Intention Filters

Before fully investing myself in a new undertaking, I attempt to whittle away flaws, identify weak points, and allow myself to consider setting the concept aside, completely, if warranted.

In practice, this might mean that I’ve dreamt up some new project or lifestyle experiment that seems like it could be interesting to pursue. Or it might mean I’ve thought up a book that seems worth writing, or an essay that may prove worthwhile.

Starting with the initial concept, I try to establish, first, if the idea is something that I actually want to pursue, and whether it’s something that fits within the context of my larger collection of needs and ambitions.

It may be interesting and useful to pursue a medical degree, but would that allow me to continue living the flexible lifestyle I enjoy? Would it leave me time to learn about other things and pursue other projects alongside it?

Probably not. Thus, I can safely set that ambition aside, as it doesn’t currently fit within the lifestyle superstructure I’ve built for myself, and—for the moment, at least—want to maintain.

This could someday, but a gut-check at this point in the filtering process tells me whether this new potential direction is worth giving up or fundamentally adjusting all the other things currently shaping my work and habits.

Next, I typically focus on whether the thing I’m considering is actually a valuable undertaking.

It may be that it’s interesting and challenging for me, but not really worth much of anything beyond that metric.

It may be that it’s potentially valuable for other people, but not particularly compelling or growth-oriented, for me.

It’s absolutely okay to do something that provides value for just you, or just for someone else. But it’s prudent to be aware of this one-sidedness before jumping in, as it may mean you’ll want to rebalance other aspects of your life to avoid flattening your internal and external progress and contributions.

After that, I generally suss out if I’m the right person to do this thing: to forward this particular idea or project.

In some cases, at this stage, I’ll realize that the thing I wanted to build already exists, and it’s actually way higher-quality than I would have been able to muster. Which is often a good thing, as I can then make use of that existing tool without having to build it myself, first.

In some cases (quite often, actually) I’ll discover that someone else has already done something similar to what I’m intending, but I still think it would be a valuable pursuit, for me, because of what I’ll learn along the way or because I’ll be able to put my own spin on the concept.

And in some cases I’ll find that no one’s tried what I’m thinking about trying: which can be beneficial, in that I won’t be comparing myself to someone else if I choose to pursue it, but also less than ideal at times because it may mean there’s a good reason no one’s taken that path before. It’s also unlikely there will be any maps to check if I get lost along the way.

The final stage of this filtration technique usually involves either setting the concept aside—maybe indefinitely, but maybe just for later, for reassessment at a different stage of my life—or figuring out the right point of entry.

Sometimes jumping right in is ideal: carving out time in my schedule, nudging other stuff to the periphery to make space for this new thing I want to focus on.

More often, though, I’ll stair-step my way into it, picking up a few books and courses on a new subject I want to learn, or planning out a week’s worth of outlining and research before I start writing the actual book.

There’s always a chance that, during those initial stages, I’ll learn something that will change the math I’ve done up until that point: the sieve catching something it previously missed, which then warrants recalibration.

Despite the potential for a last-minute amendment, though, I typically feel more confident committing to plans and projects because of these filtration layers. They allow me to establish, bare-minimum, that what I’m working on will be valuable in some way, will fit within the lifestyle choices I’ve consciously made, and is either conceptually fresh or a worthwhile reinvention.

Your questions—your filters—will likely be different from mine, but it’s worth having a rough set of conceptual strainers handy for when insight or inspiration hits, so that you’re less likely to struggle with how to invest your limited cognitive and chronological resources.

If you found some value in this essay, and if you’re in the financial position to do so, consider buying me a coffee.

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