Inspiration vs. procrastination

24 zipped up 1   24 zipped up 2

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?

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17 comments

  1. Cindy

    I have this problem all the time. Worst is I can’t sleep because ideas are going through my head. I’ve begun writing them down so at least I can move on and not worry about forgetting that great idea.

    • Kate Stull

      Making a quick note of your ideas as they come up is such a good technique. I almost always have a running Google doc specifically for writing things down that I can’t pursue them right when I think of them. That way you know you won’t forget it but you can move on! Excellent point – thanks for sharing!

  2. bensbitterblog

    Spot on as usual. I am always having these conflicting feelings at work and I know that I have to prioritze so that I don’t feel frazzled all the time. Thanks for helping me with some “metrics”. Or as I shall call them, “Matrix”.

  3. amalijabruvere

    This is so funny. He’s wearing the same clothes every day, and that hooked me. In this case it’s more interesting than super-duper stylish fashionista or smth. Cool idea.
    I also love the design of your blog.

  4. thejollyrogerrr

    Great idea for a blog post, as it’s sort of the unmentioned kind of writer’s block. I often need to make some kind of visual (like a list) to break down my priorities or I get so overwhelmed that I just want to stop everything I’m doing and grab a beer. Another trick I use sometimes is to pause all the interfering projects and do something completely different like walk the dog or clean my room–activities that I know I can complete–in order to clear my head and feel accomplished before getting back to work.

    • Kate Stull

      Such good points. I’m thinking of doing a followup post on this one featuring some of the great suggestions you guys left. 🙂 Taking a meaningful break can sometimes be the best way to refocus your mind and avoid getting so overwhelmed that you just quit – good breaks are definitely underrated.

  5. Brook

    When I have too many ideas at once it usually feels good like “flights of fancy” But my biggest problem with writing is when I’m distracted not by ideas, but my personal problems, which make me feel like I’m unable to “add value” anywhere. Usually I have to let time pass and the night seems to calm the nerves. Hard to write with nerves!

  6. Alex-Marie

    Completely agree with the value bit. Unfortunately, however, the valuable ideas are always the scariest to put out there.

    Have a productive day, girl!

  7. Pingback: Inspiration vs. procrastination (Shnorhakalut’yun) | Ⓐ r m e n i a f e s t o
  8. catrionabarr

    I love your article on The Billfold – it’s so true (I got into my current job via someone in my own network), but as a dedicated member of the introvert community, just the thought of networking gives me that knotted feeling in my stomach. I find small steps the way forward too – I give myself a small pat on the back when I’ve managed to speak to at least one “stranger” (eek!), and also try to learn from the people who seem to be really good at it. I heard a great tip a few weeks ago – “always have an opinion”. It doesn’t have to be controversial or crazy – it just gives you something to say and makes you more interesting to others and helps to keep the conversation flowing. Good luck with your continued networking – and maybe our paths will cross someday if our quick breaks in the bathrooms coincide!

  9. Duke of Jahan Jewelry

    This happens to me so much! At times like these I just take a deep breath and do what I feel should be done first and focus on that one task.
    thecompletecookbook.wordpress.com

    • the bloggers soliloquy

      Thanks for checking out my blog, and yeah this post is definitely useful, especially the part about value, ironically I’ve only recently understood the value of it.

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