Five solutions to the too-many-ideas meltdown

…and why blogging is possibly the world’s clearest example of Procrastinating by Doing

Ar. Ar. Ar. (That’s my breathless panting). I’m rushing.

Too many ideas, and not enough time. Buzzing round my head like the wasps in The Giant Jam Sandwich.

I can’t concentrate. They are like a bug, a drug. ZZZzzz.

solves too many ideas

Pesky ideas. Who moved the jam wasptrap?

Need a few lifetimes

I’m reminded of the first verse of Rob Marr’s cycling song Summer in the City (listen to it here and watch the video for it here)

Weaving through busses on the Old Kent Road
Riding my old green Puch between the holes
My head is full of plans, I’d need three lives to see them through
The city holds me, lights control me, buildings inspire me, a village boy jumping red lights

I know this feeling so well, it’s like I’ve been hit by a creative emergency. I must act now. Before I get any older. Before the day gets any longer. And this time it’s about blogging. I literally can’t write fast enough. I need three lifetimes too. There’s so much I’m excited to tell you – that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Are you procrastinating by doing?  – The warning signs

It’s like I’ve decided I can’t move on with other things (like cleaning the house, for starters, and editing a novel for seconds), until I’ve got a satisfying amount of this job done. Completed. Finished. I’ve created an obstacle that will allow me to put off that novel forever. Because of course, blogging is never ‘done’, it’s not a book, a narrative, one story. You won’t know where the end is. The lack of parameters is terrifying. I know when I’m infected by this because I get the urge to drop some of my positive habits – I feel I don’t have time for

  • eating a meal mindfully – I start trying to eat while doing other things
  • taking a break – I don’t set an alarm to interrupt my work session and get sucked into the internet black hole
  • I lose the ability to prioritise – I  start a task and veer offcourse
  • I can smell my synapses starting to singe

Is it excitement, or fear? Inspiration, or self-mistrust?

Fear. Ar. Ar. Ar. (I sound like a sea lion). I am squeaking, randomising. I start one thing, start another. I feel like when I’m cooking and the butter is foaming – you’ve got to put the omelette in NOW – but you haven’t yet chopped the herbs. This is no way to cook.

Two things, specifically, scare the Huelbec out of me.

  • I’m worried the ideas will pass before I’ve captured them.
  • And then, I’m worried I won’t finish things properly. 

I’m frightened and electrified by ideas. For years I’ve called myself ‘an ideas person’, which is perhaps a way of making myself feel better about having quite patchy factual knowledge. Ideas feel ephemeral, they have an energy. I think of how I watch my daughter chase bubbles the Bubbleman makes in the park. Mostly, they break under their own weight before she gets to them.

And I’ve had to work on my ‘finishing’. Because I get bored and move onto the next thing first. But that doesn’t mean I have to finish everything I begin.

Five solutions

  1. Bank it and have faith Write every idea into a notebook so it’s ‘banked’. Once you’ve banked it, have faith that it won’t disappear.
  2. Lose the guilt. Have a team pep-talk with yourself about what you psychologically feel you’ve ‘committed’ to. I love pre-commitment as a strategy for holding yourself to things (for example, when I was doing NaNoWriMo, National Novel-writing Month last year, I pledged the price of a parking ticket to my husband’s rival football club if I failed to deliver, to raise the stakes of my pre-commitment). But sometimes I can ‘pre-commit’ without even realising I’ve done it, then I find I’m feeling guilty for not living up to expectations that haven’t even been clarified, goals I never even set.
  3. Stop procrastinating by doing. Yes, I think almost every blogpost I write could be a procrastination post. In Tim Ferriss’s amazing book The Four-Hour Work Week, he describes how we often create activity for ourselves to fill the space in our lives and feel important. I’ve never seen such a cut-to-the-heart description of how I operate. I’m busy, so I’m important, right? Wrong, wrong wrong! This is not work, but what Ferris calls ‘work-fidget’ – keeping moving to avoid the most important task you’ve got. In my case, writing a novel. He counters it with these truisms:  Doing something unimportant well does not make it important, and secondly: Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important. Can you cultivate awareness? I’d like to hear from people who’ve got really good ways of seeing what they are doing objectively.
  4. Revisit your goals. I’m writing another, separate procrastination post (yes, one day it will actually get written) so for now, the most important thing is just to try to organise your life around one core super-exciting, super-ambitious goal – in my case, novelling – and make everything support that. If you’ve written it down, it’s the important thing. If it’s competing with it, it’s probably a cuckoo in the nest. If you haven’t set goals for yourself, then a worthy classic to read is Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto A Brief Guide to World Domination.
  5. Make peace with your many directions. Are you genuinely pulled in several directions? I am, often, and find this painful. My husband finds this painful in me. I’m a much better Laura when I’m doing one thing. I’m basically a monomaniac who’s blessed, cursed and tantalised by having several promising skills and no one expertise. This made me a great student on The International Baccalaureate diploma, a reasonable editor. But so many of my friends are this too. So I’d like to introduce you to Emilie Wapnick, who flies the flag for ‘multipotentialites’ all over the world – read her manifesto here or her post on creating a ‘flow’ state rather than procrastinating here. What I really like about her posts and emails is that they really come from the heart, from the coal face of trying to negotiate having a lot of interests. They are authentic, and bring solace.

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Do you do this too? Have you found solutions? I’d love to hear from you in the comment thread below