Are you one of these people who have 37 new ideas every day? An unstoppable idea machine full of overflowing creativity—but also challenged when it comes to actually getting things done?
Welcome to the TMIS club! TMIS stands for Too Many Ideas Syndrome, and while that’s not actually a real thing, it’s still real enough for many people on the internet talk about it:
Having ideas is great, but what you do with them matters so much more. Whether it’s business ideas, ideas for your next short story, or a new project to kick off with your team: you have too many ideas, and not enough time.
What’s so bad about having too many ideas?
Being overwhelmed by your ideas can be just as bad as not having any ideas at all. I like to think of TMIS like I think of a traffic jam. In and of itself, roads and vehicles are a great thing—but when there are too many of them, they can’t move forward at a decent pace, and everything comes to a halt.
Actually the problem is not so much that you have too many ideas—is that you haven’t found a good way of managing them yet, and hence, you fail to follow through on your ideas.
Constantly busy with nothing to show
You end up dozens of little ideas that you put a little bit of effort in, but rarely ever do you push something to the finish line.
It’s that old saying: Chase two rabbits, catch none.
You spread yourself too thin, and instead of bringing one idea to fruition, you start 9 different ideas that you abandon before they result in anything valuable. Every project will get to a point where the sense of excitement is lost, and it just feels like a drudge. At that point it’s always very tempting to start working on another, more exciting idea.
You might be working hard and always be busy, but you never have something to show for it. This is not only frustrating, but also a terrible waste of your time and talents.
Indecisiveness & procrastination
Or you have some many ideas that you can’t make up your mind, and end up stuck in analysis paralysis.
Having too many ideas is almost like the creative equivalent of being a hoarder: the kind of person that collects all kinds of stuff in their home and never let’s go of anything. Eventually, all that stuff accumulates and overfills the room.
Behavioral scientists refer to the paradox of choice, which can be summarized as follows: the more choices a person is presented with, the less like that person is to actually make a choice. All your ideas are asking you to make decisions on what to do with them: execute, abandon, snooze, or explore further? And making decisions gets tiring at some point—this is a phenomenon called decision fatigue.
“The more decisions you have to make, the more fatigue you develop and the more difficult it can become.”
Dr. Lisa MacLean, a psychiatrist.
If you don’t have an effective way of managing idea overload, you can get stuck in a circle of chronic procrastination.
11 ways to overcome too many ideas syndrome
There are many ways to get better at managing all those ideas that you constantly generate. I’ll start with the ones I’ve personally seen work best, and then work my way down from there.
Capture your ideas
Have one place where you can collect all your ideas when they come up. And then stash them away. You can call this your idea bank or idea repository if you want, something that makes it clear that this is a place to store your ideas.
How to capture your ideas:
- Write them down in a dedicated idea notebook
- Record them as voice memos into your phone
- Write them into an ongoing Apple Note, Google Doc or whatever your note taking app of choice is, be it Notion, Roam, Obsidian, Evernote, etc
- Write them in a dedicated folder on your laptop
- Email yourself
- Use whatever system of capturing ideas works best for you
Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, always carries a notebook around to capture any idea that comes up, even though he discards most of the ideas he writes down.
David Allen, author of the classic productivity book Getting Things Done, recommends doing a core dump, which simply means you write down all your thoughts, ideas, to-do items every week. I recommend you write ideas down as they come up, because by the end of the week most of your ideas will be forgotten, but choose what works best for you.
Review your ideas
Once a week, or a month (whichever suits you better), go through all the ideas you collected and review them.
If you like, you can score them on a scale of 1 to 10. Terrible ideas get a 1, amazing ideas that you will act on get a 10, and things that you want to revisit sometime in the future are a 7, and so on. You get the idea. But anything that’s not at least a 6 goes into the idea bin. And everything that’s a 10 goes on your to-do list, project management system, or calendar.
The tricky thing with ideas is that we’re often overly enthusiastic when they come to us, but lose sight of the bigger picture. By letting your ideas simmer, and letting some time pass before evaluating the ideas, you get to look at them with a cooler head. You can assess more objectively how good they fit into your current life.
Write nothing down (and let the ideas battle it out)
This is the exact opposite of the one I just listed, but sometimes that’s just how life is. In fact, this is the approach bestselling author Stephen King uses when it comes to dealing with his never-ending stream of story ideas:
He never writes them down. When an idea comes to his mind, he plays around with it a bit, and then moves on. He’s fine with forgetting the idea, in fact, he wants to forget most of the ideas he comes up with. Because when an idea is that easy to forget, it’s not worth turning into a full-blown story. Only those ideas that come to him again and again, and don’t let go of him are the ones which he eventually considers turning into real stories.
That’s a very natural selection process, a kind of survival of the fittest approach for ideas. I think this approach might work best for people who have an extraordinarily hyperactive imagination.
Go on an information diet
You know one thing that can trigger a lot of ideas? Being exposed to information, whether it’s in the form of podcasts, news, blogs, books, TV shows, Twitter, movies, and so on. For me, the most dangerous of all these are audiobooks and podcasts: when I listen to an interesting episode, I get new ideas all the time. I’ve probably started 148,593 different startups in my imagination already.
We’re always overfed and overstimulated with information. It helps to go on an information diet. Either reduce the overall amount of media you consume, or pick one day a week where you don’t consume any at all. Not only will it help to calm your hyperactive imagination down, it will also lead to greater focus, and—obviously—simply free up some time to work on an idea that you want to move forward.
Set a time frame for executing an idea
Before you start working on an idea, set a time frame for yourself. How long do you want to spend on this idea?
Stick to your deadlines. This might be difficult if you’re not used to working within a predetermined time frame, but the more you do it, the better you become at it. If you absolutely can’t bring an idea to fruition within the period of time you’ve set, learn from it: next time when you allot time for making an idea happen, you’ll have a more realistic sense of how long it takes. Which solves another problem that people who struggle with TMIS often have: they underestimate the amount of time it takes to get something done.
But set yourself tight deadlines. Challenge yourself to get things done a bit faster. One pattern I’ve noticed working with people who always have a lot of ideas is that they tend to work too slow. Not because they’re lazy or unengaged or incapable of working faster, but because they don’t focus on driving an idea forward with the sense of urgency that’s required to develop real momentum. If you think an idea takes 10 hours to bring to fruition, challenge yourself to get it done in less time: try getting it done in 9.
Focus on one thing
Everyone loves to multitask, including myself. But you get so much more done if you monotask. Focus on one thing at a time, bring it to completion before you move forward.
I love to write, and one of my worst unproductive habits is starting drafts, and once I hit the will when writing a piece, I do something else. Maybe it’s something as innocent and (seemingly) inconsequential as looking up a related fact, checking and responding to emails, or I go down a completely different rabbit hole. This leads to a huge backlog of unfinished work, very little output, and at the same time, it’s exhausting, because I am working on so many things.
Focus on doing one thing only, and move it forward in a meaningful way. I found Paul Graham’s essay Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule immensely useful, especially the idea of blocking a specific amount of time (ideally 2-4 hours) for uninterrupted, focused work. Many successful people I know adhere to a similar system.
All of this comes back to creating constraints for yourself. Most often, idea machine type people are the kinds of people who don’t like, but work best when there are clear constraints, like time-limits, or clear rules like “don’t start working on idea 2 before you’ve completed idea 1”.
Focus on one thing a day
This is obviously related to the method for managing idea overwhelm above. If you are working on multiple projects, consider focusing on one thing per day. If you’re a content marketer for example, Monday could be your writing day, Tuesday your editing day, Wednesday your promotion day, Thursday your research and outlining day, Friday your writing day again.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you could make Monday the day for the most important activities of running your business, that require the highest degree of focus. Tuesday and Thursday could be your outreach and prospecting day to drum up business. Wednesday and Friday you can leave open so that you’re flexible to respond to whatever demands come at you.
Set a theme
Set a theme for your day, your week, your month, your year. But start with your day, just for the sake of simplicity.
What could be a theme for your day? Just to give you some examples of what themes could be:
Writing better: If your theme is writing, then run a quick check against every idea that comes up: Is this an idea that helps me with my writing? If not, file it away. It’s not for today.
Moving your body: Let’s say you’ve gotten used to a sedentary lifestyle and you want to move your body more. Every idea that comes up, if it’s not related to moving more, or moving better, or helping you to get more in touch with your body, or improve your posture, file it away.
Finances: This could be about ideas to make money, save money, become more efficient at paying bills, etc etc.
Presence: Practice mindfulness and being present and aware in the moment. If it doesn’t fit into this theme, file it away.
Uplift others: Why not set a theme for the day where your main focus is on giving other people good energy? You’ll be amazed at both how hard it is to consistently do this for an entire day, and what happens when you actually do this.
You can also set larger themes like work, health, wealth, love, family, happiness, education, etc.
I found it extremely helpful to write my themes on pieces of paper and actually put them up on the wall, where they serve as constant reminders of what I’m trying to achieve.
Practice the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the effort in most undertakings. Keep in mind this is a principle, not a law—it’s often roughly true, but there are many exceptions to this rule.
That being said, you’ll find that for most of your ideas, 20% of what needs to happen is responsible for 80% of the result. Try to identify the high-impact action steps, and spend most of your effort getting them done first.
This might be both the most difficult, and the most impactful of all the ways of managing idea overload. You have to really know yourself, what drives you, who you are and truly want to be, and what the central theme of your life is.
Why do you do what you do? What’s really meaningful for you?
It’s in the answers to these questions that you find out what you’re really about. And having clarity on what matters most to you will help you filter out ideas that aren’t a good match, and recognize those that ultimately contribute to your life. Does this idea align with your long-term goals? is a great question to ask.
Finish or quit
When you work on an idea and it stretches out for a long time, and you’re not really developing momentum or making progress, do a quick reality check: Is this really something you want to finish, or is it something you want to quit?
If you want to finish it, then keep working on it as good as you, as fast as you can. (Again, within your predetermined time frame.)
If you want to quit, then consider all the time and energy you’ve spent on it so far, and how much more time and energy it would take to bring this idea to fruition, and what your payoff would be if you would finish this idea. If you still think that quitting is a good idea, then just quit.
The one thing you don’t want to do is to let abandon the idea half-finished, while telling yourself that you’ll work on this again at some unspecified future point in time. Because 99% of the time, that never happens, and it just creates a huge mental backlog. It also affects you psychologically: eventually you start seeing yourself as the kind of person that starts, but never finishes anything.
Welcome your ideas with open arms, and treat them well
I hope these tips on managing idea overload were helpful. The key point I want you to take away from all of this is that your problem is not that you have too many ideas—it’s that you simply haven’t found a way of managing them effectively yet. Be grateful for every idea that comes to you, even those that aren’t right for you. It’s within your power to choose whether to act on them or not.
The next step is for you to pick whichever method of managing your ideas you think works best for you, and giving it a try.