In my life, I experience a strange mix of being easily distracted and being extremely focused. Some days I can focus for hours at a time, but many days I look out my window on Squirrel Hill, and – “Oh, look, a squirrel!”
I think about perhaps making a Squirrel Hill logo and daydream about a couple of squirrel designs I could create.
Then the phone rings. My mind flits to another project, and I check out a related website.
Then one of the cats decides to walk across the desk in front of the computer screen.
Then I feel the strong need for another cup of tea.
Can you relate?
In the past, friends have told me, “You can get a prescription for that!” Instead, I prefer to embrace this so-called distraction as a powerful means of brainstorming.
Unfortunately, if I just let myself flit at random all day, I might get into trouble with deadlines. However, I’ve come up with some strategies to help harness some of this creative, squirrelly goodness.
1) Let your mind wander
Give yourself some daydreaming time and the permission to let your mind wander. I tend to let myself daydream in the mornings while I make coffee, as well as at lunchtime. But timing is not the important factor. There are two important elements here:
The first is making time for the act of daydreaming or, as I like to think of it, brainstorming. The second is giving yourself permission to spend some of your time this way.
Daydreaming is often frowned upon and you may have bad memories of being scolded for doing it, particularly in class. Now you can embrace that distraction. If you still find yourself daydreaming or brainstorming while working on another task, don’t worry, simply…
2) Use a daydream catcher
You’ve heard of a dreamcatcher, right? It’s a lovely web that you hang over your bed to catch your dreams when you sleep. Well, a daydream catcher is a catcher for the dreams, brainstorms, and ideas you have when you’re awake.
It doesn’t matter so much what form your catcher takes, as long as you have one. During or after your daydream session, use your preferred daydream catcher to jot down ideas you want to consider at a later time.
When in doubt, catch the idea. It’s easier to erase ideas than to try to remember them later on. Also, it can be easier to get back to another task at hand knowing that all of your exciting new ideas are safe in your daydream catcher for later consideration and study.
3) Map out your daydreams
Set aside time (not necessarily during your daydream time) to map out your daydreams and brainstorms. Think back to the dreamcatcher as a web, and map out your daydreams using a similar structure.
I love mind maps, but sometimes these tools, with their focus on one overarching theme connected to smaller and related ideas, aren’t enough for a multipod’s disparate ideas. The solution? Start with a number of main ideas on a page and then look for connections.
I write the connections or intersections on or below a line that I draw between two ideas. Not all ideas connect, but creating a visual map like this helps me to see connections and intersections. It sometimes points out where there are very separate projects as well as where there are related projects.
Overall, the daydream map is a great tool to clarify your own ideas and, if you choose, to share them. Once you have your ideas mapped out like this, you can easily explain them to friends or co-workers using your maps as visual aids.
Getting back to work
Now that you have a system in place, when you find yourself distracted, pause to harvest your ideas. Then get back to the task at hand, knowing that you’ve captured your amazing brainstorming and daydreams for later.
Oh look, a squirrel! I’m off to make notes in my daydream catcher…
What ideas have you captured today? How have you captured them?