One of the best parts about working with small and medium size business owners on a daily basis is that, by and large, you are intelligent, creative, and imaginative. In fact, it is often an individual’s imagination that leads them to go into business for themselves to begin with.

But this blessing can also be a curse – because many business owners don’t have the ability to channel their imagination. They let it run wild, and as a result, waste significant amounts of time and resources pursuing ideas that they never see through to completion.

Don’t misunderstand… it’s great to be a creative, outside-the-box thinker. It’s great that innovation is always on your mind. But if you can’t learn to control it, your imagination may cause more harm than good. Below are three steps which can help you leverage your imagination, without letting it run wild:

  1. Before committing to a new idea, take the time to project results. Obviously, you’re in business to make money – a “cool” idea that doesn’t improve your profitability is ultimately a waste of time. If the project you’ve been dreaming up for the past week won’t add value to your customers in some way, it’s probably not worth pursuing. (Note that a project could be invisible to a client but still add value – for instance, an organizational system that allows your staff to provide better customer service.)

  2. Allow yourself only one innovative project at a time. I know, the notion of limiting yourself to only one project isn’t appealing. But doing so has several benefits. First, it forces you to think hard before committing to a given idea. When you’re only allowed one creative project at a time, you’ve got to be very selective – and that’s a good thing! Secondly, sticking with a single idea ensures that it will either prove successful or that you will learn from the mistake. Simply letting the project fade into the background as you shift your focus isn’t an option – which means that you can’t help but learn from the experience.

  3. Create a plan featuring specific and trackable goals. Once you’ve selected a project, create a detailed plan. This plan should include a timeframe and a breakdown of responsibility, i.e., which employees are responsible for each aspect. Once you’ve done this, it’s important to hold yourself and your employees accountable. If you’re falling behind the timeline you’ve set, find out why and fix the problem.

In a nutshell, the key to harnessing your imagination is to be extremely selective while determining which ideas are worth pursuing. And once you’ve begun a project, it is important that you see it through until completion. Implementing this system gives you the best of both worlds: you have the time and the freedom to innovate, but you also have controls to ensure that you don’t wind up wasting time and resources on projects that you may never finish—or that offer little value even if you do complete them.

Your imagination is a valuable asset, but like many things in life, it is best utilized in moderation!