List your way to creativity

Every day

James Altucher has really had an impact in the last few years with his books, his blogs, his videos, etc. His core ideas are contained in Choose Yourself. I want to encourage you particularly to apply one of them he advocates for exercising your “idea muscle” that I have started calling the Ten List.

The Ten List is part of his four-part system he calls The Daily Practice–or, actually, a technique that addresses the Mental part of the four. So it’s not particularly about speaking or writing, but I have found it to be really useful for both.

Altucher’s basic concept for this is to write down 10 ideas a day, every day. Period. They don’t have to be good ideas. Just ideas. In practical terms, you would produced 3,650 ideas a year, and if only 10 or 15 are good ideas, it’s enough to make you wealthy. Even more practically, the more you exercise the “idea muscle,” the stronger it gets so your percentage of good ideas goes up.

I’m narrowing it just a bit to use for speaking and writing. One of the first assignments¬†each semester for beginning speech students is to have them list ten possible topics a day every day for five out of the next seven days. They won’t believe this truth until they experience it: it is easier to come up with 10 possible topics than it is to come up with one topic.

Beginners worry about finding a “good” topic. There are no good or bad topics; there are only good or bad speakers. It totally depends on what you do with the topic. But they don’t believe that. They think if they can find the one right golden topic, they will be guaranteed an A. So they sweat and stymie themselves, putting off preparation until the very last minute while they try to think of the right topic.

Before they ever give their first speech, therefore, I put them through this exercise that leads to 50 possible topics. Then they quit worrying.

Topic vs. topic area

Note: an essential part of this for speakers and writers is to recognize the difference between a topic and a topic area. Unless I warn them, they will write down something like “cars” as a topic. That’s not a topic; it’s a topic area. It’s a good starting point, but that’s all it is, and if they don’t realize that, they will cheat themselves.

For instance, if I decide to take “cars” as the topic area for today’s list, here are some things I can come up with off the top of my head:

  1. Best cars for college students.
  2. Things to look for in a used car.
  3. Buy used instead of new.
  4. Insurance considerations for college-aged males.
  5. How to make a beater car driveable.
  6. The three most dependable used car models.
  7. Tips for working with your mechanic.
  8. How not to get scammed when you buy a car.
  9. Four simple things you can maintain yourself on your car.
  10. You will always remember your first car.

For emphasis: I generated all 10 of those in less than 90 seconds, and that includes taking time out for a sip of coffee. If the student had settled for “cars” as if it were a topic, s/he would still be trying to think of nine more “topics.”

Does 10 matter?

Yes. Yes, it does. Here’s why.

The first three or four will come easily. You’ll tend to hit a small wall at that point as you think of the next one. But when it comes, you’ll pop out three more fairly easily, and then likely hit another pause. But then another two or three will come along. Maybe you’re done then, or maybe you need one more. The last one may take as long as the rest of the list. This is where the real sweat, the real exercise comes into play. The last three are not necessarily the best, but I would say they are more than half the time.

Practical advice

I use Evernote to keep my Daily Ideas.¬†I name each list with what the list is about, and include today’s date in the title so I can easily see if I’m really hitting every day. Today’s list is entitled, “Blog topics to improve as a speaker, 12/30/16.” The lists live in a dedicated Evernote Notebook.

I assign it to my students five days out of the next seven because I know they will miss days anyway. Every single day is best. If you generate more than 10, fine. But tomorrow, do 10 more–don’t take the “extra” from yesterday. You will cheat yourself.

I am quite aware that some students wait until the night before and generate 50 topics all at once. I give them credit for it (they still learn that topics are not hard to come by), but they only cheat themselves when they do that. I can tell the quality isn’t as good. Tons of learning theory studies suggest that you learn more with less stress by doing a little bit every day instead of cramming. Don’t cheat yourself the way they do.

Tell me how this works out for you. We do have a comment box below, you know.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with people who want to forge top-notch speaking skills to increase their influence and impact so they can advance their career or business. He is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.