Where possible, act on your ideas immediately

For the last year, I’ve had about 25% of my total office whiteboard area covered in scribbled blog post ideas. I’m trying to clean it up now, so yesterday I went through and put them all in a file with a short explanation of what each idea meant and what inspired me.

As it turns out, I have no idea what many of these are. Some of them are good ideas and I can remember what made me think it would make for an interesting post when I wrote it down. But look at some of these:

  • balance
  • hidden cost
  • ego
  • job search
  • trading pain for pleasure

Granted, those are concepts that you could talk about (though I have no idea about the last one), but they don’t really provide much in the way of an interesting angle. I’m sure I had something interesting in mind when I scribbled this down, but those bits of inspiration have been lost.

Why didn’t I just sit down and write the post while it was fresh in my mind?

The time to write a post is right when the idea or inspiration strikes. Without fail, the best blog posts I’ve ever written have been those I sat down and drafted in one sitting when the topic was fresh on my mind and heart. You don’t have to write the final form, but being able to take 15 minutes and pound out a quick draft is incredibly valuable. Not only will it end up taking less time because you have the engine of inspiration pushing you, it will end up being a much stronger post. Your mind is incredibly powerful at finding connections and patterns, and when you’ve been ruminating on something enough for a blog post idea to spring to mind, your writing will take on a clarity and electricity that is very hard to match later when you sit down and look at a three-word description of the idea. When an idea goes stale, the little connections and thoughts and angles that you were holding in your mind are lost. What you’re left with is the obvious and tepid approach that almost anyone writing about the subject could come up with.

If you don’t have time to draft an idea when inspiration strikes, the next best thing is to write down the idea and any mental clues that you can use later to recreate cognitive environment that gave birth to the idea.

For example, I had a phone conversation yesterday with a friend about personal finance education. There’s a good blog post in there somewhere, though I haven’t figured out the exact angle. But when I recorded the idea, I wrote down the context of the conversation we had, what I had read earlier that prompted this conversation in the first place, some of the phrases and conclusions each of us said during this conversation, etc. Later when I’m writing a blog post, I can read through this stuff and remember this conversation much more vividly, and thus recreate the mental patterns that led me to think there was an interesting post idea there.

As the title indicates, working when inspiration strikes is much bigger than blog post ideas. It applies to all ideas. Inspiration is such a powerful engine for getting things done, and I think that anytime any kind of inspiration strikes, it’s worth it to play with it immediately and see if there’s some potential there. Don’t just write ideas down; go play around with them and see if there’s something there. You don’t have to finish it right then, but you might find something life-changing in that flash of inspiration that you would have missed if you had let it go stale.

What good ideas have you had that you let go stale? What amazing ideas have changed your life because you pursued them when they were fresh?