4 Ways to Prevent Good Ideas From Sabotaging Your Best Work

Declan Wilson

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An idea — a brilliant idea mind you — pops into your head. This idea leads to more ideas and those ideas lead to you swimming in dollar signs.

Entrenched in your wealthy daydreams, you sit down to work.

“What should I do first?”

“Wait, how long is it going to take me to learn XYZ?”

“I need a giant whiteboard. Why don’t I have a giant whiteboard?!”

Flustered, you give up for the day. Maybe your brain just needs a rest. You’ll try again tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrives with more ideas and the process repeats itself all over again.

Soon, you’re left with a stack of ideas but nothing to show for it.

I know this situation all too well.

Ideas are fun. Ideas are sexy. But when it comes time to sit down and execute said ideas, we become overwhelmed.

It’s easy to see the end result without understanding the nitty-gritty it takes to get there.

But how do we do this?

How do we differentiate between good ideas and bad ones?

How do we spend more time executing our ideas rather than daydreaming?

Let’s look at four solutions.

1. Focus on simple ideas first

When you want to make it as an online entrepreneur, every idea feels like the rainbow leading to a pot of gold.

But rainbows are an optical illusion, you can see them but you’ll never catch them.

It’s our job to differentiate our excitement around a potential idea from the feasibility of executing it.

How do we do this?

Band-Aids.

Band-Aids are cheap, versatile, and simple to implement.

It’s your job to determine whether your ideas are Band-Aid ideas.

A Band-Aid idea doesn’t:

  • Cost you significant amounts of time or money to execute
  • Require you to learn new skills
  • Deliver huge results, but it’ll get the job done

The aggregated efforts of executing Band-Aid ideas over the long run add up to positive results.

The real magic of Band-Aid ideas is not wasting time on complicated and expensive ideas, but rather focusing and executing on simple ones.

Rule of thumb #1: Although small, the results from Band-Aid ideas generate momentum to tackle more ambitious ideas.

2. Talk to other people

“Does this make sense?”

I ask my wife this question all the time.

If I’m muddling with an idea, I’ll try to explain it to my wife and gauge her reaction. I can tell if I’m onto something by the expression on her face.

Sometimes talking out loud and converting abstract ideas into words helps us to understand whether what we’re thinking makes sense to other people.

If I begin tripping over myself and am not clear, I know I need to go back to the drawing board or scrap my idea altogether.

If you have a close friend or family member, someone who will give you honest feedback, go to them.

And here’s the key, don’t find yourself a hype man, someone who only sounds excited and encourages you to chase after every idea. Find someone who is honest and isn’t afraid to deliver feedback.

I have a weekly mastermind call with three close friends of mine. We all get 15 minutes to share our ideas and hear feedback from three perspectives.

When we share our ideas we stick to three conditions:

  • Map out your expectations — what exactly do you hope to accomplish
  • List out your skills and resources — what do you have at your disposal
  • Set a timeline — when will your idea be considered “done”

Thinking in concrete terms helps us to remove the excitement around a new idea that clouds our judgment.

Rule of thumb #2: If you can’t get your idea out of your head in a clear and comprehensive way, it’s probably not worth pursuing.

3. Ask the algorithm

“Has anyone else ever had this idea before?”

Luckily for us, we’re only a “G”, two “Os,” and an autocomplete away from finding an answer.

In other words, do your research.

Chances are your idea isn’t 100% original.

But that doesn’t matter.

Once I’m past the Band-Aid approach and asking other people for their thoughts, I want to know if anyone else has ever tried bringing this idea to life.

If they did…

  • How did it turn out?
  • Did they succeed?
  • What would I do differently?
  • Are there other competitors who currently do it well?

However — and I need to make myself clear — do not allow yourself to become too distracted.

Get in and get out.

The purpose of spending some time researching is to help you avoid making mistakes while you execute your idea.

The best thing that can happen after researching is you taking away some elements of your idea rather than adding onto it.

Rule of thumb #3: Even if someone has executed on your idea doesn’t mean all is lost. You can improve, you can iterate.

4. Set an arbitrary deadline

The harsh realities of being an entrepreneur do not allow for tinkering and wasting time on bad ideas.

Give yourself one weekend to flesh out your idea.

If you can’t create an outline or simple prototype or a visual representation of your idea in a weekend, it’s probably not worth pursuing.

I like using weekends as my time to build prototypes because I’m not distracted by normal weekday responsibilities.

  • Friday evening: brainstorm and make lists
  • Saturday all day: build, build, build
  • Sunday all day: get feedback (see step 2 above)

At the end of your deadline, you should be able to answer the following: Does this idea still make sense?

If yes, keep going. Find those little Band-Aid aspects of your idea and execute those first.

If no, tuck your idea away for another time. It’s okay to quit now and spend your time on more feasible ideas.

Rule of thumb #4: If you give yourself an arbitrary deadline, executing your ideas becomes mandatory.

Stop reading and go execute

If I’m lucky, I abandon my ideas early on. If not, I’m dragged down an endless rabbit hole.

Next time you catch yourself falling into the idea rabbit hole, take a beat and give any one of the above solutions a try.

I’m a fan of the Band-Aid approach above, but you might find talking to friends more valuable.

The point isn’t to stop feeling excited about ideas, having ideas is one of the good parts of our work.

The point is to make sure we are taking action and pushing our work forward.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD
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