How to Choose Which Project to Pursue Next & Avoid Idea Overwhelm
Creatives and creators are constantly coming up with new ideas.
And this tendency is often heightened by input — the books we read, the podcasts we listen to, the videos we watch, and so on.
And, before long, you’re swimming in an endless sea of fun, shiny, alluring ideas that all appear to be of equal importance.
That’s a key point. They aren’t of equal importance. Ever. And I can show you why that’s the case.
Here are several mental models, frameworks, and questions that can help you determine what to work on next and avoid idea overload.
Put Some Urgency Between You & What You’d Like to Accomplish
This is something I learned from my friend Amos Bracewell.
It’s human to assume we’ll have unlimited time to accomplish everything we want and at some point we’ll get around to all the projects that matter to us.
What dawns on us, sometimes a little too late, is that if we aren’t selective with how we spend our time, we’re going to run out before we get anything done.
But our mortality isn’t exactly inspiring, and it’s a little abstract and vague for most.
So, instead of trying to induce a premature mid-age crisis, just ask yourself these questions:
- If I were to die tomorrow, what would I regret not having accomplished?
- If I only had a year to live, what would I go and do now?
These questions can help you cut to the core of what matters to you.
Your head will only get you so far. We tend to come up with small, limited, mediocre ideas when we rely too heavily on our head.
Listen to your heart. It tends to come up with big, scary but worthy ideas that make us come alive. And when we come alive, it gives others permission to come alive too.
Use the Effectiveness Diagnostic
Yesterday, I explained how the Effectiveness Diagnostic works.
The more things you’ve tried, and the more experience you have, the better the Effectiveness Diagnostic will work for you. It will prove much easier for you to determine what and what hasn’t worked if you have experiences to draw from.
That said, if you have a proven track record with certain types of projects and ideas, then you already know that whatever results you’ve achieved, you can amplify and exceed them by moving in a similar direction.
If certain ideas are unproven, untested, and uncertain, then you know that the results will also follow suit. You can take a big risk and see what happens, or you can set those ideas aside in favor of ones you know will have some traction.
It’s not a black or white, binary decision. At times you will want to take risks. At other times, you will want to lean on ideas that will create predictable results.
Embrace Minimum Viable
The idea that something needs to be perfect or that it needs to be fully developed before it can be shared with the world is dangerous.
“Perfect” is impossible to measure and is an abstract concept at best. It can also slow you down and waste a lot of precious time.
As I’ve shared before, as creatives we tend to fuss over the 20% of polish or icing, when 80% of the cake is already done and is ready for human consumption.
The extra 20% might make us feel better about the project but might not make much of a difference to our fans, followers, customers, and so on.
Some might say author Dan Kennedy’s No B.S. Marketing Letter looks old, dated, or ugly (see below). But note the date. That newsletter came out in January 2019.
See, Kennedy is all about what works, not what looks pretty. There is a difference. Of course, there’s no denying that Kennedy is also prolific beyond comprehension (be inspired by the prolific).
Embracing minimum viable allows us to complete ideas, get them out in the world, gather feedback, make improvements, and even earn an independent income much faster than we’d otherwise be able to.
If you have many worthy ideas, then perhaps using a minimum viable framework would help you get to the point of “done” faster, which would free up more of your time for more of your ideas.
Practice Ruthless Focus
I’ll be honest in sharing that I have three distinct focuses right now. They do complement each other, which is one of the reasons I’m able to make big progress in each area every week, but in an ideal world, you would not have more than one focus at a time.
When you’re working on multiple projects simultaneously, you will make less progress overall. Seems obvious, but it’s not simple math.
Stacey Lastoe says it takes 23 minutes (nearly 30 minutes) to refocus after you’ve been distracted.
So, in a day where you have three distractions, you would have lost about an hour and a half of productive time!
Task switching works the same way, by the way. So, if you switched tasks four times on the same day, you would have lost about three and a half hours of productive time.
As noted, I am not a master of single tasking. The best monomaniac I know is Derek Sivers. Turn to his example for inspiration (notice how he’s been pumping out books this year and last).
To summarize, spend more time doing less.
Build Your Team
I recently hired a podcast editor as I knew it could free up several hours of my time weekly.
Truth be known, I’ve been putting this off for a couple of years. I was not confident in myself, and therefore I wasn’t confident in handing off this task to someone else.
But the measuring stick of business is independent income. Yes, making an impact is important. The people you interface with are important. Creating a legacy is important.
But if there’s no money, there’s no mission. You can’t make a bigger impact, create more lasting relationships, or build a legacy without generating more income.
My point is that when you free up more time by delegating tasks or hiring contractors, you think more strategically in terms of how to increase your creative income. And that can lead to clearer thinking in terms of choosing projects too.
I understand the struggle of hiring or delegating as much as anyone else. The following post was written with musicians in mind, but you will probably find that most of it applies to you too:
There’s no virtue in being a lone wolf, especially when there are people around willing to help.
There’s no virtue in being a lone wolf, especially when there are people around willing to help. (Click To Tweet)
Create a Parking Lot for Your Ideas
When I sit down to talk with creatives and creators, I am often surprised to find they have nothing written down — not their goals, not their brainstorms, and especially not their ideas.
But why are we talking about writing down ideas when we’re trying to focus more and minimize distraction?
First, if you do nothing with the ideas that come to you, they are as good as lost.
Second, it has been my experience that writing down your ideas tends to reduce emotional investment, thereby facilitating clearer thinking.
Third, we all have ideas. So, we’d be crazy to think all our ideas are good. I have already written down a couple of ideas this year that in hindsight were terrible. It would be much harder to tell without reduced emotional investment. Better to leave some space between idea and execution (which goes back to writing down your ideas).
So, create a parking lot for your ideas. As for me, I have a LifeSheet that acts as my capturing tool.
What is Resonating with Your Audience?
The previously mentioned Effectiveness Diagnostic can assist with identifying ideas and concepts that are resonating with your audience.
I tend to come up with new concepts weekly. Things like #StrategySunday, Weekflow, YearSheet, Effectiveness Diagnostic, Flashes of Elation (a book I’m putting the finishing touches on this year), and so on.
#StrategySunday has clearly resonated with an audience and is therefore worth holding onto. The same goes for Flashes of Elation. As for the others mentioned here, I have no idea.
But that’s why blogging is awesome. I get to put an idea out into the world and see whether it resonates. That saves me from getting too heavily invested in any one idea. If it does not resonate, it’s not worth holding onto.
You might benefit from a similar process. Before becoming too attached to any one idea, you can share it with an audience you think it would resonate with, and if it doesn’t, iterate or move onto the next idea.
What Does Your Heart Say?
What would be bold? Scary? Unprecedented? Courageous? That’s where your heart tends to go, as suggested by Kyle Cease.
These ideas are worth more than any ideas your head could come up with.
So, if all else fails, listen to your heart. What is your heart telling you? What’s something that would make you come alive? What is something that would benefit your audience just as much as it benefits you?
Don’t try to figure it out. Listen to your heart.
Remember — you will come up with ideas that suck. And chances are you will come up with more terrible ideas than good ones.
So, write down all your ideas. Create some emotional distance. Come back to them after you’ve put a bit of time and space between you and the idea. It should become much clearer which are worth pursuing.
Did you find this helpful? How do you choose which project to pursue next?
Let me know in the comments.
Originally published at https://davidandrewwiebe.com on February 11, 2021.