Avoiding The “Great Idea” Graveyard

Is your task system clogged with stuff that you someday, maybe want to do? Is it filled with so many aspirational items that it’s hard to parse out what actually has to get done? Are there so many items in your task system that sometimes you’re afraid to even look?

Or maybe you’ve taken an opposite tack. Your task system is sparse; the only things in the system are things you are definitely, actually going to do. You have a plan. But you are in constant fear that you’ll forget all your great ideas. Because you’re not writing them down.

Now, it doesn’t matter which of these camps you fall into because there’s a solution that will work for both.

So let talk about how to handle those “someday/maybe” tasks, projects and ideas such that you’re not overwhelmed by all the aspirational items in your system AND you have a way to capture all those great ideas so that when you do commit to them, you can actually get them done.

But before we talk about the methods for handling someday/maybe items, let’s first define what they are: A someday/maybe item is something that you want to do, or think you might want to do, but you haven’t yet committed to doing it, and there’s no consequence to you (other than potentially a loss of opportunity) if you never do it. A someday/maybe item is not something you’ve already committed to that just happens to be far in the future.

Some concrete examples:

  • A clear someday/maybe item: Learning to play the flute (unless that’s required of your job!). If you don’t learn how to play, nothing bad is going to happen.
  • Not a someday maybe item: Renewing your driver’s license. Even though it only has to be done every 5-10 years, it still does have to be done if you want to keep driving.

One of the harder things about someday/maybe items is because they don’t HAVE to happen, it can be hard for us to prioritize them.

Also, most of us have many more ideas about things we want to do, could do, etc. than we actually have the capacity to do. The truth is that many of our someday/maybe’s will never be done. And that’s OK. Capturing them and deciding which ones we actually will do becomes the goal. No, we won’t do them all. But using one of the methods below you’ll be able to protect at least some of the “someday/maybes” from becoming “nevers”. And those you never do? They’ll have been less important, meaningful, or impactful anyway. Because you’ll have made the decisions instead of letting things slip by.

But here’s the thing: capturing all your great ideas in one place is only 1/2 the battle. Just capturing won’t necessarily lead to doing. We have to have a method for reviewing and deciding what we actually do want to commit to.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked in many companies where we had a “backlog” of great ideas that staff had for things we could do or improve. Some companies were truly great at capturing these ideas. But in order to bring those ideas to life, there needs to be a process to review the items and decide if they’re truly worth pursuing, and when. That’s the piece that was often missing, meaning that these ideas were not just backlogged, they were buried.

So, let’s talk about the 2 methods that I’ve found work quite well for ensuring that those someday/maybes aren’t simply lost to the ether:

Method 1: Next Action Date

  • Assign a next action date for the date that you want to next think about this item.
  • Assign a next action of “decide if I want to do this in the next 3/6/12 weeks/months”
  • When that tasks pops up in your system:
    • If you decide you do want to do it: add a concrete next action to move the project forward and update the next action date to something realistic.
    • If you decide you don’t yet want to do it: leave the next action alone and update the next action date to whenever you want to think about this again

Using this method ensures that your system automatically and periodically reminds you of all your great ideas and gives you the opportunity to commit to them, or to decide at a later date.

I find this method works particularly well if you have 10s of someday/maybes vs. 100s.

Method 2: Someday/Maybe Category

  • In your task system, include an undated folder, list or status in your system labeled “Someday/Maybe”
  • Assign someday/maybe items to this folder, list or status and do not assign them next action dates or due dates.
  • Create a recurring task in your system for “Review Someday/Maybe folder/list/status” with a recurring next action date for the frequency you desire (1/3/6 months)
  • When the “Review Someday/Maybe folder/list/status” tasks pops up, briefly review all the items in your Someday/Maybe folder/list/status and decide if there is anything you want to commit to doing. If so, add a realistic next action date to the task, along with a concrete next action.

Using this method, you ensure that the only things with dates in your task system are those things that you’ve actually committed to doing.

I find this method works really well when you’ve got tons of Someday/Maybe items and you don’t want all your great ideas to clutter your task system, but you always want to make sure to capture them.

Can you use both methods?

Sure! Your task system can have fluidity! You can use one method for some items and the other method for other items. Items can move between methods over time.

Personally, I tend to use Method 1 for my personal stuff and Method 2 for my work stuff (where, for whatever reason, I have many, many more Someday/Maybe items)

How do you decide if you want to commit to something from your Someday/Maybe list?

It’s tempting to commit to doing a lot of the stuff on your Someday/Maybe list right away. They’re great ideas after all, right? But you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Personally, I choose which Someday/Maybes I’m actually going to commit to when I do my quarterly planning process. I review the Someday/Maybes to help spark my mind and help me decide what my quarterly goals will be, and, once I’ve clarified my goals, I look through the Someday/Maybes to determine if there are any tasks in that support the goals I’ve just made. And here’s the kicker: each quarter, I’m generally picking between 1-3 goals. Pick more, and you’ll likely spread yourself too thin.

Will you finish everything on your someday/maybe list? Probably not. (And that’s OK.)

But, using these methods, will you do more of your someday/maybe list? Almost certainly.

And will you have chosen the items that matter most to you, instead of what was just top of mind at the moment? Yes, you will.

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