Day 3: Give yourself a space to explore all your ideas

Every idea is worth exploring

I feel most alive during a brainstorming session, one where it’s all about the potential of a concept and anything is possible. I feel most alive when planning out an event, a website, a conference, a product, or whatever else strikes me as exciting. Playing around with an idea and imagining just how far I could take it is the fun part. Making the idea actually happen after the initial excitement has died down is where I struggle.

I used to think that was a problem because I was always talking about starting something but after a while I would stop because I wouldn't have time or because I simply lost interest. One day, I came across Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher, and it introduced me to the concept of scanners and an indispensable tool for scanners: the scanner daybook.

A scanner is a very special kind of thinker. Unlike those people who seem to find and be satisfied with one area of interest, you’re genetically wired to be interested in many, often unrelated things.

I realized that I didn’t need to follow through on every idea that excited me; the joy of invention was enough, and I could always start something later if I wanted. Barbara Sher uses the honeybee as an analogy for a scanner: the honeybee moves from flower to flower collecting nectar. It stays just long enough to get what it came for and the duration it stays at each flower varies. Similarly, Barbara Sher encourages scanners to stop doing an activity once it becomes unfulfilling because, at that point, the scanner has gotten what he came for and should move on.

The scanner daybook is a journal where scanners can collect all their ideas. It gives a scanner the freedom to play and invent without the pressure to produce. You could, of course, but the scanner daybook is really a place to exercise your imagination.

Scanner daybook cover, watercolor, January 27, 2014

My scanner daybook is an unlined moleskin journal that I call my idea book. I number the pages inside, starting three pages in. The first three pages are left blank for the table of contents so that every time I write a new entry, I can add a new line to the table of contents with a short description of the idea and the page it starts on.

Each daybook entry should be given two pages and start on the left side of the page with a date and brief description of the entry.

My first entry was inspired by my experience going through sorority recruitment. The entry included a description and visuals for a mobile app that would make it easier for sororities to decide on new members.

This wasn’t an app that I ever expected to develop or suggest to anyone. It was just a great way to get idea out of my system so I could focus on the things I really need to get done.

The daybook gave me control over the amount of ideas I’m excited about at any given time. I could write down and plan out a project or initiative just as though I would act on it, but knowing it would be at my own leisure. The itching feeling to get started on something right away loses its grip on me once I start writing.

How can a daybook help you cut down on commitments?

I used to think every idea I had was a commitment I had to take on immediately. Because of this, my to-do lists usually had 10-15 projects going on at a time.

For example, my project list up until today had 12 projects on it, many of them unstarted. Every time I looked at my list, I felt a sense of panic because I would be reminded of all these great ideas of mine that were being neglected somehow.

Now, I can tuck them away in the blank pages of my daybook and remove them from my to-do list. When I can seriously start a new project, I’ll move it back.

Recording all projects that I hadn’t started yet in my daybook allowed me to cut my project list down to five items, but that was still unrealistic. I only planned to work on two projects this month, so I picked the two projects that I was most excited about and moved the rest from ‘active’ to ‘on-deck.’

Tasks

  1. Start writing down the things that inspire you in an unlined journal. Next time a new idea strikes you, instead of starting it immediately, write it down and ruminate on it
  2. Mark every project that you’ve already started but don’t plan to work on immediately as ‘on-deck’
  3. Mark the top 2-3 projects that you’d like to work on this month as ‘active.’ The idea is to limit yourself to three items to help deal with task overload

What’s Next

  1. Determine the three most important things you want to get done first thing in the morning and make these part of your morning routine
  2. Get stuff done using a productivity jumpstarter
  3. Track how you spend your time, including time online