Fellow creative thinkers: We've got a problem! We have so many great ideas, but most of them never see the light of day.
Why do most ideas never happen? The reason is that our own creative tendencies get in the way. For example, our tendency to generate new ideas often gets in the way of executing projects. As a result, we abandon many projects half-way. Whether it's a new business idea you're developing, a side project, or a novel you wanted to write - most of these projects sit stagnant and become a source of frustration.
But some creative people and teams are able to defy the odds and make their ideas happen, time and time again.
This conundrum has become my obsession. My team and I have spent the last five years meeting these anomalies and chronicling their tips and insights into execution. We've developed all sorts of products and services to help creatives; and I also just published a book on the topic - aptly titled, "Making Ideas Happen". For this MOO Expert TIp, I wanted to share a few pieces of advice to consider in your creative pursuits:
Avoid Living In a State of Reactionary Workflow
Without realizing it, most of us have started to live a life of “reactionary workflow.” We are constantly bombarded with incoming communications - email, text, twitter, facebook, phone calls, instant messenger, etc... Rather than be proactive with our energy, we are spending all of our energy being reactive and living at the mercy of the last incoming thing.
To avoid reactionary workflow, some of the most productive people I have met schedule "windows of non-stimulation" in their day. For a 2-3 hour period of time, these people minimize their email and all other source of incoming communication. With this time, they focus on a list of long-term items - not their regular tasks, but long-term projects that require research and deep thought.
Reduce Bulky Projects To Just 3 Primary Elements
Every project in life can ultimately be reduced to just 3 primary elements: Action Steps, Backburner Items, and References. Action Steps are succinct tasks that start with verbs. They should be kept separate from your notes and sketches.
Backburner Items are ideas that come up during a brainstorm or on the run that are not actionable but may someday be. Backburner Items should be collected in a central location and should be revisit periodically through some sort of ritual. One leader I met prints out his list of Backburner Items (kept on a running Word document) on the first Sunday of every month. He grabs the list (and a beer) and then sits down and reviews the entire list. Some items get crossed out as irrelevant, some remain on the list, and some are transformed into Action Steps.
The third element of every project is References - the articles, notes, and other stuff that collects around you. It turns out that References are overrated. Rather than spend tons of time organizing your notes, consider keeping a chronological file where all your notes are simply filed chronologically (not by project name or other means). In the age of digital calendars, you can search for any meeting and quickly find the notes taken on that date.
Measure Meetings With Action Steps
Meetings are extremely expensive if you consider the cost of time and interruption. Beware of "Posting Meetings" or meeting just because its Monday. Such meetings are often planned for the morning - when you're most productive - and often end without any Action Steps captured. A meeting that ends without any Action Steps should have been a voice-mail or an e-mail. When you do meet with clients or colleagues, end each meeting with a quick review of captured Action Steps. The exercise takes less than 30 seconds per person. Each person should share what they captured. Doing so will almost always reveal a few Action Steps that were either missed, duplicated, or misunderstood. Stating your Action Steps aloud also breeds a sense of accountability.
Use Design-Centric Systems To Stay Organized
The color, texture, size, and style of the materials used to capture your tasks (and your notes) are important. People who have successfully developed personal systems for productivity over the years claim that their designs make their projects more appealing (and thus more likely to be managed well). When it comes to productivity, attraction breeds loyalty.
Reduce Your Level of Insecurity Work
In the era of Google Analytics and twitter, we spend too much time obsessing over real-time data, just because it's at our finger tips. Whether it is checking your site's traffic or your bank account, these small repetitive actions don't help you make ideas happen. They just help us feel safe. "Insecurity Work" is stuff that we do that:
(1) has no intended outcome
(2) does not move the ball forward in any way, and
(3) is quick enough that you can do it multiple times a day without realizing - but, nonetheless, puts us at ease.
The first step for reducing Insecurity Work is self-awareness. Recognize what you do in your everyday life that is, in fact, insecurity work. The second step is to establish some guidelines and rituals for yourself that provide more discipline. Perhaps you'll try restricting all Insecurity Work to a specified 30 minute every day? The third step, if applicable to you, is to delegate the task of checking on this data to a less insecure colleague who can review the data periodically and report any concerns.
Scott Belsky studies exceptionally productive people and teams in the creative world. He is the Founder and CEO of Behance, oversees The 99% think tank, and is the author of Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision & Reality (Portfolio, April 2010).
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