Doing Your Best Work in the Shower

English: Shower
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your best creative work that is. Somewhere between soap and rinse you will often find a solution to the creative roadblock that has been in place all day, or perhaps even all week. I find this to be an extremely common occurrence.

Much has been written about the phenomenon of creative ideas occurring when we are undertaking anything but the actual work itself. There are both differing views and at times outright disagreement on the neurological mechanisms behind it, as seen in the comments below a post written by Leo Widrich on Buffer. Whatever the view on the mechanism behind this phenomenon – it exists, and is a powerful, if unintentional way of moving forward on solving a creative problem.

So, if we know this exists, how to harness the power? Featured on 99u, a book review of Brian Eno: His Music and The Vertical Sound of Color, outlines some of the techniques Eno successfully used in overcoming blocks in the creative process. Whilst some of these techniques are deliberate ways to stimulate creativity, in my view, none is more important than this one:

The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can.

Simply applying the same techniques (though well worth a try) of someone as successful as musician and producer Eno (U2, Talking Heads), will most likely not provide you with the same creative rewards, which is why the sentiment above is so important.

A great idea is worthless unless it is remembered or recorded, something eloquently put in the tag line of Field Notes notebooks:

I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.

Whether or not your best ideas come in the shower, or even while running, get them down as quickly as you can and solve many a problem seemingly without “thinking” about it. Move your projects forward, around the barriers that seem so impenetrable, without having to brute force your way through, using up vital resources and time.

Granted, there are times when a deadline will be rapidly approaching and a solution will need to be finalised, with the time for relaxing in the shower waiting for the next breakthrough having come and gone. In times like these I have found it useful to consider past ideas, reviewing notes captured on similar problems or even unrelated ones for possible inspiration. Again, record the ideas, and in addition, keep the ideas!

Capture

Shower_Capture

So our brain has done its job, subconsciously exploring all possible options and avenues available, placing a great idea front and centre – what next?

Capture it by any means available to you. Pen and paper, whiteboard, digital device, Hipster PDA, tell Siri if you have to. Just get it down somehow. How do I capture these ideas? A few different ways:

  • Moleskine Cahier Notebook – this is the idea book, the spark file, with cross referenced pages indexed for future retrieval
  • Drafts app – can be used simply as a digital version of a piece of paper, or is capable of more complex functions. This app will quickly grab any idea or text entry, which can then be ‘sent to’ or ‘opened in’ just about any app you can imagine
  • 3×5 index cards – a stack of these are kept in the top drawer of my office desk. Once the idea is captured, the card is placed in the pocket at the back of the Moleskine notebook for processing at a later time. Any post it note or scrap of paper also substitutes well here, and I have also recently commenced using a Field Notes notebook in this particular area of my workflow.
  • Omnifocus – for any ideas that I know are part of a larger project, or will be one themselves, I use the Omnifocus inbox as the first port of call, as all of these will end up here eventually

I have never been a fan of the notebook on the bedside table, in the bathroom, or the whiteboard in the shower, as I find constantly looking at an empty page or board that is meant for “great ideas” has the opposite effect. The tools are simply required to be close at hand when you need them. Not for when you think you should use them.

Store

Shower_Store

To any of you familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), I have obviously skipped the processing of the notes and ideas, however that aspect is beyond the scope of this post. As I have mentioned above, there are times when it is very useful to be able to go back and review previous ideas, even if unrelated to the problem at hand. Personally, I store these notes and ideas in:

  • Evernote – I use a free account which allows searching of both notes and tags
  • Moleskine Cahier Notebook – as mentioned above. The key in using this for both capture and storage is the index page, cross referenced to related pages; a copy of the index is also scanned and stored in Evernote, allowing a better overview across multiple books
  • Plain Text File – this is used also when at my office desk for ideas that will remain in the digital realm at the office, often stored in the project folder with any associated reference material

The most powerful form of capture and storage for me? Probably capturing in Drafts and utilising the ‘send to’ feature, where I can send the idea to Evernote, my work email account, or to another app to be fleshed out further should that be required.

Putting these ideas into a more cohesive project and action type framework occurs in Omnifocus, however again this is for a separate Processing post.

Conclusion

Irrespective of when or where they occur, these ideas will come to you. If you are at least somewhat prepared to capture and store them, they will not be lost to the ravages of time or distraction.

The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory (Chinese Proverb)

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My Everyday Carry

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My initial post on this site introduced a passion for the various tools (both digital and analogue) I enjoy using to either plan, or get the job done. Whatever the particular “job” may be.

I have previously written about some of my “digital tools” in the form of the apps Day One and Byword, however an overview of the devices on which I use them, and some other “analogue” tools is best described in the style of post featured on sites such as the Everyday Carry; who also define this term as:

Everyday Carry, or EDC, generally refers to small items or gadgets worn, carried, or made available in pockets, holsters, or bags on a daily basis to manage common tasks or for use in unexpected situations or emergencies. In a broader sense, it is a lifestyle, discipline, or philosophy of preparedness.

Though the above sentiment is a valid one, you won’t find any knives, multi tools, torches or the like here. Thinking of a killer blog post idea (though you may argue that hasn’t happened yet!) and not having the tools on hand to record it is about as dangerous as my day gets. However, as someone who prefers to travel lightly on my daily commute, this is reflected in the tools I choose to work with. To and from work I use an Oroton black leather messenger bag in a similar style to this one.

Digital Carry

Both the iPhone and iPad undergo reasonably heavy use on a daily basis. The iPad is mainly used for early morning writing of blog posts or drafting reports for work, checking email, catching up on RSS feeds and reading magazines or ebooks. The iPad also fills the hour-long commute home, which is when I watch my favourite TV shows.

The iPhone usage is scattered throughout the day, heaviest on the commute to work, which invariably involves listening to podcasts and/or drafting or outlining posts for this site. Intermittently throughout the day it will also be used for Twitter and App.net, checking email, jotting down quick notes and getting tasks into Omnifocus. A few phone calls and text messages complete the picture.

Though two sets of ear phones may seem unnecessary, I use the TDK noise cancelling version for watching TV shows on the commute home, whereas the ear pods are for listening to podcasts or music in the mornings. The reason being I often continue listening during the 10 minute walk to work once off the bus, and walking around with the noise cancelling ones can be annoying due to the battery unit hanging part way down the audio lead.

Analogue Carry

  1. Oroton slim credit card holder
  2. Kaweco Sport Classic Ballpoint Pen
  3. Retro 51 Stealth Tornado Ballpoint Pen
  4. Montblanc Meisterstuck Fountain Pen
  5. Moleskine Cahier (Navy blue) Extra Large Notebook

The analogue tools – where to begin?

The slim credit card sleeve functions as my wallet and generally contains two credit cards, a couple of notes, my driver’s license and Medicare card. Anything more and it begins to feel not so “slim”. I don’t usually carry any coins if I can help it.

The pens and paper are generally used during my lunch break, to brain storm ideas for work projects or to generate or flesh out ideas for the next post on this site. My choice of the Moleskine cahier extra-large is dictated by needing a lightweight but reasonably sized notebook to carry to and from work (it is not required to fit in my pocket); pages that cope with all my pen types (fountain pen included); has a pocket for storage of note cards and other scraps of paper (a mobile “inbox” of sorts); and fits my iPad (perfectly) inside the back cover, so everything is easily held whilst walking around.

My current everyday pen is the Kaweco, after using the Retro 51 for approximately 12 months (both of which were purchased subsequent to becoming a listener of the Pen Addict podcast, a fact that would not surprise regular listeners of the show). The compact size and light weight of the Kaweco make it an ideal pen to carry. The Mont Blanc fountain pen is now 16 years old, and was a gift from my wife on our wedding day, therefore having value over and above anything else I own. I simply love writing with this pen (and I simply love my wife….even more than the pen).

What Next?

I plan on downsizing to an iPad mini later in the year (after the model upgrade), and am looking forward to the smaller size and weight which will further satisfy my relatively minimalist tendencies. Despite the fairly heavy reliance on the iPad for much of my writing workflow, I don’t believe I will lose any functionality with the smaller screen, given it still contains two-thirds the real estate of the regular iPad. An iPad mini will also fit into the back pocket of the cahier notebook, rather than merely sitting inside the back cover.

No upcoming pen changes on the horizon, though always a substantial number of options are presented via the podcast indicated above (which for that matter also applies to notebooks and other stationery items – Field Notes Night Sky edition currently on its way).

A little research is also planned in relation to altering the nib size on the Mont Blanc (towards a finer nib size), however I am yet to look into cost and how this may be done.

Conclusion

The above set up allows me to achieve everything I set out to on a day-to-day basis, with other physical items such as chargers etc remaining at my office desk for the times I need to top things up. As my iPad is a 16GB WiFi model, I set up the personal hotspot through my phone when out of the office, and email anything back to my desk I may be working on if it is required later in the day. Draft blog posts and updates in Byword sync via Dropbox and can be further edited on my phone whilst commuting home if required. There are a number of iOS apps I use to mesh things with my office work (a soul crushing Windows corporate network), however that is for another post.

I will be sure to provide an update to this post as things change in the future.

Finally… something to say

“Of course you have to do it dad, we all are.”

With those words became what you, the reader are now working your way through. That is, the family are all “blogging” in some way, shape or form. So simply write and publish right? Sure… but no. Both the idea and plan for this blog were developed some time ago. Even the name is months old.

Perhaps my exceptional ability to over-plan to the point of under (never?) delivering may finally be put to rest as some content goes out on this site. Or it may just take a nap here and there… after all, I am not prepared to disclose how many drafts and re-writes have already occurred on this, my initial post.

The exact path for this journey is yet to be fully mapped out. I see many directions we can take – “we” assuming you, the reader, will remain until such time as this site produces a few more posts than this initial effort. A further assumption suggests that those posts will be somewhat interesting to those prepared to read them.

There are a few places I would like to visit on these pages:

Productivity and Self-Development

The basis for the name of this blog. An area where I have had more … not failure per se – probably frustration would be more accurate, than outright success. I guess the philosophy that if things came easy they would be less worthwhile and appreciated rings true here.

I’d like to share some of the challenges, successes, and the many, many resources that I have discovered along the way that may assist your own journey.

Hopefully these insights will provide the basis for some incremental changes to help you generate some real momentum (there it is) for your own development.

Things of Interest

Here is where things get a little more interesting, fun, and at times costly!

Pens and paper – analogue tools that are truly a delight to use, and should always have their place in an ever increasing digital world. This may be anything from Mont Blanc to Moleskine and everything in between. there is also no better place to start than the Pen Addict.

Coffee – all things beans, roasting, brewing and cupping. A long held interest that is now beginning to branch out further as I expand my horizons and seek to learn a few more skills that will take me closer to the ultimately unachievable perfect brew. Not surprisingly then, fuelling the words in this very post are the results of an Aeropress brew of a very impressive medium roasted Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

Digital tools – though locked into the bland wasteland that is a corporate office Windows based network; the escape that is a seamless and rock solid iOS platform becomes more interesting by the day – plenty to learn and share here !

Gadgets – the majority of posts are planned to fit the categories listed above however a general “other” bucket always has its place; perhaps this should be called the second drawer.

Health and Fitness – you will certainly not see any word spoken here about a quest I have set to run a marathon or the like. Whilst a noble pursuit, that is certainly not something for me. Here there will be snippets, links, and hopefully a little bit of information that is both useful and easily applied.

Oh, and by the way, as I mentioned at the top if this post, my family are the biggest inspiration I have, and you should probably check out their blogs too – My Wife, son, and daughter here and here.

Until next time…