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A Guide to Productive Brainstorming

As a business owner, time is not on your side. The day’s schedule fills up fast – which often limits the amount of “CEO” time you have. However, this “CEO” time is incredibly valuable when it comes to building your business and improving yourself as a business owner.

“CEO” time can include a wide range of things like taking courses, updating your website content or blog, scheduling social media, researching new software and tools to use, and more. More often then not, this time also includes brainstorming new ideas that will positively impact your work. But brainstorming is rarely an efficient use of your time.

How often have you gotten sucked down the rabbit hole of researching a marketing tactic or sales strategy that you never ended up implementing? You can easily waste a full day – or more. You get excited about this new idea, tell everyone about it, learn all of the ins and outs – and then nothing. Real life returns and your responsibilities creep up on you in the form of deadlines or client calls.

Your ideas are good, your time management isn’t.

Just because you aren’t following through on these ideas doesn’t mean they’re bad. In fact, they’re probably amazing. You know your business than anybody else – if an idea had you jazzed, it was for a good reason. So, what’s the hang up?

The problem you’re having isn’t unique to you. Brainstorming just isn’t a linear activity with a clear-cut “how to” template. That’s kind of the point. It’s suppose to get your creative juices flowing, and you don’t want to box yourself in with a rigid brainstorming schedule. But if you have no solid template for your brainstorming sessions they’ll become irrelevant.

As a business owner, every minute you spend needs to have a purpose. That’s why I’m such a big advocate for time management strategies like time blocking and scheduling. To give your brainstorming sessions purpose, I recommend going into them with the end-goal of having an action plan. Maybe your action plan will be to create a free opt-in to build your email list. Maybe it will be to NOT use the software you were considering because after an hour or two of research you’ve decided it’s not a good fit. The action you choose to take doesn’t matter, just having the action gives your brainstorming purpose.

Here’s where things get tricky: you need to actually apply this idea to your brainstorming sessions. Let’s go over a quick-start guide to giving these bursts of creativity the ability to help you make big strides in your business.

Step One: Focus Your Brainstorming

It sounds counter intuitive. “I want creativity, not boring focus!” I’m going to argue that the two go hand in hand. Focused creativity means that you have to exercise some self control when you’re brainstorming. This can be as specific as picking one or two CRMs to research. It can be as broad as deciding you want to overhaul your content marketing strategy and brainstorming ideas to get started. Be as detailed or as big picture as you want to be. The point is to have a focus – and to stick with it. Your focus will help you generate bigger, better ideas than if you allow yourself to be all over the place.

Don’t stray. If you find yourself link hopping and suddenly you’re reading about yoga classes near you instead of how to create an editorial calendar, you’ve gotten off track. Forgive yourself, refocus, and keep pushing forward.

Step Two: Take Notes

Don’t just read articles or save fifteen of them in Evernote. Take copious notes. Write down what ideas stick with you. Write down what ideas you hate. Write down what purpose you think this research will serve, how you’d like to see it play out, or whether you think you’ve hit a wall and need to realign at a later date.

These notes will provide a valuable reference tool for you to look back on later. Because the whole point of organizing your brainstorming sessions is to take action on them. Having notes on what you think will work (and what won’t) helps you accomplish that.

Step Three: Limit Your Time

Don’t lose an entire day to this. Don’t even lose an entire morning to this. Someone recently told me about Parkinson’s Law – something I’d heard people speak about before in broad terms, but not when applied to creative tasks. Parkinson’s Law states that a task will take up the time you give it.

So give yourself less time. An hour. 30 minutes. Heck, give yourself 10 minutes between the end of your work day and hitting the gym. Allow your brainstorming session to fill up this time completely – but don’t allow it to bleed into your next scheduled task. Limiting yourself in this way makes you more focused, and therefore more productive.

Step Four: Revisit Your Notes

Remember those handy notes we took in step two? They’re already becoming useful! Take a second to glance back over your notes to refresh your memory. Obviously this is more important if you’ve waited 24 hours or more between your brainstorming session and this step, but it’s still useful to do if you just stepped away from your desk to take a breather.

Remember, when you revisit your notes you are no longer in brainstorming mode. That time has passed. Don’t get distracted adding additional ideas to your notes.

Use your notes to help create a list of actionable steps to achieve an end-goal. If you were brainstorming ideas on how to improve your content marketing strategy, for example, your list might look like this:

  • Email current clients about what kind of content they would be interested in reading and/or sharing with colleagues.
  • Create an editorial calendar based on feedback.
  • Schedule time once a month to complete all blogs for that month.
  • Edit blogs and schedule to publish in (WordPress, Twenty Over Ten, FMG Suite, etc.).
  • Write a free download that ties one-two blogs together to grow email list.
  • Create a landing page.
  • Use a plugin on website to promote landing page and/or download to gather emails.

Boom. That looks like a pretty solid to-do list to me. You’re already making progress as a result of that single brainstorming session.

Step Five: Set Deadlines and Schedule

Don’t stop with the to do list! It’s time to follow through. Haul out your calendar, planner, Trello board, or whatever you use to schedule your time. Let’s set some deadlines. Take each of the tasks on your to do list and set a deadline on your calendar. Schedule out the time you think it will take to accomplish that task by the deadline – and be honest with yourself. Don’t overschedule something that should take you a half hour (remember: Parkinson’s Law!).

If you feel like your task list was too long, start with just the initial steps that will get you moving in the right direction. Or break steps into multiple scheduled tasks. However you tackle your to do list, pat yourself on the back for getting it done.

You can do it!

Conquering your brainstorming sessions is an excellent first step towards leading a more productive life as a business owner. More than that, you’re going to be absolutely shocked by how quickly you start accomplishing your goals and turning your pie-in-the-sky dreams into reality.