Ideas can be dangerous.
They call your name, tempting you to do things you’ll regret.
They’re riddled with uncertainty. How exactly will it be pursued? They just need time to simmer. Do it now, and they can waste a day, or endanger you to launching new projects prematurely.
According to the Action Method, while action steps are the tasks we must absolutely execute, backburners come with a different life force. They’re dim and unactionable yet glow with some future potential.
I find that eventually these things mutate into two forms:
Project Backburners: Ideas that refine a project’s action steps or overall direction.
Standalone Backburners: Faraway ideas that could warrant a future project, but not now.
Backburners begin as a spark. In the heat of the moment, and when you’ve ingested wee too much caffeine, they seem to have some epiphanic meaning. Then before you know it, your ideas, tweaks, and project hotfixes appear slated to win hearts and minds and ultimately save the world.
So, something the Action Method actually proposes to tame our promiscuity with these wildcards is to kill them. Sensibly, softly, and slowly.
Ideas deserve a chance. The Action Method shows one way of processing them.
Flickr: Profound Whatever
Placing Backburners on Trial
I found that I fared pretty well keeping these two types of lists: Project Backburners and Standalone ones. Backburners shouldn’t merit enough of my energy in the present, so I don’t dwell. I just file it and allow it to grow.
Just like embedding a seed in fertile soil, you’re not going to watch it sprout. Forget it and come back another day. Objectivity returns and maybe something good will emerge.
A week is usually ample time for deciding whether I permit an idea to flourish or die.
Disney has a tough but sensible take-no-prisoner’s process:
Disney’s rigorous creative process involves 3 distinct phases of idea development, each of which is designed to unfold in a separate room. While the “rooms” started as a literal part of Disney’s process, they also serve as a helpful metaphor for the various steps we should take in our own attempts to develop new ideas.
Source: The 99 Percent
When an idea’s potential still resonates, it stays. If it dulls and loses luster, they’re allowed more simmering time. Eventually the winds of change come and a backburner becomes obsolete. I simply redact it with a permanent black marker.
Crossing things out wholesale wasn’t easy. There’s always a feeling that it’d be a big mistake I may regret.
But I turned out OK. It’s just clutter.
When Ideas Still Have Meaning
Backburners are like shards that fit together in the future. They’ll have their glimmer now, but their greater brilliance shows some time in the future, combusting either as a new action step, or a new project that advances or supports an objective.
When that happens, I take a blue highlighter to highlight the Backburners. Blue means they’re now converted into something actionable. They’ve moved on to the next stage: action.
Paper or Digital?
I sometimes capture brief ideas and thoughts on the back of Behance’s Action Cards for a myriad of reasons.
1. The creative paradox of constraint
The mind is focuses on brevity. We shift into focus and condense fleeting thoughts into one sentence.
2. The aesthetic of the dot grid.
So beautifully minimal. Sometimes I just don’t need ruled or graph lines. If I ever do (which is never), I’ll draw them myself.
3. Ideas are slippery.
Fingers need to be on the trigger (or pen) at all times, so nothing beats a 3×5 dot grid card or pocket cahier. I find that this is faster than whipping out something digital and pecking at its keyboard. The speed and focus just isn’t there for me when I do this digitally.
The average half-life of an idea is 3 seconds, Or thereabouts.
So, if I don’t capture it, it’s gone forever.
Over to you. What do you do? My process isn’t so elaborate. I just give them time.