How to Create an Idea Capture System

An idea capture system can keep your mind clear and focused on the things God has called you to do right now.All the ideas, constantly bombarding my brain. Not just ideas for writing and blog posts, but also:

ministry ideas

family vacation ideas

product ideas

business collaboration ideas

The list of ideas goes on and on.  I’ve described it before as the Idea Tornado. In the past, I’ve waited until the tornado got to full-fledged F5 status to do a brain dump/mind map and start sorting it out.

But that means all the ideas were occupying space and energy in my brain until I took time to deal with them.

This year, I’ve learned a better way, developing a capture system to house all those ideas while they are still wispy thoughts and gentle breezes.

But before we talk about how to develop a capture system, let’s talk a bit more about why we need one, and it may not be what you think.

Taking Every Thought Captive

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV)

We normally read of this verse in the context of sinful or negative thoughts, but what if we applied it to our constant stream of ideas?  Many of my ideas come from the lofty opinions of others … what I could do, or should do, or think I ought to do because the ever-present they are doing it.  Capturing the idea parks it in a place to rest while I pray and seek the knowledge of God.  It removes the urgency of constantly thinking I need to do something with every idea that enters my head.

Perfect Peace

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

I don’t know about you, but when the ideas are swirling, my mind becomes anxious.  I focus on my shortcomings and failures …. the things that all of these ideas will solve. When they are captured, I spend more time looking at what God is doing.  I can work on my goals and projects in peace because I’m trusting in Him, not in my own limited views and abilities.

Capturing is not forgetting

At first, you may feel like your capture system is a place where ideas go to die. Stuck on a list, out of they way, out of sight, out of mind.  But as you continue to work a strong idea capture system, you’ll find it is really a place where ideas go to grow.  A place to gather information and grow to maturity until it is time to release them into the wild.

Five Steps to Create a Capture System

  1.  A space to capture – Set up a place where you can capture every idea as it comes to you.  As you establish your place, think about how accessible it will be.  Maybe you need a small notebook you can grab from your purse and jot ideas down.  Or if you are a digital diva, an app or Trello board where you can store and organize your ideas could work better for you. It could be as simple as the Notes app on your phone, but you’ll soon find that a slightly more sophisticated tool will help you process your ideas in the future.
  2. More than a list – Your capture place should be more than list of ideas, because we all know that ideas tend to grow legs.  You will have random thoughts that flesh out your ideas so you need space to record them with your idea in your capture system.  So if you are using a notebook, only put a few ideas per page so you have room to add to them.  In an electronic system,  use comments or notes to add on to your original idea.
  3. A home for shiny objects – The worst thing about all of our ideas is that they distract us from the things we are really supposed to do.  We see an article related to an idea we have and suddenly, we are down the rabbit hole.  But if we don’t read it now, we’ll forget about it, right?  That is where your idea capture system comes in handy.  You’ve already captured the idea in your system.  Now, as you find articles or resources related to the idea, you can drop them into your capture system (raw and unread).  When you are ready to move forward with the idea, you have a head start and all the information you need gathered together.
  4. Create the habit – Of course, the most important feature of any idea capture system is that you actually use it. In the beginning, your capture system won’t be the first thing you think of when an idea strikes.  Try setting a reminder in your phone, or designating a specific time every day, to do a quick brain dump of whatever you can think of at that moment.  The more you use the system, the more it will naturally become the first place you go when inspiration strikes.
  5. Process, filter and prioritize – About once every three months or so, run through your captured ideas.  Which ones have matured?  Are any outdated or not consistent with your mission and purpose? It’s easier to recognize an idea’s true value after you’ve had a little distance from it.

A solid idea capture system can be the difference between a mind whipped into chaos by every whim, and one that is kept in perfect peace.  Keeping my head clear of all this extra information and activity gives me more capacity to focus on the things God has assigned me to do right now. Preserving the ideas in a place they can live and grow (or not) releases the guilty feelings that I’m not doing enough.

How about you?  I’d love for you to share in the comments any ideas or tools you use to capture your swirling ideas.

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12 thoughts on “How to Create an Idea Capture System”

  1. Christa, such good suggestions. I have a brain that loves to chase shiny things. I have notes every where and all unorganized. Lists in journals, notes in margins, notes on the back of index cards I create to memorize scripture and napkins in my purse.
    I’m going to start a trello board. Hmmm. Not to discover if it can record audio too. Thanks for your insights!

    • I’ve been looking for a way to have Siri put notes on my Trello board. Supposedly, there is one using If This Then That (IFTTT.com), but I could not figure out how to make it work. There is a feature in Trello that lets you email a note to a Trello board, so I’ve using my voice recorder to dictate emails and send them to a card.

  2. I do this each time I sit down to write or work and am distracted. However, I love the idea of honing my “capture” systems and is something I will think and build upon. I like the electronic options best since I always know how to access rather than the random paper scraps. Thanks as always for the encouragement!

  3. This must be my confirmation! I just wrote down (yesterday morning to be exact) to get a Braun dump notebook and write.it.down. My problem actually is actually doing it. Sigh. I shall be making this my habit for the month.

    • Set yourself a reminder to use it at least once a day! It only take a few minutes and will give your brain such peace!

  4. Good stuff! I can relate 100% to the “Idea Tornado” and feeling overwhelmed by all of them. It’s wonderful to have ideas, but it can be paralyzing when they collide all at once. I’m excited to implement some of these tips!

    • I tried staying with paper for a long time, but my lifestyle just doesn’t make that practical right now. It took a while to adapt to a digital system, but it is working for me!

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