Exactly 56 days ago I started a new practice of writing down ten ideas each day. The ideas range from new projects to recipe ideas to silly little one-liner jokes. Sometimes I have a theme like “Ten healthy things I can do this week” or “Ten ways I can surprise people in my life (in a good way).” Other times, it’s just a list of ten, disconnected ideas.

It’s not easy. Some days, I really struggle to come up with ten things. And I’ve not always finished the list on time (though, as of this writing, I am fully caught up). Also, most of the ideas are bad. Or, at least, they’re not something I’m likely to follow through on. But of the 560 ideas I’ve documented so far, I’ve completed about 15 of them, including writing an angel food cake-themed parody version of Beyoncé’s "Halo," creating printable badges for the Picnic Society, and creating a S’more the Planet bookmarklet to make web pages look more marshmallow-y.

In addition, there are about two dozen other ideas that I’ve starred and intend to follow up on.

I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t have thought of these ideas if I hadn’t started this daily ritual. It really is like exercising a muscle—you get better at it with practice. Giving myself this challenge has forced me to push myself, to make connections between seemingly disparate things, and to pay more attention to my surroundings. Throughout the day, I’m looking for inspiration. It keeps me awake.

Here’s what my practice looks like:

  • I write them by hand in a yellow legal pad, with the date at the top of each list. At the bottom of each list, I include the cumulative total number of ideas (for example, at the bottom of today’s list, I wrote “560.”) I like writing by hand because I find it inspires creative thinking.

  • Because I don’t always have my legal pad with me, I do sometimes jot an idea down on my phone. I later transfer this to the pad.

  • If no ideas are coming to me, I’ll sometimes read something for inspiration. It doesn’t take much. One interesting article can sometimes inspire all ten ideas for the day. But I do find that my best lists happen when I force myself to just think for as long as it takes with no distractions. I let my mind wander to problems I have, or problems I’ve noticed others have, or things that make me laugh. All of those seem to inspire interesting ideas.

  • I go back and read previous days’ lists every so often. I’ll put a star next to ideas that still seem good, even after a few days. And I put checkmarks next to ideas that I actually implemented. I am not precious about ideas. I’ll write down ideas that I know are bad, as long as they amuse me or seem at least original.

  • I’ve noticed a few broad categories have emerged, though most of the ideas don’t fit into any category. The categories I’ve noticed are things like, “Daily habit ideas,” “Jokes,” “Apps and other digital things to make,” “Art,” and  “Halloween costume ideas.” I’ve now started to use these labels in the margins, so I can find them more easily.

Since I started this practice, I’ve discovered James Altucher’s “Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine,” in which he describes a similar habit. His practice seems to be directed towards business and career development (though his lists appear to cover wide ground, like mine). I can see how this would be a natural benefit to cultivating this habit. But for me, the major benefit is simply coming up with things to do and make. I guess that’s what I want I want for my life—to do and make things. 

Do you have a similar practice? How does it work for you?

image by Flickr user Julian Santacruz