I’m sometimes distracted by too many project ideas. When the ideas pile up, my productivity sinks because I keep thinking about them, and multitasking slows me down. To keep focused, I evolved a mind trick called The Pickle Jar that, despite its hokey name, actually works for me. It got me through my thesis, when writing was the last thing I felt like doing.
The Pickle Jar is an actual glass jar that once held pickles. Next to it is a square pad of paper, about 4 inches on the side. To get unrelated thoughts out of my mind, I write down a brief synopsis down, fold it twice, and put it into the Jar.
The physical act of writing down, folding, and then “pickling” the idea for later consumption is weirdly cathartic. Since I’m no longer in danger of forgetting the thought, I can relax. The act of formulating on paper has also satisfied the urge to follow up on it. The size of the paper also prevents you from writing too much…there’s just enough room to get the essence of the idea down.
The best part: You can see that you’ve got the ideas queued up, but it’s hard to retrieve them. They’re in a jar! Getting at the idea entails trying to stick your hand in the jar (which shouldn’t fit, if you’ve chosen your glassware wisely), or dumping them out in a mess and unfolding all of them. It’s just inconvenient enough that I tend not to look unless I really am in the mood. The use is similar to that of a piggy bank, in that it encourages easy deposit but prevents casual withdrawal. So you tend to deposit and get on with your life, which in my case is getting back to #&!@*! work.
One side effect of the Jar… after pickling, some of those ideas don’t really seem that interesting anymore, so I end up tossing most of them.
Sadly, my official Pickle Jar was destroyed or lost during my last move, so I’m going to try using WordPress as the idea containment system. I suspect it might not work, but I’m curious to see if the physical act of pickling is as important as I thought.
(Update: I repurposed a canning jar as the new Physical Pickle Jar. See the picture!)