Where Our Big Ideas Go to Die. Part 2, Solutions

Posted April 28, 2010

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about the big ideas we have for improving our businesses and why we rarely get to them. They fall into Quadrant 2 of our four-quadrant grid (see previous post for actual grid), which is reserved for items that are important, but not urgent, meaning they do not appear time-sensitive and typically get postponed for another time. We instead spend our time on Quadrant 3 items, which are not important, but are urgent. In this post, I’ll review some strategies for making sure those big ideas actually see the light of day.

1. The first step is make them urgent, by giving them a deadline. You do this by breaking your big idea into smaller action steps, and then scheduling the time to work on them. And I mean really, actually putting them in your calendar, setting alarms for them and making darn sure, come hell or high water, that you follow through and do them. Think of this as scheduling your priorities, instead of prioritizing your schedule.

2. If you’re like me, that’s often not enough. Because deep down, you know they’re not really urgent; they’re kinda sorta urgent, but not truly. So you do the equivalent of hitting the snooze button and move on. One solution to this is to create a weekly chart each Monday morning listing everything you want to accomplish that week, which should theoretically only include items in quadrants 1 and 2. Then the following Monday you have a yardstick by which to measure your progress.

3. But perhaps you’re one of those people that can’t help but pick up the phone when it rings, or look at your email every time you get a new one. Normally such responsiveness is a good trait, but it’s a killer for quadrant 2 activities. A great tactic is to do your quadrant 2 activities in a different location. Often simply changing your environment can make it easier to focus differently. I found it hugely helpful to go into my conference room with my laptop and do my quadrant 2 work. In addition to helping me clear my head, my staff had an easier time leaving me alone when I was in there; they knew it was creative thinking time and respected my need for it.

4. If you’re still struggling, you need someone else to hold you accountable for progress in this area. It can be a paid business coach or an informal mentor, but it must be someone who is comfortable calling you out on your bullshit excuses when you raise them. A good business coach is worth their weight in gold if they can help keep you focused on your big picture tasks.

If you have solutions or tactics that have worked for you, please share them by posting a comment at the bottom of this post. For additional tips on getting your big ideas accomplished, take a look at Preston Bailey’s recent post on Procrastination.

There was a great movie a few years ago called Memento, about a guy with no short term memory looking for his wife’s killer. Every time he uncovers a clue, he has it tattooed on a part of his body so he will remember it when he inevitably forgets. It’s based on a clever short story by Jonathan Nolan, which I find very inspiring as it relates to this topic. I’ve included the key excerpt below if you’re interested.

Excerpt from Memento Mori, by Jonathan Nolan

Here’s the truth: People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It’s not that simple. We’re all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It’s a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.

This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here’s how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That’s the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.

But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.

The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them. The best way to do this is with a list.

It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.

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  1. Howard
    Gwen
    May 6, 2010 at 9:08 pm Permalink

    What a great movie! A must. For solutions for those with too much on their plate, best to first focus on simplifying your life so more time for what truly matters to you, and second, hold time on your calendar for the hard-to-get-to project or for big picture thinking. Having a nagging friend, spouse, mentor or other can’t hurt too.