The I.D.E.A. Method to create on cue

How do you glean the goldfish ideas that swim by? Image from RF123.com

Holly – a delightful, rather brilliant and intuitive client. A writer with three books to her credit, she’s had trouble lately focusing on her own clients’ branding projects. No wonder. Her long-time marriage is dissolving. She’s packing and moving from their charming house. Plus, she’s launching her next book within the next two months.

She’s not short on insights. She feels way short on time and mental bandwidth.

We homed in on three areas: Time. Mind. Method. Another tested tripod for productive creativity and creative productivity.

We tested out methods for creating-on-cue. Methods to help Holly assume more agency in when and how she creates and works.

And we found a winning IDEA. Literally. More on that IDEA in a minute.

If you’re curious about how to turn a normal work day into a day for creative insights to happen, then keep reading. And if you have your own views and experiences with creating-on-cue, please add to the conversation below. 

For the record, I get Holly’s challenges. I’ve been aware of my mind’s courtship with anxiety since a teenager. I’ve deliberately sought ways to befriend and partner with my errant and idea-happy mind for over 25 years.

And I think I have a flexible, simple method that, at its core, works. It helps me. It helps Holly and the other creative people and teams with whom I work. And my research into the science and spirit of creativity affirm its tenets.

It’s an elegant IDEA, really. I.D.E.A. is the acronym for the method’s four parts. The flexible method can be adapted to numerous contexts.

Intentional Focus

Delightful Divergence

Eureka Capture!


Intentional Focus.

1. State to yourself in simple, clear language the one part of your project you want your mind to focus on at this moment.

Writers: “Focus on the angle for this article.” “Explore new insight for this chapter.”

Business: “Explore a better way to communicate with my team.” “Define this client’s brand story.” “Find a fresh angle for our ‘About’ page.”

Design: “Explore the feeling of this brand.” “Refine this brand.”

2. Then, flow to work. Brainstorm. Draft. Design. Diagram. But try to limit your Intentional Focus sessions to 90 minutes.

3. Or, and here’s the beauty, you can prime your mind to focus, and then engage in Delightful Divergence (see below).

Benefits: This kind of self-talk lights up the frontal cortex, the laser flashlight portion of the brain. In six simple words or less, you just increased your chances to focus and pay attention. You’ve also unburdened your mind from trying to do it all – write a book, finish a project – all in one session. Coupled with Delightful Divergence, you have a powerful tango to create-on-cue.

Delightful Divergence.
There are two ways you can play with Delightful Divergence.

  1. Take 90-minute breaks from your focused work sessions. Be sure they’re pleasurable. So, rather than giving in to oblivious distraction and “checking out,” we can take intentional delightful divergences.
  2. Or, better, reframe numerous periods of “downtime” in your normal daily schedule into Delightful Divergence. Let’s say you have a full day at work. Before you commute to work, prime your mind with an Intentional Focus. Now, your mind, which loves to daydream and wander in commute time, has a little purpose. With the right priming, a work commute, a shower or bath, a yoga practice, brushing your teeth, a walk or hike, a lunch break, a trip to the coffee shop or grocery store, going to sleep all can be delightful divergences.
Benefits: Positive emotions, a relaxed state, delightful sensual stimulation, rhythmic physical activity – all of these factors contribute to our mind’s ability to generate novel combinations, associations, metaphors that are the heart of what we call insight.
Eureka Capture
We tend to over-romanticize the eureka, the lightbulb, as part of high creative work. The truth is, most creative insight is small in nature and arises while immersed in the work itself. Still, you can be having a conversation, drinking a latte, or practicing Downward Facing Dog (all Delightful Divergences), and a shimmering insight can dart across your mind’s aquarium.

Benefits: If you regularly prime your mind with intentional focus and daily watch how your mind works (pssst…mindfulness practices help), you’re more likely to notice those insights. And if you have a simple tool to capture those insights – a pocket notebook or digital system – then you’re far more likely to do something with those fish.

Which leads us to Action. All action and no Eureka makes Jack (and Jill) a dull creative. All Eureka and no concerted action makes Jack (and Jill) a frustrated, anxious, and drifting creative.

At the simplest level, record on your iCal Reminder list or in your Action Cahier the simple action steps you and anyone else involved needs to take to follow through on that idea. Put a date next to the action. Schedule it. Or it will never get done.

Use a project board to break down a project’s steps. Schedule the steps.

But a reminder: If you only use project boards and lists and productivity tools to get things done and check things off, you risk producing mediocre work, executing work you don’t care about, and getting burned out.

Dance deliberately with the creative mind’s ID (Intentional Focus + Delightful Divergence) to make the ID an IDE and to have a well-rounded IDEA.

And Holly? She wrote me last week to say that the IDEA Method worked like a genius for a client’s branding project. In 15 minutes, no less, she had the break-through insight she need plus a plan of action. All amidst major personal upheaval. And her book is scheduled to launch.

That’s creating on cue. That’s assuming agency of this one wild and creative life.

And consider testing out the IDEA Method in Taos, New Mexico this March for the Create & Captivate Retreat.

I’m curious about your take on and experience with creating-on-cue. Do you resist the whole idea of creating with intention? Do you get tripped up with over-focusing? What are your pain points? Your victories? Your challenges to the IDEA Method?

See you in the woods,


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  1. Love this! I find “downtime” in everything from running to doing the dishes. The more mundane and engaging the better I can free up back-of-mind spaces to let my muse wander.

    1. Alicia~I like how you pair the “mundane and engaging” and the acknowledgement of freeing up back-of-mind space. I’m starting to imagine this default daydreamer part of the mind as a child who thrives when given just a little direction and safe boundaries to roam the woods, get lost, and come back home with pockets full of stuff. But then maybe I’m idealizing because that child can be awfully stubborn, too.

  2. Thank you for this post, Jeffrey! I LOVE the term “Delightful Divergences” I’m definitely trying to consciously design Delightful Divergences and mini-adventures into my daily self-care routine. Thank you for the inspiration 🙂

    1. Sheena~ DDs are so important, aren’t they? Especially for parents who are growing creative kids, right? Thanks for running with me, J