5 Steps To Deal With Too Many Ideas

Once upon a time, I suffered from Too Many Ideas Syndrome. I had no idea what to do with all my ideas because they all seemed simultaneously fantastic and not-quite-right. And I hear from creatives, entrepreneurs, and other generally-rebellious types all the time that having too many ideas is one of the biggest problems that keeps them stuck — they have no clue which one to choose, how to move forward if they do actually choose one idea, and mourn the loss of all the other amazingness that they’ll have to “ignore” if they pick one thing.

Stop being the victim of all your ideas

Saying that having too many ideas is a problem is a bit like saying, “I’m too smart. I’m too creative. I’m suffering under my own geniusness,” and that, my friend, is bullshit. Believing that something creative and innovative and exciting that comes from inside of you is “bad” or a “problem” is not the way to foster a healthy relationship with the Creative Mojo Gods and could make you start to resent your own head (please don’t resent any parts of you).

Instead, be grateful for every idea you have. Maintain a healthy curiosity about all the insane things that your brain dreams up. Curiosity is not the same as obsession or infatuation. If you’re just curious, it’s pretty hard to become overwhelmed because you’re not attaching stories or results or grand life visions to your ideas; you’re just acknowledging their existence with respect and interest.

Have a system for dealing with your ideas

Now that you’re not frustrated with all your ideas, you need a way to handle them. Not having a system for all your ideas is a bit like trying to drink all the water that’s seeping in through the holes of your boat. The water (ideas) just keeps coming, and out of desperation you try to swallow it all, rather than handling it in some way (buckets, anyone?). Rarely can you keep up, and you’re drowning while trying to save yourself, with no end in sight (well this analogy went grim quickly).

Buckets are actually the way I suggest you manage your ideas. My first coach was a fan of the “mason jar on the counter” method, but you can use a journal, an email draft, a note in Evernote, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Write down every idea you have!

When you get the ideas out of your head, your brain will naturally chill and stop bringing them up over and over in an attempt to make sure you don’t forget them (this is why I’m a fan of writing EVERYTHING down, not just ideas). It also makes it easier to come back and evaluate your ideas later — to find inspiration or pool some bits and pieces together to make an even better idea. No matter how disparate they may seem, all your ideas are related on some deeper level because THEY ALL COME FROM YOU, so having them in one place makes it easier to find connections between them.

But to this point, you still have the issue of too many ideas and no clue which one to go with… time to fix that… but first, a side note:

Why it’s hard to pick one idea

When I was trying (or “trying”) to quit my corporate job, I cannot tell you how many ideas I debated. It took me years to realize that the biggest thing that held me back was not knowing what I wanted. But rather than focus my time and energy on gaining personal clarity, I kept absorbing new material, investigating new ideas, dabbling in one thing or another until the next shiny object came up.

The problem with ideas is that, typically, they’re most shiny when we first get them. As we play with them, they dull and become less appealing, less exciting, easier to give up on. And then the next idea comes along, and it’s all shiny and pretty and full of promise, so we set down the now-toyed-with-but-never-implemented idea in favor of the new one. Here’s the truth though: until you hold one idea long enough to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING WITH IT, you’re just going to wind up with a pile of meh ideas that have materialized into NOTHING.

How to narrow down your ideas

First off, acknowledge that not every good idea is a good idea for you. This goes back to the detachment I was talking about earlier. Don’t be married to your ideas as if they’re parts of yourself. Just because you don’t choose to go through on an idea doesn’t mean you’ve “lost” something. Wrapping your head around this concept will ease the “oh my gosh, how am I ever going to do all of this?” pressure.

Second, acknowledge that now is not the right time for every idea. Being ok with this means you’re freed from the “I HAVE TO PICK THE PERFECT IDEA RIGHT NOW!” pressure. Nonsense! You have to pick one and run with it, and then evaluate at a pre-determined time to decide if you should continue running with it.

The 5 step filter to narrow down your ideas

Now, here’s the filter to run your ideas through… IN THIS ORDER. If an idea doesn’t pass through one layer of the filter, the subsequent layers do.not.matter.

Let me reiterate: I DON’T CARE IF THE IDEA PASSES STEP 5 IF IT FAILED STEP 2. Got it? Here we go.

  1. Have I considered this idea for at least a week? (Caveat: this applies to BIG ideas, like new business directions, knowing if you’re ready to get married, things of that caliber. If it’s an idea that you think could be implemented fairly quickly, then don’t dilly-dally on running through the rest of the filter. The point is to determine if you’re still as excited about it a week later as you were when the idea first struck.)
  2. Does this idea align with my life’s vision (or your business’s vision… though I’d argue those things better be pretty closely related)?
  3. Do I possess the natural talents to bring this idea to life? (Not, “do I know every single thing I need to know to make this happen?” or “could I implement every facet of this idea without needing outside help?” But if it ain’t in your zone of genius, pass the idea along to someone else!)
  4. Does this idea contribute to my goals and priorities for {specific time frame… maybe this year or this quarter}?
  5. Will this idea dilute or strengthen the results of what I’m working on right now? (no “getting pulled in too many directions” for you… medieval torture is sooo 10th century)

This filter will take care of the bulk of your ideas, with only a couple ideas successfully making it through all 5 steps. If an idea passes through only the first 3 steps, save it for later. This may just not be the right time. If the idea fails at Step 2 or 3, let.it.go. Don’t torture yourself by keeping some lingering infatuation with your idea (this is about as dangerous as not letting go of exes… no bueno). Trust that the right idea will come along and will be waaaaay better than forcing something that’s not really right for you.

Moving Forward From Here

Want help actually implementing this process for yourself? Sign up here for the (free) Idea Funnel Challenge so that your overwhelmed-with-all-your-ideas, bouncing-around-all-over, scattered-in-a-million-directions days become a thing of the past.