When I asked some of my readers what their greatest challenge was, one theme came up multiple times.
You have ideas. Lots of them. But they don’t translate into results or reality.
Up until 2013, I was in the same place. I wanted to write a book, but couldn’t seem to do it, despite blogging regularly. But, through a series of simple shifts, my creative output skyrocketed, and my results did as well.
If you’re stuck in a place where you have ideas that never turn into results, this is for you.
1. Stop Setting Outcome-Based Goals
Setting outcome-based goals is the first mistake people make when trying to turn their ideas into results. You can’t control outcomes. But you can control your effort.
- You can’t control how many people read your writing, but you can control how many words you write.
- You can’t control how many people listen to your podcast, but you can control how frequently you publish.
- You can’t control how many people will buy your product, but you can control how many of them you pitch.
For years, I had the goal of getting a book deal with a publisher. But when I shifted from that outcome to the process of writing 1000 words a day, everything changed. If you focus on the process instead of the prize, the outcome might end up exceeding your expectations.
Outcomes are what the authors of The Four Disciplines of Execution (franklincovey.com) call “lagging indicators”. You can’t directly influence them. Your actions are leading indicators because you control them.
2. Set Clear Goals
A clear goal is completely objective. You should be able to say “Yes, I did that.” Or “No, I didn’t.”
One of the easiest ways to amplify the clarity of a goal is to put a number in front of it. It could be a set period of time, a word count, or whatever metric you choose. But make sure it’s something you can control.
Clear goals are also a flow trigger. They increase your productivity, lead to higher levels of performance and make the creative process much more enjoyable.
3. Apply Consistent Effort Instead of Intense Effort
Intensity isn’t sustainable over an extended period of time. But there’s a profound power to consistency. When you do something consistently over an extended period of time, you accelerate your progress.
But doing something consistently and obsessively measuring your results is a bit like planting a seed in the ground, and pulling it up every day to see if it’s growing properly. You can plant more seeds and water the ones you’ve planted. Or you can keep pulling up the roots, which forces you to start all over again.
Two ways to create consistency:
- Break Things Into Small Parts. You can’t have the idea to build the Empire State Building and open the doors tomorrow. By breaking every project up into small manageable parts, you’re able to get started. Instead of “how the hell am I going to do this”, focus on what you can do today.
- Test your ideas in low stakes environments. I have to credit Peter Sims book Little Bets, for this idea. Chris Rock goes to open mic nights and tests all his material. Some of it bombs. But by the time he hits the stage on a national tour, he knows what works. If you paid 100 bucks to see him and he wasn’t funny, you’d be pissed. But if you went to an open mic night, you’d say “Wow, Chris Rock is here.”
Testing your ideas in low-stakes environments mitigates all the inner bullshit like resistance, fear, and doubt.
4. Set Aside Uninterrupted Creation Time
Be ruthless with yourself. Download a tool like Rescuetime Premium and analyze how much time you’re spending on sources of distraction.
One reason we hesitate to audit how we spend our time is that we can’t bear the truth. Day to day, amid the gravitational force of operations and the desire to please others and immediately gratify ourselves, we spend time in ways we are likely to regret by the end of the week. Reconsidering your schedule can be a rude awakening, but it’s the only way to plan better next week. — Scott Belsky, The Messy Middle
Unless you know how you’re spending your time, it’s hard to know how you’re wasting it.
If you can’t manage your attention, the best intentions won’t make a difference.
If you’re trying to create value with your brain, one of the worst things you could do, and we know this from psychology research, is context switch all the time. — Cal Newport
Using willpower to avoid distraction doesn’t work. You need to change your defaults by designing a distraction-free environment.
- Leave your phone out of the room and keep it in airplane mode.
- Block all sources of distraction (i.e. websites, Facebook, email).
- Work in full-screen mode.
- Use distraction free tools.
Transforming ideas into results requires long stretches of uninterrupted concentration and deep work. Look at some of the most prolific and successful creatives. They don’t use social media very much, if at all, and they’re often hard to reach.
As a society we’re overstimulated. Between email, websites, text messages and social media newsfeeds, our lives have become noisy. Solitude is an important part of the creative process. By spending time alone, we turn down the volume of the world around us and turn up the volume of the world within us. And this is where creative expression begins.
6. Consume Less. Consume Deliberately.
Most people click on whatever rolls through their newsfeed and mindlessly scroll through websites like Medium. Not only is this terrible for your creativity, but it’s also inefficient.
A few days ago, I realized that my Medium feed was so cluttered that I couldn’t parse the signal from the noise. I was an early user of the platform so I’ve followed a ton of publications.
But there are only a handful of people whose content I want to read. So I made a list of writers whose work I wanted to read and book-marked their profiles. This way I avoid mindlessly scrolling through the pages on the site.
7. Start by Working on One Project
The curse of being a creative is that you have so many ideas you get pulled in multiple directions. When you’re pulled in so many directions you take lots of steps, but end up going nowhere. That’s why you work on just one project at a time.
Narrowing your project list:
- Make a list of all of your creative projects or ideas.
- Eliminate the ones that don’t excite you.
- Work on the ONE that’s left until you build momentum.
If you can’t commit to just one, then choose different days of the week for each project. For example, I know that I need to write articles, record podcasts, produce animated shorts and plan a conference. I dedicate 3 days a week to recording podcasts and I use the other days to work on all my other projects.
However, if you’re struggling to make progress on any of them, I recommend you stick to one idea.
Translating ideas into results takes commitment and consistency. You can’t just work on your ideas when you’re inspired. If you’re serious about bringing your ideas to life, create on a schedule. Like anything else, it’s a skill that you can develop. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage
I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.