Friday, 20 July 2012

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

 Recently a friend asked how to choose just one thing to work on when you've so many ideas jostling in your head for attention. That's a good question (plus how wonderful is it to have so many great ideas flooding your mind!). This is one of the things we all hope for -- lots of inspiration -- but getting deep into one of those ideas means letting the others sit. How to do this?

First of all, each person's way of deciding which project to go deeper into is as individual as the person. What will work for one person may not work for another; and what works one time may not work on another day. So
recognising that this is trial and error or rotation of techniques helps. Here are a few suggestions of what I use.

Clearing and focusing the mind is a very helpful technique. I recommend starting each creative session with this. When I don't, it seems like it takes me a long time to settle in and get to work. Utilizing meditation type techniques to clear and focus the mind is helpful to be able to choose what to work on as well. In my workshops I instruct the participants in techniques such as 'getting your
colour' in your mind's eye and a deep breathing ritual along with set objectives to focus on.  Along with those techniques, I often use listening to a particular piece of music (my two favorites are either Pachelbel's Canon in D or Bach's Prelude to Cello Suite) while breathing deeply and centering my mind, sitting quietly with either my eyes closed or looking out my workroom window at the beautiful surrounding fields (if you don't have great scenery, a photo of a favourite place might suffice). These techniques to quiet the buzzing inside can assist in deciding what to work on first.

Now you've cleared your mind, but how to decide? Decision making can be difficult sometimes. Often as creative people, we want to do it all. When the ideas are coming at you fast and furious and you need to settle on one item and get started, it seems a bit overwhelming and frustrating. How to choose just one?

First of all, you don't have to choose just one forever; you just have to choose one at that moment to work on. That is why list making and keeping a journal is so important. I know that in 'The Artist's Way' Julia Cameron recommends not going back and reading your journal but I found that wasn't very helpful. When doing the morning pages, ideas would bubble up and I would write them into my journaling. If I had time, I'd copy them immediately into my separate 'ideas book' but most often I had to move on to doing things and would have to come back later to the journal. To make it easy to find the ideas, I started drawing little light bulbs beside what I'd written as an idea so I could easily flip through the journal and find those spots without getting distracted into reading what I'd been journaling about. That way, the flow of writing and ideas bubbling up kept moving and they weren't lost in the idea ether. We all know that feeling--'I had a great idea but what was it as I didn’t write it down and now it's lost!' This way, you've had the idea and you've saved it.

So, if you are having one brainstorm of ideas after another, jot them down! Allow that brainstorming time as part of the process of your creativity. Sometimes what we need is that filling the idea reservoir so go with it. Also, quite often while writing one thing, ideas for another project will pop up. Since I do most of my 'real' writing on the computer, I keep an idea file in my writings folder and type them into that as well. You can have two Word Documents open at a time (just be sure to pay attention as to which file you are writing into I say from experience! At least it's easy enough to copy and paste.). When stuck for ideas (as it does happen sometimes) I can go back to the little seeds stash and see if they can be planted to grow. When I'm sewing or painting, I keep a notepad and pen handy because ideas for poems and snippets of other writings come to me at those times and I can quickly jot them down. Keeping an idea notebook with me at all times is helpful too.

So, you've done your idea jotting, you've done your mind centring, how to decided which thing to start with? Prioritizing is a whole subject in itself! But I'll discuss a couple of things here. If you've got a schedule made up and there are deadlines for certain things, then follow the deadline. Doing what needs to be done first in accordance with the calendar eliminates that little dilemma. If you don't have a schedule or haven't prioritized your project ideas, that may be a place to start.

If there is no deadline and you've got your list, randomly pick three items/ideas (keeping the choices small helps, but if you must, put them all in the pot). Write each separately on a Post-It note or small piece of paper and place them in front of you or into a bowl, hat, whatever. Close your eyes and pick one. Yep, I just told you to randomly pick one. The important thing is to gauge the gut reaction to the one you picked. If you picked 'painting the picture of the house' and your reaction was, 'gee, I'd really rather work on the painting of the cat,' then there is your answer--you really want to paint the picture of the cat first. Sometimes by being pushed in one direction we feel a sense of really wanting to go another. Listen to that intuitive creative pull within. Yep, it can be that simple. If your gut reaction to what you pick is very positive, then you’ve chosen what you’re being pulled to do at that time. Don't think about the other things in the pot--get up and get to work on that idea! They'll be there for a later date.

An organizing expert suggested to people asking where to start in cleaning a really messy room to 'Walk in the door, turn to your right, start cleaning and work your way around the room.' Sometimes it's that simple. We have a tendency to over think about things, building them up into much more complicated processes than they really are. When thinking gets in the way of doing, it's time to snap ourselves out of the thought trap and get to work.

Hope this helps to set you in the direction of deciding and doing!


  1. Great advice Mary!
    I like that idea of - you don't have to choose one forever, just for the moment - that's what I need to tell myself!
    What I do is mark notes with a highlighter to label them - I like your idea of the light-bulb!
    Yes, that gut feeling works too totally. That's what I usually do then - decide on one, and if it's a lukewarm reaction, it steers me in the direction I really want to go.
    Here's to more doing - less thinking!

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Siobhan!