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Idea Rot: Why Ideas Have A Two-Week Shelf Life

I have a new rule: If you haven’t worked on something in the past two weeks, you’re not allowed to talk about it. I’m guilty. But not as much, anymore. My ideas would just sit for months. Stagnating. Ideas rot, and the only way to keep them from spoiling is to turn them into reality.

And I’m not the only one guilty of wasting ideas. I’ve heard about the same projects that y’all were going to start working on “this weekend” for the past six months. Stuck on repeat.

When all you do is talk, you forget the most critical step — making. I’m not saying skip researching your ideas, but less-is-more. You don’t need to be an expert to solve a problem and it doesn’t need to be perfect the first time.

How to bring an idea to life today

Block off a chunk of time. Six is good, 12 is better.

This is seriously the hardest part, even though it seems like the easiest. It’s hard to find 6-12 hours of continuous, distraction-free time. I love Sunday for this.

No one sees me on Sundays because I cut myself off from the world and spend the entire day creating. I get extreme. No distractions. Not even cooking. I only eat light food, all of it’s pre-cooked or raw. No friends, no phone, no Twitter.

Outline. You have two minutes. Go.

I learned this technique while writing a book, but it works for everything. Get a pen and paper. Break your project into steps. Even if it sounds stupid, even if the step is “go to the store and buy a pencil”, write out as many actionable steps as you can in two minutes. After two minutes, stop. You now have your plan.

The time limit is key. It’s a race to get as much on paper as you can, but it’s fluid and doesn’t need to be perfect.

This is a NO GOOGLING zone

When you’re creating, Google is off limits, unless you’re looking up how to do something very specific that you’re working on right now. So “syntax for creating Rails associations” is fine but “best practices for building a Rails application” is not. If you can’t hold yourself to this, block Google.

I like to write down anything that distracts me — Google searches, random thoughts, new ideas, whatever. The point is, if you write them down, they’ll stop bubbling up when you’re in the zone.

The easy part, creating

When you set yourself up for success creating, doing something actionable, is the easiest part. I know that when I follow this process, I get into that mind-numbing state where I just flow. It’s like all of my energy and focus just pour into whatever I’m working on (it’s how I feel right now, writing this post).

  • Update that blog you’ve been ignoring for the past six months.
  • Start coding that side project — you can build a MVP in 36 hours.
  • Outline that book you’ve wanted to write for years — it only takes 15 minutes.

No one will notice if you don’t, but someone might notice if you do.

Ideas Have a 2 Week Shelf Life [Steve Corona]

Steve Corona is the CTO of Twitpic and author of Scaling PHP. Follow him on Twitter @stevencorona.