Get your ideas out of your mind.
Most of us don’t have problems coming up with ideas. We have problems sorting, organizing, and filtering through the ideas we come up with.
The first step to decluttering your mind is writing everything down. Use a yellow legal pad, notebook, or whiteboard. You can use whatever you want, so long as it’s an analog (and not a digital) tool.
Once you’re sure you’ve emptied your mind of ideas, file them away. If you’re using a whiteboard, take a picture of your brainstorm, put it in Dropbox, and clear the whiteboard.
Now that your mind is clear, you can focus on the goals that are in front of you.
For me, I’ve found that the best time to do business is when I’ve gone to Starbucks, I’ve sat there reading for an hour – could be a little less, could be a little more – I’ve gotten into flow, and I’m inspired with new ideas. That, for me, is a formula for inspired action.
I can’t necessarily explain why that works for me. I do remember that when I was a kid in Japan, after church, I would go to the bookstore. It was one of my favorite places to go to. And I would stand around looking at magazines and manga. I’d learn about the latest video games, and I’d check out to see if there was a new volume of my favorite manga series.
And in that process, I would phase out everything around me. I’d be so engrossed in what I was discovering and what I was looking at and what I was reading, that the surroundings started to fade into the background.
I’ve been finding that, even in adulthood, the written word can captivate and engross me. And it probably has something to do with the brain making new connections. Because when you learn something new, a new connection is formed.
When I start to see those connections happen, new ideas show up in my space. And because I’m in flow, I start to feel excited about those ideas. And then I get to act on those ideas.
We often think about doing business in a regimented way. We have our schedule, and we have certain time blocks allocated to certain tasks. Now, if that works for you, if that gets you into flow, if that gives you inspired ideas and moves you to inspired action, then what you’re doing is perfect. But if it’s not stimulating inspired action, there might be a better time for you to do business.
So, what is the best time to do business for you? The secret may be hidden in your childhood. What did you get engrossed in? What were you doing when things faded into the background?
And if you can identify what that activity is, could you spend 30 to 90 minutes doing it before you get into action with your business? Because inspired action is going to produce far greater results than actions that are tired or uninspired.
I think you’ll agree that the best time to do business is when you’re in flow and when you’re feeling good, and when the gears are turning in your mind. Begin to find that in your routine because that’s where you’re going to see breakthrough results.
Through the years, I’ve used my journal in a lot of ways.
In the last couple of years, though, I’ve gone from using a paper journal to an iPad and Apple Pencil.
There are pros and cons to both, so it’s not as though one is better than the other. One of the reasons I wanted to go with an iPad was because I was planning to travel more and having a tablet would allow me to handle rudimentary tasks, read, browse online, and keep myself busy in situations where using a laptop would prove far more onerous (such as on a plane). I also wasn’t planning on bringing a lot of paper with me on my trips.
Anyway, my journaling efforts have mostly consisted of generating new ideas for life and business. I have created entire routines, schedules, to-do lists, frameworks, as well as goals and plans in my journal. Yes, I’ve acted on them too. The guide you’re reading now began as a seed of an idea.
Critically, things not documented have a way of escaping our consciousness or slipping through the cracks. They are easily forgotten.
How many million-dollar songwriting, marketing, business, or investment ideas have you let pass you by? You probably don’t know because most of them were never captured to begin with. Opportunity cost is real.
The difference is this. We have the power of taking what we’ve written down and turning it into our reality, even if we don’t know how. We just need to get started. And while that might seem obvious, it’s not appreciated enough.
Do you know how incredible it is to write down and achieve your goals? Increase your income by $500? Buy a new car? Move to a new city?
At one point, it was just a seed of an idea. Now it’s a reality.
The process of accomplishment starts somewhere, though, and in my experience, it usually begins with the simple act of writing down your ideas, goals, and plans.
Let yourself dream. What would you do if there weren’t any limitations, time, money, or otherwise? What would you do if you weren’t uncomfortable or scared? What would you try if there were no risk, no fear, no consequence?
Document all of it.
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Whether it’s solving cash flow problems or developing a possibility list, we’ve looked at several areas of your career that might require you to stretch your idea muscle.
I’m not criticizing your creativity. I’m sure you’ve come up with a lot of genius lyrics and guitar hooks in your time. You’re a rock star. That’s why you’re here.
But for some reason, artists like to discard that creative hat when it comes to other things like marketing and money, and I’d like to encourage you to be less hasty in casting aside your innate and developed abilities as an artist. Your creativity can serve you well in every area!
As far as I’m concerned, growing your idea muscle will contribute to you being a better problem-solver, and good entrepreneurs are always skilled problem-solvers.
Here are a few ways to keep exercising that idea muscle of yours:
Increase & Broaden Your Input
People are creatures of habit and are quite likely to return to the same news sources, familiar films and TV shows, YouTube channels, and so on.
Having understood this, we need to be quite intentional about finding input that stimulates, challenges, and encourages growth.
Generally, that means looking outside of where you usually look – reading books in categories you wouldn’t normally read, listening to podcasts that aren’t echo chambers of your daily thoughts, watching videos that make you aware of possibilities you never even knew existed.
One of my favorite activities is reading.
Pick a Topic & Generate 10 New Ideas Per Day
Author and entrepreneur James Altucher is famous for using this method, and it’s been his observation that he’s more successful when he’s in the practice of generating 10 new ideas per day, versus not.
I tried this experiment and kept it going for several months. The result was that ideas became easier to generate.
Take Breaks & Change Your Environment
It’s all well and good to stimulate your mind with fresh input and to challenge yourself to come up with new ideas.
But after all that rigorous exercise, it’s just as critical to take time away from your work – take a shower, go for a walk or a drive, maybe even book a brief getaway.
This gives your mind some time to contextualize and connect the dots. And the ideas that form in your downtime tend to be far more exciting than the ones you force yourself to come up with at your desk or in your bedroom.
Going for a walk or a drive or meditating usually work best for me.
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“I know that I should be writing something new each week, but I’m not sure what to write about,” my entrepreneur friend shared with me.
She wanted to connect with her email list weekly, but within a week or two of sending emails, she found herself running out of ideas.
Whether it’s songwriting ideas, marketing ideas, email campaign ideas, or otherwise, you can’t have too many ideas. I would advise creating and maintaining an idea repository (I have multiple because I’ve been a little scattered through the years, but my main one is inside Evernote).
And this comes with the caveat that, most of our ideas suck. We need to be reminded of this. We should never get too high off our own supply because that’s how we get ourselves into trouble. There’s an opportunity to practice idea generation to build our idea muscle, and that’s a healthy way of looking at it.
But more to the point, if you aren’t regularly generating new ideas, it’s either because a) you’re not paying attention, or b) you don’t have practices that support you in coming up with fresh ideas.
For instance, I don’t flip through Instagram to see what people are bragging about anymore. I look for “pattern interrupts.” When I see something that forces me to pay attention and stop dead in my tracks, I take note of that, and model the content to create my own. If it worked on me, it’s going to work on others too, right?
Ideas are literally everywhere. Whether you’re watching the news (I’m not a big advocate of this these days), reading blog articles, listening to podcast episodes, or cruising Facebook, if you’re paying attention, you can find ideas.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about practices. What practices can support the ongoing generation of ideas?
Here are the three activities I’ve found most worthwhile:
- Reading. Reading books stimulates all kinds of ideas. It takes my mind in a lot of interesting directions, and if I’m not ready with a pen and paper, I’m going to miss capturing a lot of great thoughts. Reading more broadly and generally can be worthwhile too – magazines, newsletters, and blog articles, while paying attention to headlines, call to actions, copy, and anything else that piques your interest.
- Walking. We all need a break from familiar environments – the home, the office, the rehearsal space… Even the most impeccable, most beautiful spaces can start to feel mundane after a while, and as humans, we crave novelty. Getting out in nature and walking or hiking is a great way to get a break from the same old, same old. It’s also great for your health.
- Speculating on possibilities. I covered this earlier. Speculating on possibilities is something that should be done with your band, your team, or people who are invested in helping you get to where you want to go in music and life. And making that micro-adjustment from “brainstorming” to “speculating on possibilities” makes a big difference.
This isn’t to say there aren’t other worthwhile activities – driving, showering, journaling, and more. But I’ve found the above to be the best use of my time.
So, again, it comes down to two things:
- Paying attention to what’s already around you. Ideas are everywhere. Walt Disney didn’t reinvent the wheel – he took what already had a proven track record, implemented it, and then iterated on it. You don’t need to be an innovator either.
- Developing practices that stimulate ideas. Do what works for you. For me, reading, walking, and speculating on possibilities are among the highest value activities.
And don’t forget to capture your ideas. Your brain is not a reliable storage device.
For a proven, step-by-step framework in cracking the code to independent music career success, and additional in-depth insights into making your passion sustainable and profitable, be sure to pick up my best-selling guide, The Music Entrepreneur Code.