Thursday, May 07, 2015

How to Set Up an Inspiration System (And Never Run Out of Ideas)

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Coming up with great ideas seems like an easy task, until you sit down and stare at the blank screen. Set up your own inspiration system so you have a deep pool of ideas to draw from, anytime you need them.

Identify Your Inspiration Sources
They might not be what you think they are.

Spend a week or two noticing when you get ideas. When does inspiration strike? Backtrack from that moment until you find the ignition for the spark.

Look at your input: what were you reading, watching, talking about, hearing, experiencing?

Look for patterns. Certain people, places, environments, media, authors, activities. Your pattern of inspiration sources will be as unique as your fingerprint. There’s no right or wrong here; it’s just what sparks against the embers in your brain and lights up that little fire of an idea.

Make a list. Once you’ve observed yourself for a week or two, you will see some repetition. Some patterns. You’ll miss some sources, of course, but this isn’t a once-and-done process.

Make Collection Easy
There are two components to regular, dependable idea collection: the capture method(s) and the storage.

The Storage Bucket

You need one central digital bucket. It's a common pitfall to spend time comparing features instead of putting something in place and using it. Don’t get lost in details or organizational options. You don't have to sort ideas into particular categories or hierarchies. Digital storage provides the power of digital search; keywords in your ideas let find things topically whenever you want.

Capture Methods 

If you capture ideas on paper (which is great), transfer those to your digital bucket regularly. A weekly practice is often enough to keep the transfer from becoming burdensome. Set up as many methods as you have used or think you will use: voice recording, note-taking on mobile devices, video, photo, bookmarking, downloading files, saving links, etc. Link those capture methods to your central bucket. (Automation tools such as IFTTT and Zapier help with this part of the process.)

Let Your Brain Percolate
Your brain needs idle time. In-between time. Percolation time. The time when you used to feel a little bit bored, or zoned out. Now you spend it staring at your phone.
Reclaim your percolation time: when you walk, when you exercise, when you’re driving, in the shower (one of the last reserves of digital-free thinking time). Your brain needs time to wander through the fields of information and ideas, to make connections, to remember, to create.

Schedule Idea Sessions
Regular idea sessions can take two different forms.

The first is for idea generation. In this session you'll purposely pull out your inspiration sources and start combing through them for inspiration. It’s a lot like those brainstorming sessions you know from high school.

The second kind of idea session is for saturation. The purpose is to immerse yourself in your collected ideas, not analyzing or "doing" anything with them, just sorting, looking, reminding, connecting.

Schedule idea sessions. Weekly or monthly or quarterly, they keep you moving forward. From either type of session, you should walk away with a list of ideas for development, either generated in the session or culled from the saturation. And you’ll be leaving plenty of ideas behind, in storage, waiting for the next time you visit.

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