Pick one idea and stick to it

#27. Learning to control my ‘pond-skater’ mind

When I sit down to write this blog each day, I have noticed a pattern that repeats itself.

I will sit down and ask myself “what do I want to write about?”. An idea will enter my head so I’ll start brainstorming. As I do so the idea for another blog post enters my head. I ‘temporarily’ abandon the initial idea and follow the new line of thought to see if it yields an interesting new idea. However, it is here that a third idea often enters my mind…

Eventually I become aware of my time/attention limit, pick one of the above topics and write a post I feel adequate to share in order to meet my commitment of sharing every day.

The problem is that by jumping from one idea to another, I never let myself get deep enough into an idea to make real progress. I feel like a pond skater, never quite getting below the surface. The result is that I produce a lot of superficial blog posts which I don’t feel contribute that much. This article I wrote is a prime example — it carries no actual value.

see pond skater above

When I started this 30 day writing challenge, I decided that quantity was primary aim and quality was secondary. However, producing a large quantity of superficial (read: useless) work is ultimately pointless — particularly in the field of knowledge work.

However, when I look at other parts of my life, on a more macro scale, I notice similar patterns. I find it easy to brainstorm solutions to problems and come up with a lot of ideas. I find it much more difficult to follow through on them enough to create something meaningful. The result is a long list of project or blog ideas without much actual work produced.

It has been stressed (by Peter Thiel or Gary Vaynerchuk?) that an idea is only 1%, the execution is the other 99%. As I sit by my computer, with a list of 50+ great blog ideas which I’ve never got round to writing, I can’t help but agree.

But even as I write this post, I feel an urge to call it a day — to share what I’ve written so far and move on to something new. The next logical step, which is to think of a solution to this problem, feels like too much of a cognitive strain — my brain wants to take the path of least resistance. But if I want to produce deep, meaningful work, I can’t let it.

So how can I increase my ability to go deep? I am going to try an experiment. For the remainder of this 30 day challenge, I will give myself 3 minutes to decide on a topic for the post. Once the 3 minutes are up, I will commit to writing an article on that topic.

I expect this will be difficult at first, but it will force my brain to obey me and to think deeply on just one subject. I hope it will lead to a better standard of work.

With regards to projects, I will continue to apply Warren Buffet’s principle that I previously wrote about.