Psychology

How Do I Cope with "Idea Overflow"?

Tessa Miller , Gawker Media

How Do I Cope with Write down your ideas, forget about them, and put your nose to the grindstone. It's possible to stifle an overactive mind. The personal productivity experts at Stack Exchange offer tips on getting stuff done.

How do I cope with "idea overflow"? My constant stream of new ideas is preventing me from realizing old ones. Specifically, I recently started two big projects. I started from scratch and had to learn a lot to be able to realize them. The problem is, the more I learn, the more new ideas I get and, and the harder it becomes to focus.

It's not just a question of distraction. Sometimes the new ideas improve the old ones. But then before I realize an improvement, a new idea comes to mind.I've tried the "Lean Method," but the problem is that implementation is always too slow. New ideas arise and slow the progress of my project. I've also tried not to start on anything new before finishing old tasks. This, too, hasn't worked.

Any suggestions on how to cope with this "idea overflow"?

See the original question here.

Go Agile (Answered by Guber)

Agile methodologies (such as Scrum) recognize that we cannot know what will happen in the future, and accomodate for this fact by allowing users to periodically review their backlog of things to do. Whenever you come up with a new idea-great, add it to your backlog. Then pick it up for implementation at the next review if you think it's an idea that's good enough. That means something else may have to go.

Generally, you should never select a task and stick to it indefinitely, because the world and your insights change rapidly. Having many ideas is essentially a good thing, provided you record them in your backlog and don't let them overwhelm you by keeping them in your mind.

If you believe that you've found something much better to work with, regard the job you've already done on an obsolete task as a sunk cost. The key thing is to try to assess the net present value of each option, and go for the highest one.

Scrum (Answered by superM)

As Gruber said in his answer, Agile methodologies will suite well for you. If you decide to adopt Scrum for yourself, the key thing to remember is that no planning should be done during an iteration. This means that at the beginning of an iteration you'll plan what you'll be doing for the next two or thre weeks (the iteration length can be adjusted to your needs, but usually 2-3 weeks works best), and then you shouldn't change any of your tasks, which includes not implementing anything new that wasn't planned beforehand.

Once an idea comes to you, write it down somewhere and try to forget about it. The idea might seem brilliant at the moment (or at least better than your current task), but it might not seem so good some time later. Give your ideas time to settle, then come back to them and try to assess them again with a fresh look (probably at the beginning of an iteration when you need to plan the next few weeks).

From my own experience, I worked in a small software company which suffered a lot because of such "idea overflow." We had new tasks before we had completed the previous ones, so eventually nothing was getting done. We had a bunch of incomplete stuff that wasn't working properly. But after we adopted Scrum and followed the key rule (which in our case was the same as I recommend to you: don't change the plans during an iteration), the situation improved significantly and we were surprised at how much we managed to accomplish.

And one more thing that I think could be helpful. Always assume that your new idea is a bad one. Don't rush to implement it, take your time. This combined with Scrum could really work for you.

Idea Overflow or Idea Processing Bottleneck? (Answered by Pierre-Yves Genot)

Your mind is a great place to have ideas, not to store them (as said by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done). I suggest you write those ideas down in a place you trust. And then move on. Build into your routine a time to review those ideas (weekly? monthly? quarterly?). A trusting place can be a notebook, a private blog, a computer. It is better to stick to fewer places and simple tools.

The faster an idea is out, the faster you can resume what you were doing before the interruption. Putting ideas in writing will also give you the opportunity to take some distance, to "sleep on it." You will maybe discover relation between ideas, uncover patterns, and build specific expertise.

Disagree with the answers above? Have your own expertise to contribute? Check out the original question, and see more questions like this at Personal Productivity Stack Exchange, a question and answer site for people who want to improve their personal productivity. If you've got your own productivity problem that requires a solution, ask a question. You'll get an answer. (And it's free.)

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