Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creative Genius: What to Do When You Have Too Many Ideas

ESV4EDNP8KEK (Ignore that. It's my Technorati verification code.)

Last week I wrote about ways to become more creative and generate new ideas. That used to be my problem. But then I figured out how to overcome it, and was soon met by the very opposite problem - too many ideas!

This creates a few challenges, the three major ones being:
  • Unable to focus on one goal or one idea properly, and give it my full attention
  • Distracted by a new idea, before properly executing the last good idea. This leads to unfinished projects.
  • Feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed by choices. (Which idea is better? Which option should I choose?)
Fortunately, over the past couple of years, I've also learned how to overcome these new challenges.

The ability to generate lots of ideas is actually not a "problem", unless I think it is. After all, having an abundance of ideas is a blessing that many people wish they had. I need to be grateful for that.

However, like all blessings, it can quickly turn into a curse if not managed properly.

Through trial and error, I’ve developed a two-step process that works for me. It’s quick and easy, and allows me to ascertain which ideas have potential and should be followed up. It also frees up mental energy to focus on turning that idea into reality.

1. Write It Down

Experience has taught me that trying to hold forty-eight different ideas in my head will turn me into a tired and distracted wreck, as I try desperately to remember them all.

As soon as possible, I get ideas out of my head and onto paper or computer. Personally, I like the immediacy of a notebook and pen for writing down ideas. I keep my “Ideas Notebook” on the desk, and often read back over ideas I wrote down months earlier. This in itself, is often enough to spark a new idea, or at least a new-and-improved version of a previous idea.

Despite the fact that I keep an “Ideas Book” on my desk, ideas rarely come to me while I’m actually sitting at the desk. They come to me when I’m about to fall asleep at night, while I’m preparing the dinner, or on my morning walk or any number of random occasions.

I used to keep my book on the bedside table, but with young children in the family, my book soon got decorated with random scribbles, and pages stuck together with residue from sticky little fingers. On more than one occasion it went missing, and was subsequently discovered down the side of the bed.

Not surprisingly, that particular idea had to be scrapped!

Now it is kept on the desk, beside the computer. I also write my weekly to-do lists in the same book, along with my goals for the year, and any inspiring quotes I want to remember. While I wait for my lap-top to start up, I often flick through this book, and jog my memory of what I want to achieve and the vision I have for my life.

      2. Analyze

Once I have my ideas safely ensconced in writing, I can then appraise and compare them. I run through the idea in my mind’s eye, from start to completion. What steps would I be required to take? What challenges may be encountered? What is a realistic time-frame and budget for realizing this idea? How would it fit in with my current plans and activities? What are the potential benefits, and are they worth the effort required to put this idea into action?

Sometimes, if it’s a “big” idea, such as an idea for a new business, the above process is “mind-mapped” on paper so that I can better see the idea taking shape in front of me.

Once I’ve answered these questions, it then becomes possible to sort the ideas into:

  1.  Do-able and desirable (This idea is worth pursuing some more, or making preliminary enquiries. After preliminary enquiries-internet search etc, depending on what the idea is-I may then decide it's still do-able and desirable, or may relegate it to another category).
  2. Do-able and desirable, but not right now (I need to finish something else, first.)
  3. Do-able but not desirable enough. (After running through the process in my head–and sometimes just “sitting” with the idea for a few days-I realize that I don’t want it badly enough to expend the time and effort required to make it reality.)
  4.  Desirable, but not do-able (Sometimes, the thought of something is nice, but the reality is that it simply won’t work with my current commitments or priorities. Or it is do-able, but only if I’m willing to sacrifice my sanity or something else that is important to me.)
Some ideas that seem “dumb” or impossible at first glance may become work-able in the future when circumstances or goals change. For this reason, I don’t delete or erase any ideas. Some ideas are right…just not right now.

This is a fairly informal process. I don’t go creating complicated spreadsheets or anything. I simply make notes beside each idea, on what I’ve decided to do about it.

I now follow this process for all my ideas - from how to save money on our grocery budget, to writing a new blog post, to starting a new business.

I believe that being able to generate lots of ideas is, indeed, a gift – but it should be managed in a way that actually enhances my life, and the lives of those around me, not enslaves me to an endless cycle of pursuing random ideas in different directions.

Despite my obvious brilliance, (insert wry smile) not every idea that floats into my stream of consciousness is worth pursuing. A little bit of time spent assessing an idea now, can save a lot of time and money later.

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