My mind is literally overrun with all kinds of ideas all the time. My to do list is filled mostly of personal projects. I’ve started countless spiral notebooks of business ideas and have filled them with research.
I wake up in the middle of the night just to write down ideas. I can’t even enjoy watching business-based television shows that focus on improving a business (a la “Restaurant Impossible” and “Undercover Boss“) anymore without getting up to get a pad and paper and writing down my own ideas.
I couldn’t be happier working 12-14-16 hour days when I spend much of that time working on developing these ideas. I even often stop working on client work when an idea pops into my head to do a little bit of Googling about it. I tend to find myself saying “oh, I can work on that client project this weekend” then taking most of the rest of the day to start planning out a new idea.
Then it hit me: I was letting my entrepreneurial spirit overpower my current business operations. Ever since I realized that I was spending more time on my ideas than on my current client work, it kind of freaked me out a bit. My ideas were keeping me from taking care of my business obligations in the present. I was so excited and so eager to start a new entrepreneurial endeavor that I was pushing away things that were making me money right now.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was probably not alone. I believe that most self-employed individuals (myself included) have this creativeness and unique view when it comes to making a living. This freedom to create and build things we are passionate about and the uniqueness of our situation and our thought processes are the things that got us into our current self-employed lifestyle to begin with, the one that makes us excited to get out of bed in the morning.
We tend to use our past experiences starting and running our own entrepreneurial success(es) to want to relive that excitement all over again with the ideas we have spinning around in our heads. However, it is completely possible, and I believe very common, to let these ideas and that prospect of excitement overrun our current businesses and projects, which can get us into a heap of trouble if we aren’t careful.
Up until recently, I was very much guilty of letting my ideas seep into the working hours I established for myself for my current business. I often started working on client work later and later into the day and found reasons to stop sooner and sooner so that I could develop my ideas. I found myself trailing off during my work by opening a new tab in my browser and doing “a few quick” searches that turned into an hour’s worth of time.
Are you guilty of letting your ideas take over?
If you were nodding your head to everything I said above, you are not alone. I’m here to tell you that there are ways you can still develop your ideas and run with your entrepreneurial ambitions without letting it impact your current business obligations. You don’t have to stop thinking of ideas just because you are working. You don’t have to give up on pursuing ideas because of things you have going on in the present. However, we have to find the right balance of current, paying work and the ideas that run through our heads and keep us up at night with excitement and planning.
So the question is: how can we make time to pursue our new entrepreneurial ideas without letting things go in the present?
Don’t stop thinking and writing down ideas.
That’s right, no matter when it is, take a few seconds to write down the idea. After all, you don’t want to lose it, right? There is no shame in taking a couple of minutes to write down an idea while it is on your mind. A few minutes here and there won’t impact your current projects and it allows you the opportunity to come back later and revisit it.
Writing things down is known to have stress-relieving benefits. It is often recommended for those who can’t sleep at night because their mind is racing to write down the things on their mind to help get a better night’s rest. This is because once you write something down, your brain no longer has to keep recalling it to remember it. You won’t forget the idea, however you can move on to the current task at hand, be it a client project or trying to sleep. Also, if you write it down to revisit it later, it tempts you less to stop work all together to do some research or planning.
If you have set work hours, stick to them.
One of my biggest problems was that I would take time during my normal business hours (that I had set for myself) to work on things other than what I should have been doing. I also had convinced myself that I shouldn’t work on client work at night or on the weekends. With a combination of working on my ideas during the day and not working on client work during other times, I made less and less time for the things I was getting paid to do right now.
While I said it was ok to write down your ideas, make sure you don’t spend any more time on your entrepreneurial ideas while you are supposed to be at work. You should be spending your work hours focused on current work, no matter how that is defined in your current business. If you find yourself trailing off to work on something that isn’t directly related to your current business, immediately stop and get back to work.
If you don’t have set work hours, make them.
Some of the self-employed often don’t have set working hours, so this makes it much easier for them to trail off and work on other things whenever the mood strikes them. Since they don’t have set working hours, they don’t feel guilty when they work on their own ideas at 2pm in the afternoon or stop working on a client project to work on a side project.
If this describes you, then it’s time to be the boss you are to yourself and mandate a set schedule for your current business. It doesn’t have to be the typical 9-5, nor does it have to be anything in the traditional sense of working hours. It should, however, be enough to take care of business. For me that means working 50 hours a week on nothing but my business. Since I work from home, 50 hours a week still allows me to do other things because I don’t commute and don’t have to spend a ton of time getting ready to leave in the mornings. Then, anything outside of my set work hours is “free time,” or time I can spend pursuing my ideas.
Allot blocks of time dedicated only to coming up with, planning out, and developing your ideas.
On the flip side of determining exactly when you will work for your current business, you should also carve out time every week to work on your ideas. The when, where, how and the details are up to your current schedule, of course, but it is important to give your ideas, side projects and other ventures their own dedicated time too.
This works in much the same way as staying focused on your work during work hours. Setting specific hours to pursue your entrepreneurial ideas will force you to focus on those ideas and not on things like client work. There is also the added benefit when you force yourself to work on your ideas at certain times: you start making progress toward making your ideas a reality. This often helps alleviate the feeling of needing to make progress, because you have and on a regular basis. It makes you less tempted to work on the ideas when you should be focused on other things because deep down you know you are making progress and will make more progress at a certain time in the near future.
Let the entrepreneurial spirit grow.
There is a reason you became self-employed. There is a reason you have all of these ideas. Most importantly, there is a reason behind the excitement you have every day to work on things you are passionate about. Let that entrepreneurial spirit flourish. While it may seem that having structured blocks of time and forcing yourself to do certain things at certain times might hurt the excitement you have, as long as you have that spirit, work to keep it alive.
If something above doesn’t work for you, then find some way to make time for everything you need and want to do. Whatever balance you find, make sure you are still excited to pursue your ideas. While the things that are in the present are important to sustain a living, the things you could grow and develop in the future could help shape your career to be a more fruitful and happy one. Always remember to keep on top of your current projects, but don’t just stop working on your ideas because you have obligations in the present to attend to.
Image Credit: Paul Ellis/Getty Images
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.
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