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The Saturday Morning Idea Engine

It’s incredibly easy to waste a lot of time on the Web by reading random blog posts, poking around on Twitter, watching videos, or succumbing to any number of other temptations. I try to avoid this sort of Web grazing as much as possible, but I realized recently that I have probably been too careful in avoiding it – my stock of ideas was starting to seem a bit depleted.

So, this  morning I set aside some time specifically for that purpose.  Primarily, I spent a good bit of time sifting through posts in my Google Reader and a couple of discussion groups to see where they led. As a result, I came up with:

  • At least three to four decent ideas for blog posts – and probably more as the various ideas I gathered percolate
  • An eBook on pricing that helped me get me unstuck on an article I have been writing  – and will also probably help me solve some pricing challenges I have been wrestling with for a while. (Via Seth Godin. If pricing is a topic you care about, this is a gem.)
  • A business model idea that may be just the ticket for a new initiative I have been pondering
  • Great follow up notes (on a member-only discussion board) to help me review and synthesize some of what I learned at a recent conference
  • A good example/idea to pass on to some of my clients that sell online learning

All of that came from maybe 20 minutes or so of random poking around. Okay – maybe not entirely random in this case, since I started with blogs already saved in my Google Reader and discussion boards to which I already belong.  But the lesson I take from it is that I need to be more consistent about carving out some time just to poke around and generate ideas.

It’s still easy to get carried away and waste a lot of time, of course, but if you set a time limit for yourself (use a timer if you have to!), you’ll probably be amazed at how much you can get out of 20-30 minutes. Maybe I’ll keep doing this on Saturday mornings; maybe I’ll pick another day – don’t know yet. But in any case, I plant to make it a more consistent habit.

How about you?  How do you rev your idea engine? Please comment and share.

Jeff

P.S. – If you like what you read here on Mission to Learn, I’d really appreciate it if you would subscribe by RSS feed or by e-mail.

P.S.S. – I missed this one when I was doing my Saturday morning surfing, but here’s a great post on Copyblogger that stresses learning and acting on what you find during your Web travels: Is Reading Posts Worth Your Time?

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4 comments
Jeff Cobb says

Neil – I agree that it can be good to set out with some clear goals in mind. On the other hand, setting out occasionally with no goals at all can lead to unexpected discovery and innovation. In those cases, though, I definitely need to set a time limit or I end up with the “3-4 hour buffet dinner” as you aptly put it. Many thanks for commenting. – Jeff

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Jeff Cobb says

Gavin – Great to hear from you + thanks for commenting. Let’s grab coffee sometime – good way to avoid Web grazing, so long as the iPhones are off. – Jeff

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Neil Barker says

I get into that ‘web grazing’ habit once in awhile. I try and give myself 3-4 objectives written down on a 3×5 index card and keep I with me at the computer. If I didn’t used Google reader though, my web grazing would be more like a 3-4 hour buffet dinner.

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Gavin O'Hara says

Hi, Jeff. I think you are spot on in recognizing that the “grazing” is a good thing. (I’ve also been known to defend TV channel-surfing for the same reason.) It’s not the grazing that’s the problem but the lack of discipline in *ending* that grazing that leaves you foggy-headed and wondering where your day went.

Think of yourself as a high-speed explorer circling the world in a blink. Or a student auditing a zillion classes. Or a late-night monologist trolling for good source material for jokes. There’s no question a good surf gets your mind going and your idea-generator cranking.

Of course, once the mind-numbing atrophy sets in, it’s time to go outside! (Autobiography there. Gotta go outside now. Hope yer well.)

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