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It’s easier than ever to feel lost — lost in the workplace, lost in your personal life, even lost in your overall purpose and mission as a human being. I personally blame a lot of this on social media. It’s the perfect concoction for depression, anxiety and the feeling of not knowing what path is right for you.
A couple of hours on the Zuckerberg Express (a.k.a. Facebook) and you’ll be fed other people’s successes so much you’ll start to doubt your own. A video of a fix-and-flip specialist will quickly make you think you need to stop what you’re working on, buy houses and renovate them yourself. You’ve never held a hammer and you don’t know what HVAC stands for, but if this 30-second video on Instagram taught you anything, it’s that the time is now…
Excuse my sarcasm, but even as I’m writing, I’m reminded of the ridiculous paths I’ve gone down thanks to social media. That’s a story for another time though. Through exploring and failing on many of these voyages, I’ve learned a tried and true method to keep me goal-oriented and combat as much of the social media facade as I can: whiteboarding.
Yes, you read that right. Structured and creative time away from all other work and life needs, with just a whiteboard, a marker and your thoughts. In my nine years as a business owner, I’ve found whiteboarding to be the single strongest tool for fine-tuning my ideas, innovating and niching down. Below are the three biggest rules I use for effective whiteboarding.
Related: The Whiteboard Method: 5 Easy Steps to Discover Your Niche and Turn Your Passion Into a Career
1. No erasing
Before you start, remove the eraser from the room. It’s so easy to get hyper-critical of what you’re writing when you know you can erase it. By operating under the “no idea is a bad idea” philosophy, I’ve been able to discover new revenue streams for my business, fine-tune my goals and more. Not erasing anything is a great way to leave thoughts up on the board for further development. Sometimes an idea I quickly jotted down — that I would’ve erased in real time — just needed some further tweaking. That idea later became a huge component of my business moving forward.
2. Time your whiteboarding sessions
I like to do 20-minute sprints, but find an amount of time that feels comfortable for you. Remember, this exercise is for you. If 20 minutes is too long, do 10. If 20 minutes is too short, do 30. This is your time.
Turn a timer on and turn everything else off for whatever amount of time you decide. I like to stand up in front of the board (sometimes even pace) and write as much as my brain and hand will let me. After the allotted 20 minutes, I sit down and spend time reading and digging into each thought. Oftentimes, this is where I’m able to expand a simple thought into something much more developed and fleshed out. If I feel like I hit an “aha” moment, I take a photo of the board, then erase and flesh that idea out further. If I didn’t, I spend some more time reading and digesting, then I take a photo and get back to my work. Not every time will be one of those euphoric highs we all love about entrepreneurship and finding new ideas, but the simple act of doing this frequently creates clarity.
Related: How Journaling Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur and Leader
I personally do these whiteboard sessions once a week. I’ve found that to be frequent enough to work through things, but not so frequent to the point of wasting time or energy on the same thoughts over and over. If I’m feeling extra lost that week, rather than adding an extra session, I prefer to jot it down to work on at my next whiteboarding session. Routines are everything.
A lot of people talk about the power of whiteboarding in groups for creative brainstorming. I find that to also be an effective way to pull ideas out of a group, but the sessions need to be structured enough to not be a time suck for everyone and the groups need to be small pods before opening them up to bigger teams.
When my business partner Ian Rodriguez and I launched Innovo, we’d spend hours behind a whiteboard taking turns workshopping every little detail and idea. Those days were extremely effective for clarifying who we were and what we wanted to accomplish.
Once your business is moving you obviously can’t spend hours weekly doing those sessions though. In my opinion, the best go-forward strategy I’ve found here is to whiteboard solo, develop some thoughts and opinions, then bring your partner(s) and team in to take it to the next level. This allows for personal clarity as well as tapping into others’ skill sets and ideas.
Ideas are good, but clarity is great. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself through whiteboarding — it’s become my secret weapon in entrepreneurship.