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What To Do When You Have Too Many Ideas

What To Do When You Have Too Many Ideas
    Too many ideas, so little time...

    Every day I’m struck with new ideas, whether they’re for a new writing project, an article I know that would resonate with a wide audience or something that would help keep my family life flowing. The problem with ideas is that until they are acted upon, they are just ideas – and aren’t worth much more than the thought they were initially given.

    So I capture them and then I curate them. Even still, there are a ton left once I’m done evaluating their merit, so the next step is start to do something with them. Then another problem creeps in – idea stagnation. I wind up doing a little bit with each idea, and some are never seen through to completion. It’s an ongoing battle, and it’s something that I’m not alone in.

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    There’s nothing wrong with having too many ideas. But what you do with them is far more important than just having them. It’s like having a lot of money but not doing anything with it. Sometimes there are just too many options. Choice is good, but too much choice can cause paralysis. If you find that you are an “idea machine” that breaks down once the ideas are supposed to turn into something tangible, there are some things you can do to give yourself a tune-up.

    1. Let them simmer until it’s time for your Weekly Review. When you have an idea, write it down. But don’t do anything with it until your Weekly Review day arrives. If the idea occurs to you less than 2 days before your Weekly Review day, don’t do anything with it until the following one. Let the ideas percolate and stand together with everything else you have to do. This will help you gain perspective on the idea in terms of what you can – and can’t – do with it. If it’s something that sits in your Weekly Review for four weeks, drop it. It’s clearly not crucial to you in the grand scheme of things. And besides, if you let it go and comes back to you, then when that happens you’ll know it’s something that you need to act upon.

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    2. Adopt a mission statement. These come in handy when looking at what ideas you’re coming up with in that they keep you honest. If an idea fits in with the mission statement you’ve adopted, you’ll have a better understanding of whether or not it is something you need to see through to the end. If there are any conflicts with the statement, then it’s not something you’re likely to build – or build well.

    3. Create idea buckets. Put all of your ideas in a bucket – and if you’ve got areas of your life that are fundamental to your happiness (such as a passion project, your work, or your family life), then create an idea bucket for each. Every time you have an idea, throw it into the pertinent bucket. When doing your Weekly Review (which you’re doing, right?) take a look at how many of those ideas are sitting in each bucket and how much progress has been made on them. If they are sitting there with no actions attached, it might be time to dump them. This tactic can be used in conjunction with, or as an alternate to, the first tactic mentioned. I use both because once the idea has simmered and it’s something that I’m intending on doing, I’ll put the idea in the corresponding bucket and turn it into a project when the timing is right.

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    4. Get real. This one is by far the most subjective, as everyone has their own way to do this. I look at all of my stuff (my task management application, my calendar, etc.) and really look at what I have time for. I connect with the ideas that I’m fondest of and know will bring about the most benefit to myself and others. Then I start to cull. I adopt a mindfulness by doing this regularly. I’m not really meditating, but I’m really getting in touch with all that I have on my plate and deciding – really deciding – what can stay and what has got to go. This is the hardest thing to do, usually because more ideas pop into my head while I’m doing it. But the ideas that come to mind during this time rarely stick, as they are usually meant to keep me from the objective at hand: to get real.

    One of the best things about having ideas come to you regularly is that you’re never at a shortage of material to work with. But it’s the “working with” part that is the hardest part. Capturing your ideas is great, but thinking on them is what will keep you from being trapped in overwhelm and bringing your ideas to life.

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    If you’re an idea machine, then learning to separate the projects from the rejects is a skill worth learning. Because an idea on its own isn’t worth very much, and you’re worth so much more than that.

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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