Find Common Themes in Your Ideas

Before I jump into this week’s post, I want to thank you all for being here and thank all of you who have reached out to me. I can’t tell you how much I love getting questions and feedback from you—I know the struggles I’ve faced, and that past clients have faced, but hearing your real fears and issues and stuck points opens my eyes to ways I can help you even more. So if you have a question or something you’re struggling with, please get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

As you may have guessed by now, this week I’m going to answer a question from another creative who reached out to me. She asked about a problem I know I’ve faced and I’m guessing you have as well. Here it is: she has pages and pages of behind-the-scenes notes about her business with no idea what to do with them.

Ugh. Isn’t that the worst feeling? You’ve taken a class or read a fantastic blog post or just had a marathon brainstorming session, feeling like you’re getting clear about your business’s mission and purpose and offerings and so on.

But then as you come down off your idea high, you start to get a little nervous. You wrote down a lot of stuff. How will you use it all? How does it all fit together, and then fit in with what you’re already doing and offering? How on earth will you communicate all that you think and know in a cohesive, clear way? Slowly, your eyes glaze over until you realize that all you want to do is shove those notes in a drawer and never look at them again. But I don't think you have to take such a drastic measure.

Here’s a way you can sort through all those notes and get to the heart of your ideas.

Get all the notes that are making you feel scattered in one place—the notebooks, the loose pieces of paper, the random text documents—and then take a deep breath. Remind yourself that these ideas are all connected because they came from you, and that at one point you were excited about them all—so this process will be worth it.

Then start reading through your notes and identifying themes. Assign a category to each idea or thought—and if you realize something no longer serves you, cross it out. You can assign categories by highlighting ideas in different colors or simply by writing the category name beside each one—whatever works best for you. (Hint: Make sure you keep a running list of the categories you assign so you can use the same ones again and again as you get deeper into your notes.)

Once you’re done, take a pause. Walk away for a few minutes, stretch, get some water, play with your cat—whatever will give your brain a rest for a few minutes (or hours or days or however much time you need to feel like you’re fresh when you return).

Next, open up a new document or get out some blank paper and go theme by theme, putting all the notes for each category together on one page. It might seem like a pain to simply transfer this information from one place to another, but there's real power in this step. Seeing all your thoughts side by side will help you make connections more easily, and you'll likely come up with even more clarity and thoughts and ideas as you go through each theme (make sure you record those as well).

Then (and this is the hardest part), condense your notes for each theme into just a few statements. This may look like a bulleted list of beliefs you hold dear, the basic steps for a new process you want to implement for your clients, or the beginnings of a mission statement and overall direction for your business. But whatever your themes, do the hard work of condensing your scattered thoughts and ideas into a few sentences.

How, you ask? Work through one theme at a time, giving it your full attention. Read through all the notes for that category and then (without looking back at your notes) sum up what you just read in writing. Repeat that process as many times as you need to, each time building on the previous statement you wrote, making each version shorter than the last. As you keep writing about the same thing over and over, you'll find yourself trimming out repeated words and ideas, getting down to the core of what you mean.  And when you stop, you'll feel pretty awesome—because being able to say what you mean in a very few words is extremely powerful.

Repeat the process for each theme until you're done! For extra credit, pull all your final, condensed statements into one document or on one piece of paper and compare it to your towering pile of original notes. Take a moment to celebrate, and then start using your newfound clarity!

P.S. If you’ve done this exercise but still aren’t sure how to communicate the results—or if the idea of this exercise overwhelms you and you just want someone to do it for you—let’s talk! In content coaching, I ask you a bunch of questions (and ask you to send over any other ideas or thoughts you have) and then I sort through the answers, showing you the connections and then working with you to create a plan for communicating it all.

I have one more content coaching spot open in April. If you're interested, click the button below to check out content coaching and get in touch! I would love to hear from you.

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