How To Choose Which Of Your 1,001 Ideas Are The Best Ideas

…and not basing it on a gut feeling.

Too Many Ideas. Not Enough Time. - Annual planning for your creative business and how to choose which of your 1,0001 ideas are the best ideas.
Too Many Ideas. Not Enough Time. - Annual planning for your creative business and how to choose which of your 1,0001 ideas are the best ideas.

This is Part 2 of our Annual Planning process. You can read Part 1, “Why I Cross Of 3 Months When I Plan My Year” here.

This time of year can feel exciting. You’re done with the hustle and bustle of back-to-school (even if no one in your household goes to school, most of us still feel excited at that time of year) and the holidays are just around the corner, but the panic hasn’t quite set in. Everything is starting to feel fresh and possible, and planning for the future feels good.

The anticipation of a new year just feels good. Feeling introspective is just the feeling January tends to bring around.

For some of us, feeling introspective isn’t fun. Especially if you feel like you haven’t had a great year in business. Maybe that’s being in denial or maybe you think it’s water under the bridge.

“I didn’t stick to my plan for this year, so why would I plan so much when I know I won’t stick to it again and that I’ll need to shift quickly to keep up with the trends?"

You think to yourself, “I didn’t stick to my plan for this year, what are the chances I’ll stick to it next year?” and by the time December comes around, you’re only looking forward. Why would you think about the past when you just need to move forward?

As creatives, our brains are always on “overload” because we’re inspired by soooo many things. We get in this “creative 4-wheel drive” mindset and start plowing through the muck of implementing a new idea or strategy before we even think to see if it is aligned with our overall business objectives or goals.

We have too many ideas and not enough time to implement them or to figure out which are the best to implement, so we just go with the one we’re most inspired by at the time and start.

Because you aren’t sure what to implement or where to start, you obviously aren’t getting anywhere, and if you have started working on your annual business plan, you are concerned what you have chosen to work on isn’t “it”.

So, you’re spinning your wheels, working on whatever new idea popped in your head and sounded like it could be kind of awesome, spend a few days cranking it out, create something that you realize is way off base, and hit a dead end.

(Unless you get lucky, of course, and then, you may want to share that secret sauce with us all.)

Here’s why starting your planning with 1,001 ideas and trying to narrow your focus based on a gut feeling becomes problematic: you’re starting too far down the annual planning process.

Annual Planning and How to Choose Which Of Your 1001 Ideas are the Best Ones.
Annual Planning and How to Choose Which Of Your 1001 Ideas are the Best Ones.

So, how do you know what ideas to implement next year? You need to start by looking at the last year. It’s that simple. To figure out which if the 1,001 ideas are your best ideas, we have to get a little retrospective.

By looking at last year, you are able to set benchmarks and see the black and white truth behind what’s actually happening in your business. Maybe you thought one of your favorite products was underperforming, but a look back at your stats could tell you differently.

Or maybe you’ve been feeling a little ho-hum about not reaching all the insane goals you set for yourself this year, but a look back at your accomplishments could show you how many things you truly got done that you feel great about.

You also haven’t celebrated the past and understood exactly what you need in a meaningful way–in a way that helps you start planning for next year. As you look back, you’re immediately going forward and thinking about the new year.

When everything feels fresh and possible, planning for the future feels a lot more fun than spending time thinking about the past.

I totally understand. A favorite personality test around here is Strengths Finder 2.0—if you haven’t taken it, I highly recommend it. One of my strengths, which I learned from taking this test, is Achiever, which means I need to accomplish something each day to feel good about myself.

And it also means I don’t always remember to appreciate my successes, and I really do struggle to celebrate what I achieve. Instead, I check things off the list and move on, looking for the next high of accomplishment.

I also have a top strength of Futuristic, which means I am always thinking and dreaming and visioning new things for the future, but also means I rarely spend too much time being retrospective.

But whether you have the strength of Achiever, Futuristic or not, for most of us, it’s more fun to skip straight to the fun of planning for the future. But your plans won’t be nearly as successful if you don’t have a good grasp on how things went this past year.

“Doing this kind of work—things you don’t necessarily want to do but that you know are good for the health and success of your business—are what help you grow your business like a founder.”

Annual Planning - doing this kind of work is what helps you grow your business like a founder.
Annual Planning - doing this kind of work is what helps you grow your business like a founder.

Doing this kind of work—things you don’t necessarily want to do but that you know are good for the health and success of your business—are what help you grow your business like a founder. You’ll make better plans–ones you’re more likely to stick to–and start making decisions.

Reviewing isn’t just about celebrating—though it’s really important—it’s also about being honest about the challenges. Just remember that your challenges are learning experiences.

So, I have some tools to help you review your year. Download the Review Your Year worksheets here.

I’ve broken your review into 4 parts: Review You, Review Your Business, Review Stats, and Review Tasks.

First, I think it’s important to look at our own personal growth so we can see how far we’ve come in the last 12 months, both emotionally and in our business goals.

The first worksheet, Review You, asks some questions about the past year. We’ve listed a lot of prompts to help you think through this. For example, “What were your most valuable relationships?” For example, maybe you had coffee with people, talked with others face-to-face on Google Hangouts, attended retreats, and had a weekly accountability call with a friend. Maybe you’ll realize all made a huge difference in your business and in how you approach your business because you don’t feel like you’re doing this alone. Knowing that will help you continue to make getting face time with business friends a priority in the upcoming year.

We’ve made this really simple on you by creating a list of prompts for you on our worksheets.

On the second worksheet, Review Your Business, you’ll start by writing down everything you produced this year. If you create wedding invitations, write down all the designs you completed. If you’re a blogger, make note of all the content you produced. If you’re a product designer, write down all the new products you developed. If you’re a photographer or website designer, write down all the projects you completed and clients you delivered for. Don’t judge these just yet—simply write them all down.

Then write down other projects you completed or worked on this year. Maybe you launched a new website, created an ebook for subscribers, switched email companies (which we all know can be a big project), and attended three in-person events. These are all important things to take note of.

Then as you look back on your list, think about which products and projects were a success—and which weren’t. Reviewing isn’t just about celebrating—though it’s really important—it’s also about being honest about the challenges. Just remember that your challenges are learning experiences. Then look at what a big year you had a take a moment to appreciate all that you did!

We’ve made it super simple for you with our Review Your Year worksheets where you can write in what you produced and what you learned.

On the third worksheet, Review Your Tasks, you’ll take a look at all the things you do that keep your business running. This list could include things like blogging, collection development, Etsy shop updates, social media, bookkeeping, business planning, email support, order fulfillment, production, customer service, email newsletters, tradeshow or craft show prep, designing, managing staff, and so on. You can look back at your previous two worksheets to remind yourself of all that you do.

Once you feel like your list is complete, create a system—either using symbols, highlighters, colored markers, or something similar—to divide up your list. Use a different symbol or color to mark things like  (download the worksheets to get the symbols!)

This list will be individual to you, so get as creative as you like! At the bottom of the worksheet, there’s space for a key that will remind you of what each color or symbol means.

We’ve made this really easy for you with our worksheets with a legend already created for you.

On the fourth worksheet, Review Your Success, think about the ways you measure success. The possibilities are endless and success looks different to everyone, so keep an open mind and remember to pay attention to what works for you.

First, look at all the numbers. Think of the things that are most important to measure in your business and fill in each one on the worksheet. But don’t simply use “vanity” numbers—make sure you choose items that really mean something to you.

We’ve made this really easy for you with our worksheets by listing some popular things you may want to measure.

Then look at each one. What do you want to change next year?

The second page of the Review Tasks worksheet, helps you fill in other things that happened this year that make it a success for you. These aren’t quantifiable by specific numbers but that doesn't mean they’re not super important.

Before you dive in, I want to say up front that I know it can be hard to recall the specifics of an entire year on demand. Answer the questions on each worksheet as best you can, and then try looking through your calendar, planner, project management systems, blog posts, Instagram feed, and more—anything that will help jog your memory about what went on this year!

Annual Planning For Creative Business Owners - How to choose which of your 1,001 Ideas Are The Best Ideas.
Annual Planning For Creative Business Owners - How to choose which of your 1,001 Ideas Are The Best Ideas.

But also keep a week or so open to work on this part of the annual planning process—because once you start thinking, you’ll start remembering more and more. Leave the worksheets out where you can easily get to them to make sure you capture all you experienced!

You’ll be prompted to enter your email address for the worksheets so you won’t miss the next steps in our Annual Planning process for creative business owners.

We’ll follow up with more about the findings and takeaways you should think through next week.