How to set up a ‘backburner’ to capture and review your ideas

Often, in the midst of a big project, we come up with ideas that we'd love to implement, if we only had the time and budget to consider them. Scott Belsky, in his new book, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, recommends that you set up a system for not only capturing these random ideas, but also a ritual for returning to them to evaluate them.

Often, in the midst of a big project, we come up with ideas that we’d love to implement, if we only had the time and budget to consider them. Scott Belsky, in his new book, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, recommends that you set up a system for not only capturing these random ideas, but also a ritual for returning to them to evaluate them.

To set up a backburner for your ideas that are not yet ready to implement, but which may be valuable some day, Belsky offers some intriguing techniques:

Reserve space at the bottom of your project or meeting notes – or on a separate page – to capture backburner ideas. Then, place them in a separate “backburner” folder for future consideration.

One executive Belsky knows draws a rectangular box at the bottom of the page, and, over the course of a meeting, fills it with ideas that occur to her. I like this idea, because it’s a simple way to set your ideas apart visually from the rest of your meeting notes. I’m going to start doing this!

Of course, these ideas are of no value if all they do is sit in a folder and collect dust. Belsky recommends setting up a regular ritual to review your file of backburner ideas. Here are a few ideas from the author on how to do this:

“One agency creative director I interviewed keeps his backburner as a running Microsoft Word document on his computer. On the last Sunday of every month, he prints out this 10-15 page document and, pen in one hand and beer in the other, spends half an hour editing the list. As he reviews each entry, he either cuts it, keeps it, or – in some cases – turns the backburner item into a series of action steps.”

“Consider making a recurring monthly “backburner review” appointment on your calendar. Ritualize the time you spend revisiting the half-baked ideas that may someday transform your work or your life… When you review your backburner, you will find that some of the items have suddenly become realistic, actionable goals, while others have gradually become irrelevant. Sometimes, a long-held backburner item is actually the solution to a new problem you face.”

I have always used a variety of methods to capture my ideas - I prefer to do so electronically, with EverNote my current tool of choice – but I’ve got to admit that I’m really awful about having a structured routine for revisiting them. Belsky’s simple suggestions may be just the think to kick me out of my lazy habits to review my long list of ideas on a regular basis.

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