Is Your Idea Any Good? Why The Three Day Rule Works

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Matthew Weiner is a great case study on commitment to an idea.

He wrote the pilot episode of Mad Men in 1999, and started pitching it to studios right away. Everyone passed on it, but he kept pitching it and trying to find a buyer. It would be seven years before it got picked up, to instant acclaim. Matt knew that it had been a great idea all along.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, are you and I. Us “Generation Y’ers” and Millenials are characterized by an abundance of ideas, but poor follow up. We get a rush of excitement and quickly lose that energy because our idea is “not good enough.”

I gotta admit that I’ve spent a good amount of time, energy, money, and pride going after an idea for a couple days in a flourish of enthusiasm, just to wind up quitting a couple days later when the rush is gone. Like my investment club idea, which I eagerly told my friends about, and then gave up on it the next day when I realized how much work it would take.

Even with my writing and speeches, I’ll start on tons of ideas, but I finish very few.

So I had to come up with some type of filter to keep me more focused and accountable. What I came up with is one simple test: the three day rule.

When I get an idea, I write it down with as many details and action points as possible. Then, no matter how energized by it I am, if it’s not something that can get finished in that moment, I put it away for a couple days. I stop myself from mentioning it to others. I come back to it on the third day, and if the idea still creates some excitement in me, if it doesn’t sound like complete foolishness, I commit and start work on it.

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that 80% of the ideas I write down actually fail this Three Day Test. Either they’re too bland or they’re too fluffy with no actual substance.

I think you should try this too, that’s if you suffer from the idea virus like I do. Start a master list with all your ideas, whether for a business, for a creative project, or for any other endeavor that requires time. Don’t take immediate action when that first light bulb goes off, instead, just write it down, and check back on it three days later. THEN you can make a decision on it. If it’s still a YES, go full-force.

I’ve already saved myself a lot of time and money now that I’m not carried away by every silly little thought that comes around when I’m riding high on coffee in the morning.

And Here’s another benefit: by jotting down your ideas and then leaving them there, you start to create a backlog of half-baked ideas that could one day turn out to be worthwhile.

Like when I write: I no longer have to worry about not having inspiration, I just open up my list of ideas and pick the idea that jumps out to me the most, the one that is most baked, ready for the magic touch from Chef Alex.

The other benefit of the Three Day Rule is, the good ideas have a way of sticking to the back of your brain, like a piece of gum in your sister’s hair. Oh, it’s gonna take some serious effort to get it out of there. But you want the good ideas to stick around. In those two days in between, if your idea has some potential, it will have taken better shape through unconscious thought. You’d be surprised at what a relaxed brain will indirectly come up with.

Then once you’ve waited, if you’re still fired up, you can start work on this improved idea.

The three day Rule works for me, and the reason it works is because time is an amplifier: it destroys what is weak, and highlights what is strong. That’s what we mean when we say something stands the test of time. Same principle here. Sure, the idea sounds good right now, but don’t act yet. Just list it and resist it.

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