For the thought leadership-inclined, not having enough ideas isn’t a problem. It’s having too many ideas that can be frustrating, especially when those ideas stay swirling around in your head without turning into actual value-creating actions.
Subject matter experts may face this issue more than others since they constantly think of ways to educate and serve their target audience. However, if ideas only end up as a pile of post-it notes, neither the audience nor the business gets served.
While many entrepreneurs are familiar with time and project management principles, few have explored the fundamentals of idea management – the process of capturing, prioritizing, and iterating on ideas before they turn into actual projects and tasks.
Thankfully, technology has made idea management more streamlined than ever before. The key is to use tools that match your communication style and can easily integrate into your preferred project management system.
Before we discuss tools and processes, let’s start with the first step in any idea management journey – finding your sandbox.
PICK YOUR SANDBOX
A sandbox is a space where you can play with your ideas. It is a tool that makes it easy for you to brainstorm and explore ideas without the expectation of perfection. Having a sandbox gives you permission to freely express and explore your ideas, which can be edited later.
Sandboxes can come in many forms because everyone comes up with their ideas differently. Here are the top three sandboxes my clients and I use:
Sandbox Option 1: The Voice Memo Process
If often find yourself having great ideas while you’re on the go, then the voice memo process might be a great choice for you. And thanks to numerous AI tools, having a voice memo process is easier than ever.
Here’s how it works:
- Step 1: Pick your voice memo tool. Popular options include Telegram, Apple’s native Voice Memos or Android’s Voice Recorder apps.
- Step 2: Pick up your phone and record your ideas. Talking out your ideas may be more natural for you than typing them out.
- Step 3: Transcribe your audio. Use whichever transcription tool you like. I tend to use Telegram or Temi. Afterward, you can put both the audio and transcription in your project management system.
Sandbox Option 2: The Morning Pages Process
Morning Pages is the practice of typing or writing down your thoughts stream of consciousness style.
When people talk struggle with writer’s block or feel stuck staring at a blank page, it’s usually because they haven’t given themselves permission to play or to get messy with their ideas. Morning Pages is the act of giving yourself that permission.
Here’s how it works:
- Step 1: Pick a topic and type out whatever comes to mind. Structure and grammar don’t matter; just let your mind wander.
- Step 2: Highlight the gems. Select and highlight the most valuable ideas as they appear. Then, just keep typing.
- Step 3: Copy/Paste your highlights into your project management system. Once you feel like you can’t type anymore, grab the highlighted gems and put them into your project management system.
Sandbox Option 3: The Whiteboard Process
This one is for those of you who think visually. In the past, whiteboards (or mind maps) were pretty much limited to analog options – sketches on paper, post-its on the wall, or actual whiteboards with dry erase markers. But thankfully, those days are now long gone. Digital whiteboards are now popping up everywhere.
Some of my favorite tools – like Canva and ClickUp – have added whiteboard functions. And Apple’s recently released Freeform is quickly becoming a personal favorite.
Using whiteboards for sandbox is particularly helpful when you want to play around with the structure of idea or figure out the best flow.
- Step 1: Sketch out your ideas. Start with your central idea and branch out from there into related subtopics, examples, or stories. Move and rearrange the ideas until it “clicks” for you.
- Step 2: Export or link your whiteboard into your project management system.
PRIORITIZE & MANAGE YOUR BEST IDEAS
Let’s be honest, not all of your ideas are going to be great. Some might not even be good. That’s why you need an easy way to sort through all those ideas and decide which ones to pursue. By using the following guidelines, you can make your project management system work better for you to simplify and streamline your idea management.
Why prioritize ideas?
If you don’t prioritize your ideas, your list of ideas becomes confusing and overwhelming. Prioritizing your ideas helps you quickly assess which ideas deserve your time and energy, and which ones can wait.
Guidelines for prioritizing your ideas:
- Urgent – This indicates that an idea that has deadline associated with it. These are ideas that need to be done soon. I don’t use the “urgent” priority too much when working on thought leadership or content creation ideas, but I will use it if the idea is for an upcoming conference or calendar event.
- High – High priority ideas are ones that align with company goals and speak directly to the problems and goals our ideal clients. These should take priority because they support your business objectives.
- Normal – These are for good ideas, but ones that don’t quite yet hit the mark for one of the above criteria. They’re worth working on, but not until the urgent and high priority ones are taken care of.
- Low – These are seedling ideas that lack clarity but have potential. They’re worth revisiting later, but not right now.
Manage Your Idea Iterations
Once you’ve prioritized your ideas, the next step is to manage their iterations. Some ideas are going to be more fleshed out than others. But without a field to indicate which stage the idea is at, you’d be stuck with clicking into each item to find out. And that’s terribly inefficient and annoying.
That’s why you want to create a custom field called: Idea Phase.
Here are the phases I’d recommend using:
- General Ideas – These are rough notes that need more thought and clarity.
- Inspiration – This is your swipe file of videos, articles, or social posts that caught your attention and inspire your own ideas.
- Idea to Develop – These are you’re best ideas that might need a bit more fine-tuning before they’re turning into projects.
- In Production – These are ideas that are being actively worked on by your team.
- Idea to Prune? – These are ideas that you should probably scrap, but you’re not ready to let go of yet. Maybe you’ll figure out a better angle. Or maybe you’ll trash them the next time you’re cleaning your idea space.
By using these phases, you can quickly see which ideas are in development, which ones are on deck to be turned into projects, and which ones should be put on hold or scrapped altogether.
Idea Management Is Key for Thought Leadership Success
Managing your ideas is just as important as managing your time and your projects. Without a clear process for sorting through your ideas, you may find yourself overwhelmed and unproductive. By using these prioritization and idea iteration processes, you can focus on your best ideas that will make the biggest impact for your brand.