I can still remember my first experience with an incubator as a child. Our elementary school had an incubator where we artificially heated chicken eggs until they eventually hatched, in our very own classroom. Every day we’d all be sure to gather round the incubator and check the progress of the eggs. And when the day finally arrived when the baby chicks finally poked their beaks through, my classmates and I all felt a feeling of accomplishment. We’d been there from day one.
Imagine our joy when my brother and I had the privilege of taking two of the chicks home to raise on our own! (Never mind that later in the week we accidentally “sent them to heaven” playing basketball in our driveway… that’s for another post and a good session of therapy.)
The concept of a having an idea “incubator” is the same as the real ones used in 3rd grade classrooms. A place where you can toss your ideas, give ’em some heat for a few months and let them grow. Here’s how to set up a project incubator, with all the steps needed to make sure your ideas eventually hatch.
A project incubator is a really just a place to quickly store all of your ideas. I like to use a system with Google Docs where I create a folder specifically for ideas. Then, for every idea that pops into my noggin, I plunk it in that folder. Over time, I’ll sort the ideas into different folders and add to each file as an idea develops.
GTD‘ers may see this as merely the capture stage of the GTD process. Make sure you get a system where you’re able to capture every idea, at every time. You’ll be glad you did. We all know ideas never come at opportune times.
While watching chicks hatch out of a shell in a classroom of 3rd graders is a pretty cool experience, there’s always a downside to watching nature unfold. There’s always a few eggs that don’t hatch. It’s a fact of life.
Pruning the project incubator is an especially important aspect of developing ideas. Ideas change over time, and some even turn out to be duds. But that’s OK because you won’t have time to develop all of your ideas anyway. Just be open and honest with yourself about them. Do you really think this will work? Will you really have time to work on it? You’ll quickly find that many of your ideas just won’t be feasible to pursue, which will in turn help you quickly focus on the best ideas to work on.
Review, review, review
Pick a time to review your ideas on a regular. If you need a reminder, use a calender like GCal or 30 Boxes to send you an email when it’s that time again. I like to review every week or so, but to each his own. The important thing is to regularly think about your ideas. This helps the idea grow and evolve into something that you can actually create.
Work on one idea every day
The best time to work an idea is right when you have it. Adrenaline is great for getting a project going. But it’s even better to pace yourself and work on one idea a little bit every day. This could be just researching, or beginning to plan the idea. Small steps ensure that you won’t get burned out on the idea, and you’ll be able to monitor your progress. Just like the chicks didn’t hatch overnight, your idea probably won’t be polished off for a while. (And will most likely take longer than you expect.) But take heart creative one, for with a steady pace, you’ll soon see the fruits of your labor.
Photo by Cowgirl Jules