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.
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.
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.
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.
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.