2 Simple Ways to Keep your Ideas on Track

This is the third post in a series about the power of small ideas. In the first, we talked about why it's important to realize that small ideas can have as much or more impact than big ideas. In the second, we looked into how to re-envision your projects as a series of complete, smaller ideas making them easier to launch and manage. In this article, we discussed 2 ways to stay aware of our projects' progress and keep them on track. Finally, I brought in a real example of small ideas at work with a recent project at Tumble Design.

Many assume the advantage small ideas have is that they are less complex, less ambitious and therefore less work.

I completely disagree. I think that smaller ideas are able to be more complex because each individual piece gets full attention while being developed, launches and then is, over time, folded into other related ideas.

What, then, is the fundamental advantage of smaller ideas?

Increased awareness.

The point at which any project begins slipping out of control is when you lose awareness of where it stands, where it's going, what needs work and what's working great. Not having a firm grasp on the state of your work quietly chips away at your confidence in it. You put off launching because you're not quite sure if it's ready and that soon becomes the habit.

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The key advantage of small ideas is that they are much easier to poke at, walk around and survey. The smaller the idea, the more likely it is that you can have a complete mental picture of it in your head to explore. You can identify problems and solve them, building confidence instead of only vaguely having a sense of areas that are on shaky ground.

Even so, small ideas can get out of control quickly if one isn't consciously keeping tabs on how things are progressing. The past several months I've been developing two habits that make staying aware of my projects, and therefore launching my projects, dramatically easier.

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Write everyday

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I like to spend time every morning dumping out the contents of my brain in writing and playing around with them. Of course, my projects always come up.

In order to keep my work free-flowing, I don't let this time become one for critical evaluations.  Instead it's a time to get a feel for where things are, observe their direction and, most of all, to be curious. A time for questions, but not for answers unless they offer themselves.

What results are natural, fine adjustments that nudge my direction, keeping it in-line as unexpected circumstances in life pelt away at me. This gentle nudging has been invaluable and getting in the habit of writing everyday has probably been one of the most positive decisions I’ve ever made.

If you are working on projects you care about, there is simply no reason to go another day without reflecting on it in words and examining it from new perspectives.

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Critically evaluate often - but not too often

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Over time, our focus and excitement on a project deteriorates and we lose awareness of our work. It's simply entropy; it's natural.

Pushing through these times means taking a hard look at a project and evaluating where it is and more importantly its direction. This is a time for questions and answers. This is a time for pulling triggers. You have to add new fuel to the fire or scrap it all together.

Frequency is important here. You can’t do this everyday because there’s just not enough data to make wise decisions and being constantly critical of yourself dramatically undermines your ability to create. But waiting too long means losing control outright, potentially wasting time and getting too attached to a project so that you can’t cut ties if necessary.

When I start a project, I set a Google Event for 2 weeks down the line. No matter how huge the ultimate idea, I can always find a Project Ring that will take no longer than 2 weeks to completely finish. And if it isn’t finished in 2 weeks, then it is really important to step in and figure out why.

Doing so usually means pulling out a notepad and going through questions like these:

  • Why hasn't this project launched?
  • If I launched right now, would it be useful to anyone?
  • If not, what's the simplest thing that can be added to make it useful?
  • What can I strip out, whether it exists already or still needs to be added?
  • What's adding the most weight to this project and why is it important?
  • What aspects am I least comfortable about? Do I know anyone skilled in those areas that can help?
  • Is there a group I can test this on before launching for real?
  • Is this worth investing another 2 weeks into?
  • If not, am I willing to move on to a project that will launch?
  • If I'm willing to scrap this project, why not just launch it and let it sink or fly as is?
  • If this succeeded, would I want the responsibility that comes with that success?

The key is to shake things the eff up so that by the end of it, you have made real decisions that you can feel. Decisions that will, with no uncertainty, define your direction for a certain amount of time going forward. Either you'll launch and be dealing with those issues for the next week or two or you'll give yourself another 5-10 days to pull the project together before another evaluation.

Give yourself space every other day so that when it's time to evaluate, you mean business.

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Awareness is quite simply the most important ingredient to a project your excited to work on and that meets an end your satisfied with. Small ideas are innately easier to keep in sync with and therefore primed for success from the start.

Now, leverage that even further by reflecting on your thoughts and work everyday in writing and taking the time at specified intervals to critically evaluate where each of your projects stand. Your future users, readers or customers will thank you for it!

Don't just read, take action!

  • If you don't write daily, open up a NotePad or TextMate and write 20 words about what's on your mind. The tomorrow: 40, the next day: 60 and so on. Once you're in the habit of taking that time daily, set a word limit that works for you to hit everyday.
  • Keep a Google Doc of probing questions to ask yourself during evaluations and share your best here in the comments.
  • If you're already working on something, clearly define a small checkpoint to hit and give yourself 1 week before you evaluate how well you've hit that mark.
  • If you've got a project you want to work on, reduce it to its smallest form and give yourself 2 weeks to finish it completely. Set a Google Event with an alert to be sure you evaluate where you stand when the time comes.

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