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September 7, 2010
Overcoming the Obstacles to Making Your Ideas Happen

Creative thinkers across industries have a problem. We have so many great ideas, but most of them never see the light of day.

Why do most ideas never happen? The reason is our own creative tendencies get in the way. For example, our tendency to generate new ideas often gets in the way of executing projects. As a result, we abandon many projects halfway. Whether it's a new business idea you're developing, a side project, or a novel you wanted to write, most of these projects sit and become a source of frustration.

However, some creative people and teams are able to defy the odds and make their ideas happen, time and time again.

After five years meeting these anomalies and chronicling their tips and insights into execution, I published my book, "Making Ideas Happen," to help creative professionals across industries. Here are four tips to consider in your creative pursuits:

1.) Avoid living in a state of reactionary workflow.

Without realizing it, most of us have started to live a life of “reactionary workflow.” We are bombarded constantly with incoming communications -- e-mails, texts, tweets, Facebook updates, phone calls, and instant messages. Rather than be proactive with our energy, we spend it being reactive and living at the mercy of the last incoming thing. To avoid reactionary workflow, some of the most productive people I have met schedule "windows of non-stimulation" in their day.

For a two-three hour period of time, these people minimize their e-mail and all other sources of incoming communication. With this time, they focus on a list of long-term items, not their regular tasks, but long-term projects that require research and deep thought. Another tip I have observed is aggregating all messaging into a central location. Setting your social networks to e-mail you and using e-mail filters to automatically manage these messages will reduce your "hop time" (hopping between sources of communication) and will improve your focus. Some people even have their voice mail automatically transcribed and sent to their e-mail. In a life of many "inboxes," you need to start consolidating.

2.) Reduce bulky projects to just three primary elements.

Every project in life can ultimately be reduced to just three primary elements: action steps, backburner items, and references. Action steps are succinct tasks that start with verbs. They should be kept separate from your notes and sketches.

Backburner items are ideas that come up during a brainstorm or on the run that are not actionable but someday might be. They should be collected in a central location and should be revisited periodically through some sort of ritual. One leader I met prints out his list of backburner items (kept on a running Word document) on the first Sunday of every month. He grabs the list (and a beer) and then sits down and reviews the entire list. Some items get crossed out as irrelevant, some remain on the list, and some are transformed into action steps.

The third element of every project is references -- the articles, notes, and other stuff that collects around you. It turns out that references are overrated. Rather than spend tons of time organizing your notes, consider keeping a chronological file where all your notes are simply filed chronologically (not by project name or other means). In the age of digital calendars, you can search for any meeting and quickly find the notes taken on that date.

3.) Measure meetings with action steps.

Meetings are extremely expensive if you consider the cost of time and interruption. Beware of "Posting Meetings" or meeting just because it's Monday. Such meetings often are planned for the morning -- when you're most productive -- and often end without any action steps captured. A meeting that ends without any action steps should have been a voice mail or an e-mail. When you meet with clients or colleagues, end each meeting with a quick review of captured action steps. The exercise takes less than 30 seconds per person. Each person should share what he or she captured. Doing so will almost always reveal a few action steps that were either missed, duplicated, or misunderstood. Stating your action steps aloud also breeds a sense of accountability.

4.) Reduce your level of insecurity work.

In the era of Google Analytics and Twitter, we spend too much time obsessing over real-time data, just because it's at our finger tips. Whether it is checking your site's traffic or your bank account, these small, repetitive actions don't help you make ideas happen. They just help us feel safe. "Insecurity Work" is stuff that we do that has no intended outcome, does not move the ball forward in any way, and is quick enough that you can do it multiple times a day without realizing. Nonetheless, it puts us at ease.

The first step for reducing Insecurity Work is self-awareness. Recognize what you do in your everyday life that is, in fact, Insecurity Work. The second step is to establish some guidelines and rituals for yourself that provide more discipline. Perhaps you'll try restricting all Insecurity Work to a specified 30 minute every day. The third step, if applicable to you, is to delegate the task of checking on this data to a less insecure colleague who can review the data periodically and report any concerns.

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Scott Belsky studies exceptionally productive people and teams in the creative world. He is the founder and CEO of Behance, oversees The 99% think tank, and is the author of "Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality."

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