How I Move from Idea to Project to Completion


Talking with several of my friends about how I stay productive is always fun. I read a lot of productivity books for business people, marketers, leaders & creatives and each has something wise to learn.

There is an abundance of ideas and there are an abundance of tools out there to stay productive. I’ve found that most people just struggle with how to turn an idea into a completed project.

These are the challenges I continually hear most people struggle with:

  1. Capturing Ideas
  2. Moving forward with current ideas and projects
  3. Carrying projects across the finish line

Thought I’d share this with you and maybe you’d find pieces of it useful for yourself.


My email is the box I catch everything in. Having one big bucket you can process through at your own pace is key.

Before an idea hits my inbox, I have several places that I capture it all.

  • Notability is a note-taking app on my iPad. I do a lot of brainstorming there. Then send those notes in an email to myself.
  • I also carry Field Notes with me in my back pocket where I go. Almost absolutely everywhere. I write down all sorts of ideas there.
  • I use a combination of social media, google reader & readability to collect any article I’d like to digest later. (More on that here)

Once all of that is in my inbox (along with the other billion things that folks send me) I use a few tools to turn all that input into a to-do list.

The by Baydin is one of THE BEST ways I crank through my email. I can quickly reply, forward, archive & label those emails. This morning I worked through 150 emails in about 20 minutes.

Also, I use Boomerang to resend myself an email at a future date. That way I’m not worrying about something sitting 3 pages deep in my email inbox. So if I have an email that I need to think about again in a week, I simply use boomerang to resend that email to me 7 days from now.

Finally, I now use Wunderlist to keep my to-do list. Everything in my world is on Wunderlist. Laundry, recycling, phone calls to friends (yup, I schedule those…) and all things business all land there. Most days, I don’t even need to communicate with anyone to have a massive work day because I’ve got it all sitting on my phone, desktop or iPad. This allows meetings and hanging out with friends to be very separate from work. I can be fully present & listen knowing that anything that I need to think of tucked away nice & neat for me to attack when I’ve got time.


My To-do list is categorized by project. This way I’m not starring at the grocery list while I’m working on building a website.

These projects – for me – fall into a few categories.

  • SightShift – My work with Chris McAlister and his identity formation retreats, classes & seminars.
  • Allison Lehman Design – Working with my wife to help businesses and folks get branded well.
  • Home – My personal life; friends, family & chores
  • Side Projects – Fun hobbies, projects & products I’m working on (I’ve got a real fun one coming up!)

For projects I need to work with others on, I use WunderList Pro (for Allison Lehman Design) & Trello (For SightShift). Both are great (and FREE!) tools I’d highly recommend.

SideNote: I don’t really treat any project as more important than the other, though stuff at home usually gets overlooked by the other three (can someone come over and do dishes please?) . If you set healthy expectations and goals from the outset, you won’t have to say “No” to one area of your life over the other.


Now once you’ve collected it all and turned everything into a to-do list, the rest is pretty easy.

Lately I’ve been struck by how we turn the easy-part into the hard part. Setting up a process is easy. The steps from idea to completion aren’t some mysterious formula that only wizards, jedis and gurus are aware of. Anyone with 20 minutes can think through and write their own process. The above is mine. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.


I’d love to hear if anything above sparked an idea for you or if you see some flaw in my process. I’m not above refining and changing….

What do you think?

Got something to say? Leave a comment. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Nick Arnold says:

    Man, I’m such a productivity junkie… I’m trying out all these apps you posted about. Wunderlist is very pretty. It’s a bit more functional than paper… though I can’t seem to get by without my paper list (which I keep in a weekly planner Moleskine).

    Don’t forget about NeuYear’s year-at-a-glance poster calendar. I’m pretty sure I first heard about that on your wife’s Facebook page.

    • Adam Lehman says:

      So true. Something about writing something down interacts with your brain differently.

      We bought a NeuYear calendar and promptly hung it up. Then we promptly threw it away. Didn’t fit the aesthetic of our office. :(

  2. Carmen says:

    Hey! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog.
    Is it very difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about
    making my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Appreciate it


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