This post is part of the Idea to Action series.
No matter how much I do to make an idea a reality, things rarely fall into place until I get the entirety of it out of my head, formulate a plan and start acting on it. As I begin to work on PaytaTester, I find it impossible to keep the details of what needs to happen and the best plan attack for actually doing it in my head. I’ve often convinced myself that this was possible and that planning is for suckers. As it turns out, I was the sucker. Knowing what needs to be done and how you want to do it is liberating. It lets you focus on the work and lets you save your energy for the overwhelming amount of effort you’re going to need to do.
On the flip side, planning can easily become its own form of procrastination, so here is a fast and easy way to start getting things out of your head (you will not lack for options or suggestions in how to get this done). It should take you two to three days at the most.
I don’t care how you do it, I don’t care what you do it with, but pick your favorite tool of choice and get as much of what is swirling around your head out of it. Dedicate an entire night, no loved ones, no TV, no phone, no Internet connection if you can avoid it. Take out a sheet of paper or open your app of choice and start writing. Personally, I create a new note in nvALT, open it in Byword which is far more enjoyable to write in and and just start getting it all out. Keep going; work well past the point where you think you’re done. There is almost always still something swimming around in your head. Track it down and get it out. You won’t get everything, but you’ll have more than enough to get started.
Once you’re done, this should scare you. It should make you want to stop. If it does, you know you’re getting there. When you’ve gotten everything you can out of your head, it’s time to start turning it into a plan.
Turning a mess of words into actions is no easy feat, but we are going to set aside another night and see what we can do. Just trying to take the document we created in our brain dump and extracting the action step scan often lead to failure. With your brain dump you expounded and expanded on your ideas, but now we’re going to attempt to give it structure. I do my best planning via a combination of my brain dump document and a mind map. I start by temporarily forgetting all about the initial document, create a new mind map with the name of the project as a single node and work my way outward. At first, I focus on the major aspects of the project. In the case of PaytaTester, this includes:
- Outreach and Awareness – Connecting and getting feedback from potential creators and starting to introduce the idea to potential testers
- PaytaTester MVP – Create a minimum viable product that allows me to test the assumptions I have regarding PaytaTester
- PaytaTester Ideal – Conceptualizing what PaytaTester would look, feel and work like with the proper support and time to mature
- Business Basics – All of the nuts and bolts required to actually create and run a new business
- Help Along The Way – On a project like this that I will need reach out to my network (and potentially to total strangers) to see who might be able to help.
Within this first tier are innumerable projects and tasks. I work my way out from each of these major aspects, defining as much of the project as I can imagine. I attempt to identify the core projects (for example Outreach and Awareness would involve projects for both potential testers and creators) as well as the tasks or sub-projects and tasks that would be involved in each (Creator Outreach would involve things like creating text and materials that explain what a PaytaTest is, how it works, what the financial arrangements would be, etc.). I work this out as long as I can and then cross reference it against the brain dump to see what I missed or may have overestimated the importance of in my initial steps. If these two don’t line up very well, I spend another day figuring out why and refining the plan. Once I have everything in a good place, I get put everything into OmniFocus, my task planner of choice.
After that, comes the hard part.
While creating a plan can be difficult, it pales in comparison to actually doing any of the work. Sure we’ve taken steps to make our idea a reality, but chances are it’s a fragmented mess (I can certainly attest that my work on PaytaTester to date has been scattershot at best). The plan lets us see what we need to do. It helps us start planning our resources and our time accordingly. It makes us stop dreaming about our project and helps us start doing it. Be warned, it can also mess with your head. Once we know what we’re dealing with and we know what has to be done, we unfortunately also know what we’re not doing or what we could be doing better.
I don’t want you to think that I’m being glib about planning, that I think you can get everything right in two or three days. No three-day plan is going to be perfect. I do however think you can accomplish a shocking amount if you set a hard deadline and attack the process with purpose. As you move along things will change, new aspects will pop-up, things you carefully planned will prove to be unnecessary, but having that starting point gives you a roadmap to start doing the single most important thing: the actual work involved in bring your idea to life.
How do you go about getting your projects out of your head, turning them into a plan and acting on them?
For a more linear approach to this kind of planning, check out today’s post from Gabe Weatherhead over at Macdrifter.