The Problem of Too Many Ideas: How to Finally Get Clear on a Direction
If you’re swirling in a sea of ideas, frustrated with your confusion, I get it.
I’ve been there. I was there for years.
That’s a long time.
I started relating very personally to the Israelites who wandered in the desert for four decades.)
What My Confusion Looked Like:
I easily become interested in things, and immediately have a burst of ideas about how to write about and market them.
Real Estate? Yes!! I took my personal interest in real estate investing and turned it into ghost writing for realtors.
Then I created courses. And writing tools. And coaching! And started writing articles for magazines so I could start building a whole real estate blogging thing. Woo! I was on FIRE for this project and all its pieces!
But I was also interested in sharing the homestead-y type stuff we do around our place. I’m already doing stuff like foraging and dehydrating and making Maple Syrup… how hard could it be to simply take pictures and blog about it?
So I made a website, took photos and videos, made a Facebook page and YouTube channel, and started creating the almighty opt-in to start building yet another empire (aka income stream).
But I was also interested in writing fiction. Short story ideas would bloom in my imagination on the regular. I took notes on receipts while driving, recorded audio notes during commutes, and started fifty short stories, finishing fewer than 15.
I started compiling them into a collection, have pitched them to numerous publications, and imagined hiring an agent.
But I was also interested in helping those who experience poverty and homelessness. I dove in, serving for years at a local organization, helping build it, helping raise awareness of the issue and how others could come on board and help too…
But I was also interested in counseling, and began pursuing a degree in psychology so I can begin addictions and trauma counseling. That’s been a dream since childhood. I’ve always wanted to counsel others.
The worst part was, I chased all the ideas, which meant none of them would get a fair shake. I’d start building one thing, get bored a few months later, and switch to another project. Not surprisingly, none of them became any big thing. How could they? I was constantly flipping channels, not sticking around to see how the show developed or how it would end.
Even so, even though it didn’t make any sense, I was frustrated with the lack of results from my efforts. After all, I I was forgetting that
was working. I was working ! I just wasn’t working long enough on any one thing to allow it to develop.
things take time to build.
I say all that so you know I’m serious when I say I get it.
The Exercise That Freed Me From Confusion and Clarified My Direction
If you’ve spent any time in books, courses, coaching, or counseling, you’ll know that step one in all of them is always always always the same: choose a direction. What one thing would you like to work on? What ONE audience would you like to serve? And what ONE way would you like to serve them?
In my state of wanting to do all the things, that advice made me pull my hair out. (Want to see the bald spot?)
The weird thing was, every program and book said to “just choose”, but not a single one told me HOW.
I did finally figure out a way that worked for me, and I am excited to share it with you. Maybe it will help you break through your confusion too.
Here’s what I did.
Step 1. Admit this is a problem
The first step on any journey is acknowledging you’re on one. If I like the excitement of the chaos I’m living in (and leaping from shiny new project to shiny new project IS exciting!), and I’m not willing to consider exchanging the excitement for something better, then no clarity will be won. First I must be able to acknowledge that I am confused, that my “do what feels good” approach isn’t working, and that I am willing to do something different, even if it’s uncomfortable. I have to reach the point of wanting progress more than I want fun.
If you’re not there yet, that’s okay. Like any life change, it takes time to get your mind ready. Be patient with yourself, keep thinking about it, and come back for step two when you’re ready.
Step 2. Write Down All The Things
Next, grab something to write on and find a place where you can think uninterrupted for a while. Then start listing all the ideas and projects that are rattling around in that creative mind of yours. Like, all of them. Short stories, novels, curriculum, courses, webinars, Facebook groups and pages, websites, Instagram accounts, clients, freelance submissions, EVERYTHING. Just brain dump all the things. Even if they’re old ideas you still consider sometimes, or things you’ve told yourself you’ll do “one day”, even ten years from now. Just get it all down.
Probably, one of two things will happen. Either you’ll be shocked at the immense number of ideas that have been taking up valuable space (and energy) in your mind, or you’ll be surprised at how the list isn’t nearly as long as you expected. Either way, it’s all good, and manageable. You’ll see.
Step 3. Categorize All The Things
Now that you have your long list of fabulous ideas, resist the urge to hide in the closet feeling overwhelmed. This is like cleaning out a closet or the fridge or the garage — it always gets worse before it gets better. The next step is to categorize those items. Short stories here… client work there… however you want. The category types aren’t as important as the act of categorizing, as this exercise starts you thinking analytically (rather than emotionally) about each task and project.
Step 4. The Goal Reveal
Until now, we haven’t been clear on the ultimate goal. That’s on purpose because this goal, once we hear it, has the effect of making our ideas scurry into dark corners where they hide from conscious thought. (But, heh heh… we’ve already written them down, so they can’t hide! Mwah-ah-ah!) The goal of this entire exercise is to narrow our field of thought, energy, and focus to one direction.
Wait! I know you’ve heard this ‘focus on one direction’ thing before, and I know this is the step that trips us up, but here’s what’s different and why it worked for me.
What I always hated about “just choosing one” goal or direction or project, was that choosing one meant killing the rest. It meant letting go of all my beautiful ideas and goals FOREVER. I could not handle that. So I just gripped them harder and resolved to work smarter, harder, or faster — whatever it took to keep my dreams alive. That kind of thinking made it impossible to “just choose” one direction. This process stops dead in its tracks then.
So. Here’s how I dealt with that. I told myself (and my dreams) that I was not pronouncing life and death sentences on my dreams. I was actually just saying “now” to one or two, and “later” to others. And, if there were some I could see letting go of forever, great! But it wasn’t mandatory for this to work.
The goal is prioritizing one project or direction. You’re doing one before the others, that’s all.
No death-to-dreams required.
Step 5. Delete the Obvious Things
As you listed and thought about each project, you may have come across some that made you cringe. Maybe they’re old ideas you can’t believe “count”, or projects that, months ago lit your fire, but now you don’t even want to THINK about them ever again.
If anything on your list sparks that kind of reaction, do yourself a favor and put the project out of its misery.
Cross it off with a big, liberating X. Death to dreams may not be required, but if there are some that are on life support and don’t want to be, it’s totally okay to let them die a natural death.
Step 6. The Hard Part
Okay, this next part is going to be hard. So first, just celebrate how far you’ve come. I mean it. Look at your list — you dug into the jungle of your mind and captured every wild and feral thought right here on this paper. (Kroy-kee, mate! That’s some excellent croc hunting royt theh!) *high five*
So now the task is “just choosing one”. Unfortunately, it does come down to that unavoidable task. But I’ll walk you through it.
How to Pare Down
a) Remember, the ultimate goal is one direction, but if you can only get it down to two, that’s okay. It’s not a make it or break it thing at this point.
b) Think of it as a process of elimination. Of all the options on your list, which ones can you live with not pursuing for the next year or two? Are there some you can confidently avoid for longer? Cross them off.
c) As you eliminate (or put off for a long time) options, you may be able to do it by category, or you may feel better about going by individual items. Let your gut guide you on that one. If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated doing it one way, try another.
Keep setting aside projects, categories, and ideas (by crossing them off) until what’s left is bare bones. Aim for one project or category, but if you can’t get it under 3 or so, then…
a) relax. Give yourself grace and be patient. This is hard and takes time.
b) Leave the list behind and go live life for a while. Let this percolate, all the time considering which of those three directions you would most like to pursue. Which is your favorite? Give yourself time to get your head around pursuing only that one favorite for a time. Maybe setting a time limit will even help — a year, let’s say.
c) when you can come back to the list feeling a bit more open to prioritizing your favorite, you’ll be ready for the next step.
Step 7: Chase It Down, Baby
Once you’ve worked through your pile of ideas and found that one that you’re willing to prioritize for the next year or so, you probably feel liberated, yes? I sure did.
Looking over my paper with all the categories and wonderful ideas slashed and crossed off, I felt released. Lighter. It’s weird how thoughts and ideas seem to take up physical space and weigh on us. It felt like someone had finally moved off of my chest where they’d apparently been sitting all this time, and like my mind was suddenly a hoarder’s house after the make-over: roomy, clean, and bright. Finally, I had all this mental space and energy and capacity. *Happy sigh*
I hope that’s your experience with this exercise.
(If not, try working the steps again, or maybe drop by My Writing Mentor to ask for help on this part of the journey)
Now, with that sense of freedom and lightness, you’ll probably find a renewed energy about the project you chose.
Now you can grab that project with both hands and start running. No need to worry about anything else or let those distractions resurface.
Just chase it down, baby,
with all the joy and delight of one blessed by God to do this very thing.
If you’ve ever wished for a safe, supportive community to share your writing journey with, there is such a place. Two, actually:
The first is an online community of writers in which I invest time and attention to address all kinds of writing-related issues and questions. It’s called My Writing Mentor. If you’re a writer, you’re invited. It’s free, and it’s here.
The second is a more personal, customized mentorship in which I group coach writers to develop their craft and character face to face in biweekly zoom meetings. You can find out more about that here.