Most people constantly search for inspiration, for an idea to get them excited to take action and make something. I am not one of those people – quite the opposite actually.
I have too many ideas. Granted, not all of them are great (read: mostly terrible), but finding ideas has never been a problem for me. Too many ideas sounds like a silly thing to struggle with, and while I do believe it’s better than the alternative, it also comes with it’s own challenges.
Having too many ideas feels like a curse at times. How do you pick one? Which one is worth your time? How do you say no? You get overwhelmed with choice, or don’t finish what you start, or you’re never truly focused on what’s in front of you. A constant influx of ideas becomes a nuisance, rather than an aid.
It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.Thomas Jefferson
Here is my personal method of how to navigate exactly this sort of situation. It begins by evaluating your ideas and realizing what’s worth pursuing and what isn’t. The next time you’re filled with inspiration and new ideas, take these steps to keep things in perspective:
1. Write your ideas down
Before you do anything else, write your idea down. Whether it’s a good one or bad, whether you’re going to act on it or not, it’s important to write them down. Ideas excite you for one reason or another, so having them documented for future review is a great first step. You can do so in your commonplace book or in an app like OneNote or Evernote. Anything works, as long as you can find them again.
More importantly, writing them down relieves some of the pressure you may initially feel to pursue your idea right away. When we first get ideas, we have a natural need to explore them. The act of writing them down ensures that they won’t be forgotten and can be called upon whenever you are ready to pursue them.
2. Evaluate if ideas fit your goals
Does your idea fit within your long-term goals? If so, how? This is often completely overlooked, but if you take the time to think about what you truly wish to achieve in your life or career, then you can easily see if a particular idea can bring you closer to that goal or further away. If you love to do one thing, but this great idea is going to take you completely in another direction, maybe it’s not right for you, or perhaps not the right time for you.
Perhaps you can explore the idea on the side or as a hobby, and it needn’t be a priority if you truly understand where you want to be in the future.
3. Check the timing for your ideas
Timing is a big factor when it comes to any idea. Are you too early to the party or did the boat already sail and you just didn’t notice? Perhaps time isn’t a factor at all – like when you have an idea for a clever piece of art or a timeless blog post, but there is nothing at stake if you take your time with it. On the other hand, maybe it’s urgent and you have to decide to either take action immediately or let it go forever.
Timing can force your hand or it can allow you take it slow and contemplate what you truly want to do. Evaluating ideas from a timing perspective can help make sense of its relevance and urgency.
4. Identify the costs of ideas
How much time, resources, and money will your idea require to bring to life? Can you afford that? What does the work actually look like? Are you ready to commit to it 100%? These are the types of difficult questions that bring the reality of your idea to the fore. Usually when we’re living in our imagination, all we see is the potential fame, success, and fun that an idea holds.
We tend to ignore the gritty side of the coin, the hard work and long hours, the stress and frustration that comes with any endeavor. If you take a hard look at the costs and what it truly means to follow through with any idea, you’ll have a better sense of if it’s right for you and if you’re truly willing to see it through.
5. Test your ideas early and often
If you’re serious about any idea, you should first figure out how you can test it’s viability. How can you quickly prototype the idea to see if it’s marketable and has real potential for success? Some ideas are small enough that you may as well just make it and see what happens – like a blog post.
Alternatively, if you have a grand idea for a new product or service, finding a way to evaluate it before you go all in is the smarter play and can save you a lot of time and money. Whenever possible, test it first and test it often. Believing your idea is good isn’t enough; you have to be certain. Does it solve an actual problem? Do people need it? These questions will help you determine the value of the idea.
6. Use your ideas on your current work
It is useful to try to implement any new ideas into the projects you’re already working on, if possible. Why? Because innovation occurs at the intersection of ideas. You may create something fundamentally new by the merging of two or more “different” inspirations. Secondly, starting an entirely new endeavor takes a lot of work; if you can scratch that itch by implementing parts of your idea into what you already have, you can kill two birds with one stone so to speak.
It’s the perfect middle ground, because you can pursue your idea and use it immediately on something that you clearly believe is important work as well.
7. Beware of chasing the novelty of ideas
New is always exciting. It’s unknown, full of wonder and possibility. Naturally, whenever we come across new ideas, we’re immediately drawn to them. Tread carefully, however. Before you go off the deep end for your latest and greatest idea, be sure you’re not just chasing novelty for that feeling; ensure you’re actually finishing work too.
If you see a path of destruction in your past, full of started – but never finished – projects and ideas, it may be a sign that you’re getting a little too carried away with what’s new. In these situations, you must realize that chasing another idea isn’t the answer, but rather executing on the current ones and learning how to finish is.
Learn to say no to the shiny new idea (when you need to!) and stick with what you have in front of you as that will be far more valuable in the long run.
Bring ideas in and entertain them royally, for one of them may be the king.Mark Van Doren
I’m not trying to discourage you from having ideas – quite the opposite, in fact. We should always explore, experiment, and enjoy the wonders of our imagination. Yet when it comes to ideas, it’s important to not be hasty in pursuing each and every one of them. Some will be perfect for you and you should pursue them with all your heart. Some may not be quite right, even if the idea itself is a good one.
In these situations, letting that idea go, no matter how difficult that may be, is the right decision. So instead of keeping your ideas locked away, share them with the others and hopefully someone else will be able to bring your ideas to life. Perhaps you’ll be able to collaborate or partner with another or maybe you’ll just be their inspiration. It is always better to see good ideas manifest than to let them wilt away in your mind.If others are able to be successful with your idea, don’t be discouraged that you weren’t able to do what they did for whatever reason. Rather, be proud that your idea was a good one – a powerful one – and that the world is better off for it becoming a reality.
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Robin Williams.
Image via flickr