In my work with creative entrepreneurs, I’ve found that one of the most essential systems to put in place is something to keep track of ideas. Because when working with visionaries who have all the ideas all the time, there needs to be a simple way to keep track of ideas so they don’t get lost!
This can seem like a good problem to have because ideas are good in theory. But many creative entrepreneurs have so many ideas, it often creates unexpected challenges — analysis paralysis, squirrel syndrome, and overwhelm are three common issues I see again and again with clients.
The thing is when you have so many brilliant, money generating ideas, it can be hard to decide what to tackle and what to shelve (even if it’s just for now). Thus, developing a solid method of keeping track of ideas can be essential to both getting things done now and in the future!
Squirrel syndrome is what I lovingly call the distraction factor that often comes with new ideas. Even when you’re knee deep in executing a current plan, those new ideas can derail your focus super easily if you’re not careful.
And then there’s our good “friend” overwhelm because with all the ideas comes the work of executing your plans (should you actually move onward to execution). Creatives are often extremely talented at idea generation, big vision, and garnering enthusiasm for big projects, but they struggle with breaking it down into manageable steps that make execution possible.
Analysis paralysis stems from having so many options you just don’t know what to turn. I find this is more common when there isn’t a good structure in place to keep track of ideas because there’s a fear of if not now then never!
So, let’s talk about some ways to evaluate and keep track of ideas!
Keep Track of Ideas With the Back Burner Container
This is a pretty simple tool that you may have heard, of but it really works! One reason new ideas can so easily derail us is the fear that if we don’t execute now, we never will.
But if you create a specific method of keeping track of ideas for future use, that fear loses some of its power.
Your back burner doesn’t have to be complicated — it just has to work for you! Find a method that works with your work style, and make it easily accessible.
Here are some simple ways of keeping track of ideas that I’ve seen work well:
- A Google doc that you use to jot down new ideas. Make it easily accessible by saving it to your browser toolbar, and be consistent in always saving your ideas in the same place.
- If you’re a verbal processor, consider voice notes you can send to your VA to type up to keep track of ideas. You may find it far more efficient to record a quick message than to agonize over how to write it down, so work with your strengths.
- Use a dedicated Slack channel for random ideas, and periodically transfer them to a more permanent home.
- Keep track of ideas in a dedicated project or to-do list inside your project management software.
Set Goals to Keep you on Track
Goals can also be used to help with both the squirrel syndrome and overwhelm. I like to follow the 12-week year format because it’s a good solid chunk of time without making plans too far in the future.
Once you set your goals for the next 12 weeks, you can then use them as a sounding board for new ideas. As they arise, you can ask yourself if they will help you achieve the goals you set out for this current period.
If yes, they likely warrant further exploration. If no, they should automatically go to the back burner. You’ll be able to keep them safe for the future, but they won’t derail your current progress towards the goals you’ve set and are working on executing.
Similarly, set goals for when you want to complete any ideas you have in progress. Attaching a hard and fast deadline helps prevent the 90% finished phenomenon where you never quite get anything completed.
Ask “What do I need to give up to do this?”
I’ve worked with many quickstarts who excel at implementing on the fly and pivoting from one project to the next very quickly.
And while quickstarts and creatives are very skilled at starting things, they often struggle with completing them. This leads to a lot of simultaneous projects to juggle.
So when a client comes to me and says, “I’ve got this great idea. Let’s do…” the first thing I do is say, “Great! What can we give up to tackle it?”
The reality is that most small businesses only have so many resources. So, if you only have the capacity for five projects, you can’t simply add more if you actually want to get any of them completed.
The goal here is to stop and assess just how much you want this new thing when compared to what is already in progress. Often times, when you do this, you realize the new idea is great, but it belongs on the back burner for now. Enter your system for keeping track of ideas!
When you do the assessment and realize it’s better than the current plans you’re implementing, you’ll already have started the process of identifying what changes you need to make to free yourself up to execute your new plans.
Having all the ideas has its pros and cons, but with some simple tools to keep track of ideas, you can definitely maximize the pros and minimize the cons!
Bonus tip: Review your past ideas before spending time coming up with new ones.
One of the main benefits of a successful method to keep track of ideas is that you can find them later, but if you never go back to actually look at them, you won’t actually reap the benefits! So, be sure that you periodically review your back burner container to evaluate if the time is right to tackle any of them before investing time and energy in brainstorming new ideas.