require the ability to capture an idea quickly and on the go. They can be saved for later and my attention can return to the task at hand.

It’s hard to argue with good old pen and paper for grabbing thoughts on the go. A few years ago, I blogged about my Quest for Perfect Pocket Notebook. Even though I try to capture almost everything digitally, there are times when a quick scrawl works best, and I almost always have a Field Notes in my back pocket. A simple stack of index cards can work well too (and there’s always the Hipster PDA).

There are plenty of arguments to be made about the positives and negatives of modern humanity always having some kind of device at hand, but capturing ideas is probably the primary reason I want to have something with a screen and battery close by. I lean heavily on an iOS app called Drafts (iTunes link) — I’m surprised I haven’t worn out the bottom right hand corner of my iPhone screen where its icon sits.

This handy little app (and its likeness Scratch) opens up to a keyboard and a cursor at the ready. Open it, type a thought and close it. Or, hit the plus sign and type another. It’s safely stored away for you to work it out further when you are ready. Customize actions to process whatever you capture to make sure it gets to the right place, whether an app like Evernote, a to-do list app or email. (I imagine there’s a similar app for Android users, but I’ve not been able to find it. Please leave a comment below if you know of one.)

Intentional Capture

Alongside fleeting thoughts, there is also great value in capturing valuable content from the longform thoughts of others — whether books or articles. This requires, at least for me, some more deliberate processes to file them away.

Books — After reading a book, I like to work back through it, noting underlines, starred margins and dog-ears. I create a longer note for each book in my reference database.

If you read Kindle books, this capture process can be a piece of cake because Amazon collates all your highlights for you. (I’ve not found similar access to my highlights in other ebook formats, which is why I prefer Kindle books.)

Read it later app — I’ve seen plenty of things on the web that I never care to see again. But sometimes I come across an article or blog post that I know is worth more attention, and maybe even saving for future research.

Apps like Instapaper and Pocket are helpful because they do two things well:

  1. they provide a middle ground for deliberate reading of web content that you want to give further attention to
  2. they provide an easy way to pass those articles to other places for longer storage. Instapaper even has the means to store and collect only your highlights from saved articles.

Processify It

I didn’t get into nitty gritty details about capture so much as a few examples to get you thinking. You might already have good systems in place.

No matter how you capture, there should be a follow-up step to anything you capture. It may be daily and it may be weekly, but find the time to get them in the right place. They might end up in this week’s sermon outline or a long-term idea database, but they need to be moved along. I have a reminder every morning at the start of my day to process captured ideas — probably from grilling the night before — to move them from safe and sound to even safer and sounder.

What process do you use to capture your ideas?

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Image Credit Chris Martino.

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John Chandler
John Chandler is the Pastor and local theologian of Austin Mustard Seed, a new church plant for Austin, Tx, as well as a part-time web developer. His work is all over the internet, including the Sermonsmith podcast, the Ecclesia Network Podcast and his professional website.
John Chandler

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