Helping Creative People Create

How to Add Structure to an Idea-Packed Day

During my morning run today I realized that my days were starting to get a little out of hand. Recently I’ve been dipping back into the old habits of unstructuring my day in order to work on whatever idea moved me each day.


Photo by jef safi.

However, recently I lost a big portion of my income and have started to do outside freelancing development to cover the bills. (Short plug: If you’re looking for a web developer, I’m taking on a few projects right now. Feel free to contact me.) My previous workflow just wasn’t going to work with the added responsibility of making an income from my ideas.

So today I’ve decided to do something about it. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I’ve changed how days work.

Boundaries Get All the Bad Press

If you think about it, our society has a serious issue with the association of the word “boundary”. We don’t like the thought of being constrained in any way. Consider these historical events that revolved around breaking boundaries:

  • abolishing slavery
  • tearing down the Berlin Wall
  • wommen’s suffrage
  • nearly every war/battle ever fought

These are only a tiny, tiny portion of events in America (and worldwide) that cause our modern society to wig out and run in the opposite direction when faced with the word “boundary”. When you read about boundaries being enforced in the news and elsewhere, it’s typically in a negative or controversial fashion.

The same is true with how we work. Entire industries are built on the prospect of “sticking it to the man”, quitting the “9-5” and becoming your own boss. And rightly so… the antiquated business work model is old and in serious need of an overhaul. (See: Excellent post by Leo on natural working rhythms.) But we’re straying from the point, aren’t we?

While we may hate it, work and boundaries go hand in hand. I’m not talking about oppressive mandates passed down by a suit. I’m talking about structure. Structure is what ensures our work days are effective, especially for those with jobs that demand creativity on a regular basis.

Without any sort of boundaries, we loose focus. We can’t perform. Things get dropped, ideas are lost. And when it comes to the business of capitalizing on ideas, it’s imperative that our ideas are seen through.

We gotta have structure.

Structuring Our Day = Better Returns On Ideas


Photo by Nicholas T

Somewhere down the line somebody thought it would be best if we just made the process of forming and working on creative ideas as loosey-goosey as possible. And the concept makes sense too: How can ideas truly thrive and grow unless they’re constructed in an environment without boundaries?

Unfortunately this is all a myth. I can tell you from experience, (and I’m sure many of you would agree), that bopping from idea to idea is unsustainable. Yes, it’s important to have some elbow room with how we work, like the 3 opened project method. So here’s how I walk the fine line of working in a structured manner, while at the same time allowing for random ideas, thoughts and other miscellaneous work.

My Daily Structure

Structured Workflow

I start with a plain white sheet of print paper. I’m not using an online list because of the quick “jot-friendly” nature of paper and pen. I just let the ideas/tasks flow from the hand onto the paper. (There’s something magical about writing something down with a pen that imprints the output into your mind. This doesn’t happen with computer-based typing for me.)

Instead of making the typical “To Do” list, I break apart my day into 3 different categories:

  1. Writing
  2. Thinking
  3. Development

These are the three different aspects of my job, or the different “gears” used to get stuff done throughout the day. I’m either in writing mode, development mode, or thinking mode. The three columns allows me to switch effortlessly between different types of work. If I’m tired of writing, I’ll switch to development. If I’m tired of development work, I’ll switch to thinking. And so on.

GTD enthusiasts might link this to breaking work into contexts. Not me. It’s much less structured than that. It’s just an added dash of structure to a day that holds endless creative possibilities.

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