Part of the problem with us creative people is it’s very hard to turn off the flow of ideas. Many of us come up with new ideas seemingly hourly. It’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s quite good to continue the flow of ideas coming to keep things energized. The problem creeps in when there are so many ideas that it crowds out important missions. Or when an idea comes up that sounds fresh and exciting and you end up shifting away from your core creative career strategies to jump on to this new brainstorm. If the flow of ideas keeps you off track, then there needs to be a system in place.
First look at ideas as clouds. Imagine a bright sunny day with a couple of clouds. Ahh..soothing and pleasant. Nothing wrong with a few clouds here and there. But the more ideas you have, the more clouds come in, and what was once a sunny day is starting to become mostly cloudy. Then overcast. Then it could become really overwhelming. You’ve got so many clouds it becomes dark, you can’t even see the sun.
When you get an idea during your work week, you need to capture it and put it away. Refer to it at a later time. This part is important. The system could be a notebook and pencil, it could be on your phone or laptop, a digital device. When a thought occurs, jot it down and file it…away.
The reason you file it away is because you don’t want to assign it sudden importance. The same reason when the phone rings and you are working on a project, it’s better to not drop everything and switch to the phone. Not assigning sudden things as important, just because they are sudden, is one of the cornerstones of productivity. It’s the difference between a higher productive creative professional getting things done and a frazzled worker trying to catch up while immediately jumping on every distraction that appears. You’ve seen the stressed and frazzled workers and well…it’s not pretty.
Ideas should not be assigned any importance yet. They are merely ideas. They don’t immediately go on to your task list. They are not put into action while you drop what you are doing. They are captured and filed. You will explore them at a later time.
What happens if you assign immediate importance is you put them on the same level as your mission critical tasks for the day. The more ideas you have, the cloudier it gets and the harder it is to focus on doing what really matters. So don’t just add ideas to your growing daily to-do list. Capture and file. Then refer back at a later time. The idea will seem urgent, will seem important since it arrives so suddenly, but trust me, it almost always belongs in your idea file. And if you don’t have an idea file, start one. Otherwise you’ll have many ideas rattling around in your head on a continuous cycle. This is often more distracting than anything else you can do. Just jot them down.
Each week should be tightly focused on big goals and projects with an exciting and separate idea file you build that does not distract you. Avoid a huge jumbled, sprawling and ever growing to-do list that lacks priorities. These types of lists often wrongly give priority to the newest brainstorm.
Are you focused on your main tasks and goals for the day with a solid idea capture and file system?