Writer’s Advice: Too Many Ideas To Finish?

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

At Fanime someone asked me a simple question:

“What do I do when I have too many ideas and can’t finish any.”

I’m sure you can relate.  We’ve all been there.  Some of us may have overcome it – and as I did I wanted to share what I’ve found.

  1. List out your creative projects.  Only do the ones you’d really want to do.  I keep a separate Incubator for “maybes.”
  2. Force-rank them in order of value – nothing can be of equal importance – only one is #1, only one is #2, and so on.  Value of course depends on you to determine.
  3. Take the top project and get it done.  Do it until you’re finished.  And yes, realizing that you’re going to focus on one thing might make you rethink value and revise the last stage.
  4. Once you’ve gotten one thing done, then you might consider juggling multiple projects at once.  If you’re still getting your priorities in order, don’t do more than two at a time.
  5. No matter how many you do, always keep their priority in mind.  When time gets tight, when things go wrong, you’ll know what to focus on.
  6. Eventually you’ll figure out how much you can handle and still get things done.  I myself usually have about 4-5 projects at any one time, but they’re of various complexities and timeframes.  Usually one Real Big One, a few midrange ones, and one or two short range (one month) ones.

This method is a simple way to keep focused, get things done, and learn your capacity for work and how to stay on top of it.

So why does it work?

First, it requires you to ask what you want to do.  You find what you care about.

Secondly, it requires you to think about value.  That requires you not only to evaluate the value of something but ask just what is value to you.  If you’re just starting out getting in order maybe it’s just something you can finish easily.  Later it may be something that makes a profit or teaches you a skill.

Third, it makes you prioritize.  This helps you further think about value and focus your efforts.

Fourth, it helps you get something done.  The experience of completion, even if the work is small or flawed or simple, teaches you a lot about productivity, completion, and what you want.

Fifth, you feel good as you got something done.  That feeling of achievement will help you stay directed and encouraged.

Of course this comes from my work in Agile.  It’s all about value, ranking, adaptability, and learning – without being overcomplicated.

Give it a try and let me know how it works!

– Steve