Are “Great” Ideas Sabotaging Your Productivity?

Do You Ever Feel Like Tom?

Many of us feel like we have great ideas in our minds, and if we could just make them work, life would be good. Then we get another idea, then another, and another, and before we realize our predicament, we are drowning in a sea of half-finished ideas. I can identify with Tom, coming up with lots of ideas, and executing few (if any). Here’s a list of recent ideas…

  • Blogger/Writer
  • Public Speaker
  • Software Designer
  • Open a Coffee shop in a VW van
  • Open a Coffee shop anywhere
  • Open a Breakfast cafe
  • Learn How to BBQ like a pro
  • Outdoor Professional
  • Photographer
  • Filmmaker
  • Musician
  • Football Coach
  • Lacrosse Coach
  • Naturalist Poet
  • ER Nurse
  • Carpenter
  • Powerpoint Slide Designer
  • Craft Beer Master
  • Outdoor Education Leader
  • Small House Builder

I Could Keep Going!

I could see myself doing any of these jobs as a way to have fun, work with people, and make money. I didn’t even include what I’m doing now (summer camp director), but I love it as well. Now, our ideas are usually not as outlandish as “make a phone that smells good”, but we constantly are coming up with new ideas, enthralled by their intrigue and possibility. I talk with people all the time who are mentally running around saying “Oh! A new idea!” Then running off in pursuit of it, leaving a half-formed idea spread across the desk. Ideas from last week seem outdated and silly, or the new ideas just crowd in to the creative space of our mind, squeezing out old ones.

Here’s the rub, and why these ideas are so powerful in our minds

Because they’re good, and we know how to make them work

I honestly believe I could do anything on that list (musician is least likely), but to do it well and make a life out of it? Well, it would take a big chunk of my life. The danger of all our ideas, especially great ones, is they can restrict us from seeing just one through to completion!

This is not a sustainable way for us to create and do our best work. The solution lies in a limitation of ideas and practice, of quieting our busy mind to focus on what matters. Spend a week writing, taking notes, and listening to what really speaks to you. Take longer if you need the time. Then focus on just a couple of tasks, and dedicate a year to them, at minimum. For instance, I know that from the list above, writing and speaking is what is the best use of my time and energy. Everything else is on a lower level of importance, and only hinders the performance of my writing. Films and pictures can be a related part of that, but only when it supplements the writing by helping to tell a story.

After a year, reframe your focus and see what has happened. How far have you come? Do you still feel this is a way for you to pursue a passion, a way of life, and contribute to the community? If the answer is “YES!” then keep going, you have something worth dedicating a life to. Even if the answer is a tough “Yes”, the kind which has been a struggle, but deep down you know is still the right move, even better. You’ve hit a dip and come through, confident in your work. Maybe it’s time to pivot, to change, to do something else. Just be wary of that you’re not refreshing that old feeling of the shiny new idea taking hold. There’s a good chance you’re first instinct was the right one.

I hope this helps you realize that it’s ok to have ideas, especially great ones, and roll them around in your mind. The discipline comes in whittling away to what really matters, and pursuing that. Ideas will pop in to your head every day, and you can almost watch them as boats floating down the river, as you casually wave from the shore, giving special attention to the idea you’ve given your life to.

Even if it is contact lenses that display text messages.

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video from the NBC show “Parks and Recreation”


  1. Ethan says

    This post is very encouraging because I am drowning in my pool of ideas. I am happy I subscribed to you; your blog promises great things Matt.

  2. says

    It also happens with him, everyday some new ideas pop up in my mind and I am sure this happens with everyone, paperwork is necessary if you want to transform your idea into reality.


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