You know you have great ideas. And you want to share them. However, they seem to be locked away in a small, dark room in your mind.
Sometimes you remember how to reopen this room that holds your ideas. Often, it’s by accident, and you forget to bring your map to mark the way back for later reference.
In front of you, may sit a block of time. Somehow, you have managed to tetris some white space into your calendar. Somehow, the moving parts of your life have aligned to give you this block. It might be thirty minutes, it might be a day.
However long it is, the frustration of sitting in front of a blank page is very real.
what’s happening here?
It’s a common, but easily fixed problem. The brain is a great incubator from which to hatch ideas. But is a terrible place to store and access them. This is addressed in more detail in David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
With these limitations of the brain in mind, you may sit down in front of a blank page and wish “If only there was some way I could cure this writer’s block”. The thing is, you don’t have writer’s block; if you wanted to write your name over and over again to fill the page, you could do that. What you have is not “writer’s block”, it’s “idea lock.”
Your ideas are locked in a secret chamber in your mind and you can’t remember how to get back there. With your ideas locked away in a chamber you can’t easily access, they may as well be in someone else’s head.
ok, my ideas are locked away. What do I do?
The problem has an easy fix: have an idea pile. This is a place where you can easily and quickly store all of your ideas as they come to you.
It’s important that this place allows you to store every random idea that comes into your mind without judgment. This is because it’s important to separate the different thinking processes, e.g. ideation and refinement.
idea pile vs parking lot
Note, I am deliberately calling it an idea pile rather than a parking lot. When I say “parking lot”, I am wary that people might want to neatly park the ideas in their “right” places. This increases friction and is unnecessary at this stage.
Instead of aspiring to neatly organise ideas, go on a creative wander, pick up inspiring things and put them in your bag without worrying what you will use them for (that comes later).
how to make an idea pile
To make this concrete, the “pile” I am referring to should ideally have the following characteristics:
- carried with you everywhere (e.g. on a note taking app on your smartphone)
- you should be able to store and save your idea in no more than 3 taps
For example, my note taking app is on my homescreen. One tap to open, I store my idea in 1-3 sentences and then switch focus to something else. The file autosaves.
You want the act of storing ideas to be as friction free as taking a picture with your smartphone.
This is a simple practice that will make it more likely that, when you sit down to write, your ideas are more easily accessible to you. No more blank pages.
If you’re having trouble understanding where to start, or making this into a regular practice, check out the Habitlings Course. I have experience taking people through this exact process with inspiring results!
After you have collected your ideas into a pile, follow up with a regular process where you review, sort and perhaps refine those ideas. Doing this weekly might be a good frequency to start with. I use my weekly review practice to help consolidate all the ideas I have collected
bonus: Zeigarnik effect
Is overcoming idea lock not enough of an incentive for you? Allow me to introduce the Zygernik effect. I’ll go into this in more detail in another post. However, for now, I will say that attempting to hold ideas in your head takes up mental resources. Dumping them somewhere gives your brain permission to work on other problems and solutions.
So not only can having an idea pile for your new ideas make them more accessible in the future, it can provide room for more ideas to emerge. And now you have the beginnings of a system to better manage and access your ideas. Whereas you used to stare at your blank page in frustration, you can now look at your blank page as an opportunity to say “Hell yeah!”
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