I was just recently talking to a client that was describing a scenario between her and another artist friend of hers. My client was dealing with an absolute creative block at the moment and her friend came to her complaining because she had TOO MANY ideas. You can imagine my client’s upset which sounded a little like: “She had the %&*$#@ nerve to complain to me that she had too many ideas, the ungrateful %&^*$!”   This was followed by various other choice words about her friend that won’t even bother to mask.

When our session was over I thought for a few moments about the fact that I, surprisingly, have had an equal opportunity to work with artists who deal with too many ideas and those who are dealing with creative blocks. I know that both sides of that coin can be debilitating to us as creative people and often we will go through both versions at sometime along our journey.

I got to thinking about the fact that there was a lot of material out there about dealing with blocks (even I have written about it 🙂 ) but that I hadn’t seen very much to help those of us with too many ideas. So I decided to focus on this for a while. As usual, I don’t depend on just my knowledge and experience; instead I went to see what kind of research was really out there to help those of us who have too many ideas.

Very quickly I discovered that it was not only something that creative people (including moi) had to deal with but it even had a name: Too Many Ideas Syndrome (TMIS). Now, you need to know that made me giggle … I often am amused that we live in an age where so many things that others and I have dealt with for our whole lives now have been labeled.

Not being a label kind of woman perhaps they were there all along and I have just ignored them all, however … you know if it now has a label then there must be enough of us who deal with it to deserve a label so there is some comfort in it. Since us creative types often isolate to some degree it is always one of the things that my clients want to know … Is it just me or do other Artists go through this?

So WHOOOOOOHOOOOOOO … for anyone who deals with too many ideas … take comfort … it is not just you! Please, Please let yourself stop questioning yourself and making it wrong. You have company, no matter how many people roll their eyes at you and act as if you are a creative sinner for thinking it is a problem.

I will confess, up front, that I know TMIS intimately. There have been several times in my life when ideas ran dry and it was both a nightmare and a blessing for me. The blessing side was that to some degree I am clear that the relief of the thoughts slowing down allowed me to breathe. Mostly I have always had so many ideas that I never used to know what to do with them. It was some strange torture for me. They fly in from everywhere constantly. It is incessant. It used to be both a thrill and a problem.

So what is the problem with that? NOTHING with the ideas, frankly. That is a blessing for sure. It is not the ideas that are the problem … is it knowing what to do with them. All those ideas, not enough time … too many to use, etc. And it invites all kinds of other conundrums like swirling around trying to decide which ones to engage with, becoming paralyzed with them, feeling anxiety about them, procrastination with them and a funny sort of paralysis with them.

I would sit with tons of potential projects in various stages of being done and ideas about the next hundred projects I could begin. It was a swirl of shiny objects dangling in front of me, each of which attracted me towards it. I couldn’t decide and I couldn’t use them all. It was amazingly frustrating. I was a bit of a leaf in the wind moving from idea to idea and never satisfied. It slowed me down!

At some point I knew I had to get a grip on it or I was going to spend the rest of my creative life in confusion and frustration. So I began to put structure to it. I knew there were key pieces to it. I needed to capture the ideas, handle my brain and act on the ideas. Here is what I created:

  1. CAPTURE THEM. I take a blank sketch journal with me everywhere I go. Any idea that comes up I write it down, sketch it out or take a photo to represent it. If I cannot write or sketch at the moment, I capture it as quickly as I can afterwards so I don’t lose it. At times I use the voice recorder in my cell phone to document it (like when I am driving). I include the idea, notes about what sparked the idea and any short thoughts I had, at the time, about what to do with the idea. I capture every idea I can. Seriously. I don’t edit. I never know what might sound crazy now but will be perfect later.Out of my brain and into physical reality … Yeahhhhhhhh!!! Then I let it go. It is captured so I don’t need to worry about it or ponder it any more.The ideal situation is to have only one place you document everything so you don’t have tons of little pieces of paper to deal with. It may be a journal like I use or, if you choose to use more technology, you can utilize an app in your phone or table that allows you to document and file things.
  2. SET UP AN IDEA REVIEW TIME. I designate one consistent time a week as my Idea Review time. For me it is Sunday. I give myself only 1 hour for this task since I know having a deadline will keep me focused. I go through my journal and transcribe anything in my recorder. I look to see if any ideas can be combined. Then with each idea I sort it into one of 3 lists and type it into the appropriate list that I save on my computer: DOING NOW (up to 6 months), DOING LATER (6 months – 1 year), MAYBE NEVER DOING (anything that was beyond 1 year). I handle each idea, I do not judge them … even the “What was I thinking?” ideas get put on a list for now.How do I pick the list to put them on? That is rather arbitrary I admit. Some ideas are just plain crazy-out-there so they go to the Maybe Never Doing list. Some I know I will need to accomplish other things first in order to do them so they go to the Doing Later list, etc. I move fast and get them typed up. I attach any photos I may have (and if I made sketches I take a photo of it so I can include it in the document). I let my brain know that I am not trashing them and that I can reorder them at any time (my brain seems to be comforted by that).
  3. PRIORITIZE & GRAB THE TOP ONE. Once I get all of my new ideas in their appropriate lists I go to the Doing Now list and prioritize it and I pick the top one (and only 1) that I am going to work on now. How the heck do you prioritize? That might be the question that comes up since this was the original problem to some degree. I personally let my Heart or Higher/Inner SELF prioritize. My brain wants to do them all but my heart knows what calls to it the most and in what order.Bottom line is that there is a choice to make … you can prioritize by the ones that stands out the most, the ones that makes your heart sing the most, the ones that would take the most time or the least time (particularly if you have a deadline), the ones that will bring in the most money (if money is an immediate issues), the ones that are the most outlandish, which one seems the safest, let a friend prioritize for you, use tarot cards, roll a dice, etc. Choose a method that works for you and use it. You can always choose a new method and re-prioritize next week.
  4. GET BUSY WITH IT. I set times to work with that idea and begin working on it. I do not allow myself to second guess after I prioritize for that week. I work on it. I don’t let myself get distracted. I work on it. If some other item from the list starts beckoning me I remind my brain that during my Idea Review time next week I could re-prioritize and select it.When I complete working with that idea I can pick the next one to work on even if it is before my Idea Review time on Sunday. If the idea I am working on REALLY requires a pause (i.e a painting needs to dry) I can allow myself to take the next one to work on but that is only the next one on the list and only 1 more. Then when the one that needed a pause is ready again I return back to it until I complete it. The basic rule I made up, however, is I can’t move to another one until I am done with this idea.
  5. REPEAT. I repeat steps 1 – 5 each day and week crossing off ideas you have used and adding new ones as you go.
  6. MONTHLY REVIEW. One time a month (again I set up a consistent time … for me it is the 1st Sunday of each month) I review the Ideas on my Doing Now list and see if there is room for any of them to move to my Doing Now list.   I also look to see if anything on my Doing Later list might have become an idea for my Maybe Never Doing list since they may have lost their luster while time went by.
  7. ANNUAL REVIEW. Once a year, at the beginning of the year, I also take a look at the Maybe Never Doing list and just see if anything there needs to move up to my Doing Later list. I also scan each list to see if anything can now just be trashed (some of them sounded great at the time but I have evolved and know that I really have no interest in ever doing them now).

At the beginning it may seem like a lot of work, keeping the lists, reviewing the lists, etc. However, I noticed that the frustration began to go away.   My brain began to get handled. My brain got my attention as I wrote down or recorded the ideas. Then it got my attention again as I sort the ideas. Finally it got my attention as I selected what to work on. I trained it to accept the process and that it wasn’t going to get my attention at other times. My brain finally accepted it!!! WHOOOOOHOOOOOOOO! It really is trainable. The time I spent was panning out.

Now no ideas get dropped, I don’t forget them, I don’t swirl around in my head about them and I don’t get paralyzed by them. I welcome in the flow and honor it by taking care of it. I also honor my time. I get more done. As a matter of a fact, things amazingly get done much faster than they ever had since I am committing to one thing at a time. I have a sense of accomplishment. I no longer have a dozen partially finished items cluttering my space and my head as I swirl from one idea to the next and back again. I don’t get paralyzed and I don’t procrastinate.

Not only that but it goes much faster now than when I began – I whip through my lists like lightening, I delete things, narrow my lists and move things around on the lists. I don’t clutch onto each idea any more. My weekly Idea Review is actually fun for me as I scan the list and pick. My brain is still tempted to mess with me but I keep it in check.

Of course this is all customizable to fit your needs. I have continued to tweak my process to fit me. I am a planning queen so I schedule working my ideas in my calendar. I also have categories now and have my 3 lists under each category (Photography, Painting, Poetry, etc.) You can do as little or as much structure as works for you. The keys are to capture your ideas, let go of them once captured, work on them and delete them. All of the sorting makes it easier for your brain to deal with them but you can do as much or as little as appeals to you … test things out and find out your own sweet spot.

I am a TMIS survivor. I still have tons of ideas but I don’t think they are too many any more. They are just my ideas – I have the amount that I have. They flow to me and I am grateful for each one of them now that they all will find a place.  Certainly there is no chance of things running dry because now I actually always have captured ideas to play with.

How about YOU … Do you have TMIS?
How do you deal with it if you do?

I welcome your feedback and love when you share with me/us! I think we all benefit from each of our contributions and I am always grateful for what I get to learn from you!