Mar 262013

I got an interesting question via email today:


You said something that touches on a struggle I’ve had my whole life. I’m hoping you could offer some advice.

The gist was “There’s nothing more dangerous than an entrepreneur with just one idea.” I’ve got the opposite problem entirely. I have real difficulty not working on an idea, and I latch on to a lot of ideas at once. The result is pretty predictable – if I was doing this on a workbench, there would be a dozen things that are about 1/3rd built.

I know intellectually that it doesn’t work that way – that seeing things through is the important bit, that keeping focused is key if you want to build success, and that you aren’t doing wrong by your ideas by not spending energy there – that you take focus from one idea in service of another. I think I get it, in my brain at least.

But I’m lousy at putting that into practice. It’s really easy for a novel idea to catch my passions and I have a really hard time putting that idea in the book and coming back to it later. Short of hiring someone I could hand my half-solved puzzles to so I could half-solve a new one, do you have anything you can offer me here?

 My reply:

This is a standard problem for creative people. One solution is enforcing a more granular workflow. Any time you contemplate “starting” something, you should set a clearly defined “stop” point. That doesn’t mean it’s stopped forever, just that you are stopping for now. You need to define one unit or increment of work with a clear end state that will allow you to move on. This increment or unit should be short. Don’t start anything else until you’ve reached the stopping point, hence the short duration. Having a bunch of projects all simultaneously in mid-flight is draining and task switching will eat time. Redefine each “flight” as a much shorter hop. Then you can leave one idea conceptually in the hanger and avoid going insane trying to simultaneously pilot all of them.