Today Gabe is wearing a green jacket, khaki pants, and brown shoes.
Ever since I posted my piece last week on “flow” and writer’s block, I’ve had another idea on my mind. It first popped into my head because of a comment left by Alex Marie [who blogs about desserts and funny things at A Bowl Of Sour Cherries]. She asked about having kind of the opposite problem: what do you do when you’re working on one thing but your mind is on something completely different? How do you handle two ideas at once?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because it’s a hard problem to solve, even though it comes up all the time.
It’s happens when you’re trying to finish a project for work, say, but the whole time your mind keeps coming up with great ideas for a new blog post. Or when you’ve just settled in to write the next chapter of your book, and all you can think of is everyone you need to email details about that one thing that’s coming up.
It’s hard to know what to do because in every case you have to determine whether it’s better to drop the task you’re doing in favor of the one you’re thinking about, or if you should complete one task before moving on to another. Not every idea is worth dropping your current task for, because sometimes it’s just distraction. But sometimes it’s a great idea you’ve just got to pursue before you lose it.
In other words: is this inspiration or procrastination?
In order to tell the difference and use your time and energy wisely, it’s important to be able to evaluate ideas efficiently (“efficiently” being the operative word because thinking about which idea you should be working on is a form of procrastination in itself). The metrics I use when I have two ideas competing for attention in my head are:
Time. Which of these ideas needs to be completed first? Does either of them have a deadline?
This one can sometimes be the only thing you need to consider. If something has an approaching deadline, it (usually) gets priority.
Value. Where can I add the most value right now? Which of these is the best use of my energy?
Ask yourself, “Which of these projects will have the biggest impact once completed?” This means sending invoices, even though it’s boring, before starting the new unpaid project you have a bunch great ideas for, because getting paid is important.
Energy. What’s the best use of my energy right now?
If completing one task will deplete your energy to do the other, think about which one is a better use of that energy right now.
The point of creating these metrics is to take your own feelings out of the equation. Because having a great idea that feels like it’s drawing you away from what you should be doing is a hard feeling, and debating how best to spend your time can quickly become a fraught, stressful situation. So instead of leaving it up to your already conflicted mind once you’re in that situation, try making it mathematical and using simple metrics to determine the best use of your time.
How do you handle having too many ideas at once?
PS. On a multi-tasking note, I just had a piece published on the very awesome blog The Billfold. Check it out here, won’t you?