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How to Stifle A Good Idea
Or: Why You're Probably Not Using the Productivity Planners
(This post is a case study in how to stifle a good idea, using my own products as an example. It ends with a general take-away, so feel free just to skip to that.)
Laurie, my good friend and neighbor, provided some of the best feedback for this blog and my planners that I've yet to receive. The thrust of the feedback goes like this:
I really like your blog, but I downloaded some of your planners...and they're really intimidating. My mind just doesn't work that way.
The planners actually started from very simple concepts about productivity:
There are times in which we have more productive energy than others. Use those times to do your productive heavy lifting, and schedule other stuff around those periods. Lastly, try to figure out why you're in those periods and see what you can do to extend or amplify them.
That idea is simple. It has that "this is so stinking obvious - why didn't I think of that" quality about it that makes it very easy to apply in the actual contexts in which we live, work, and play. It's no wonder that it went viral and that post continues to be my most read post.
And Then I Stifled It!
At the time I should have been riding that wave, I did something that stifled the spread of the idea. I made those ideas complicated, foreign, and fundamentally hard to think about by creating planners around those ideas.
At the time I thought that abandoning the broken business planners that we pick up in our office supply stores would really help people learn how to start managing not their time, but their productive energies. Instead of giving them a bridge from a familiar idea to an unfamiliar one, I nuked the familiar and gave them something unfamiliar.
This had the net effect of showing people what's wrong with normal planners without giving them a solution that actually worked for them. What people needed was a way to integrate that idea into their work flow - they didn't need to have to completely reconceptualize time and learn how to use another planner. As much as I've railed against arcane systems, you'd think I wouldn't turn around and promote one of my own.
The Return to the Basic Idea
If you've downloaded the Productivity Planners and they make sense to you, then keep using them. I'd appreciate any feedback about how it's worked out for you.
If you look at them and know that there's no way in hell that they'll actually help you, give them a pass. You won't hurt my feelings - as you can tell, I'll never know. I'd rather you be creating something awesome instead.
That said, I do think the basic idea is right. Focus on that. Figure out when your productive peaks are, plan for them, and guard them as much as you do your money. The truth is that they're far more valuable than your actual money because they are the essence of how you make money.
If the Productivity Heatmap helps you chart these peaks for a few days, then use them. I suggest you try it for 5 days to account for variations - I know for a fact I'm more productive on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays for reasons that I should spend more time talking about.
If you're worried that I'll stop working on that series of planners, don't. At least, don't yet. If you'd like to see continued development and support, though, make sure you let me know either via commenting or email.
What You Can Learn From This
If you've captured an idea that works and latches on to people, help that simple idea throughout its transmission life-cycle instead of trying to make it bigger, better, and stronger. Once that idea has enough people thinking about it, see where you can take it.
Second, don't try to make something that's for everyone: you can't. Some people are going to get it, others aren't. Focus on those people who get it, and use them as the bridge to those who don't. Don't try to use the idea as the bridge to those people because they didn't get it in the first place.
Lastly, if you have a good idea, start sharing it sooner rather than later. You don't want to sit around fixing something that's not broken only to see someone else get the pure idea out. They get the credit and you get to trash your work and hate yourself for awhile.
This last section will be old hat for those of you who have read the brilliant book Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin. Yes, I'm an academic, and I feel obligated to reveal my sources of inspiration and insight.