Remember paper fortune tellers?
You probably do, but you may not know them by that name. Here’s what they are and what they (traditionally) do:
A fortune teller (also called a cootie catcher, chatterbox, salt cellar, or whirlybird) is a form of origami used in children’s games. Parts of the fortune teller are labelled with colours or numbers that serve as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside are eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulates the device based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages is revealed. These messages may purport to answer questions (hence the name) or they may be activities that the player must perform. – Wikipedia
My daughter and her friends use them at school to tell each others’ fortunes. My son came home from pre-school with one as well. And it got me thinking:
“What if I used a paper fortune teller to help me choose my next project?”
There are all kinds of ways out there to bring your next idea or project to life. Justin Jackson has used his podcast Build and Launch to tell the story of building and launching one small product every week. The podcast may not be a trigger for him, but it’s certainly a trigger for his audience. The IDEA Criteria is one way to evaluate an idea before turing it into reality, but if you’re an idea machine and many of those ideas are project-worthy, then you still can face overwhelm when trying to narrow things down. Theming will take you pretty far in terms of an overarching theme for your months, but when it comes to specifics you could get caught up in project paralysis (I know I have).
There are several things I want to build – and I want to build them as soon as possible. All of them are viable and have passed through The IDEA Criteria with flying colours. Many of them fall under the theme for this month. But, as David Allen has famously said, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”
So I left choosing the next project I’d work on to chance.
I didn’t want to simply flip a coin, because I’d have to do a ton of coin flipping with all that I’ve got on my radar. But a paper fortune teller would work. Why? Because I could have to 8 options available to me and only one would make it out alive (for now). Building the paper fortune teller is simple:
- I fold a square piece of paper accordingly so that the paper fortune teller is prepared.
- I write down 4 colours on the to flaps (I chose green, orange, blue, and red).
- I write down the numbers 1 through 8 on the interior.
- I write down 8 project names underneath those interior flaps.
Then I have someone else hold and change the paper fortune teller (this time it was my daughter) by using the following directions:
- They ask me to pick a colour. Then they spell out the word and use their fingers to change the paper fortune teller with each letter.
- They ask me to pick a number. Then they use their fingers to change the paper fortune teller that amount of times.
- They ask me to pick another number. Once I choose, then they open the corresponding flap and tell me what project I chose based on my selections.
And that’s it. I now have my next project lined up.
You can take things to the next level with this if you want and migrate the colours from your paper fortune teller over to your digital task manager – or even a paper notebook. Here’s how you can do this for three of the more popular task management applications out there:
- Todoist: You could use red, dark blue, light blue, and white for your colours on your paper fortune teller. Then once your project is revealed, simply use the corresponding priority flag colour to highlight anything associated with that project. You could also simply pick 4 of the colours Todoist offers for Projects as your starting colours for your paper fortune teller and then give your next project that colour as an identifier (although you may want to make it distinctive from any other project colours you have already active in Todoist).
- Asana: In Asana you can choose colours for projects, so simply use one of those colours on your paper fortune teller and be sure to create your next project with that colour so it stands out. You could also have a tag called “PFT” to identify anything associated with your paper fortune teller project if you want.
- Trello: Label colours in Trello will help you here as well. Just match them up with your paper fortune teller’s and be sure to allocate anything associated with that next project with that Trello label.
(You can even make this work in Evernote. Just put the final number you chose in the front of the notebook name of your next project so it move to the top of your other notebooks.)
As for paper notebooks, just find one that either matches the colour you chose or simply put it underneath your paper fortune teller in a visible area of your workspace. That way you’ll know that everything in there is related to your next project.
There are other ways to get “unstuck” when you’re facing project paralysis (using Unstuck’s Tip Cards or listening to the UnStuckable podcast are great options), but I loved the idea of leaving things to chance and having fun with it along the way. I know this method won’t work for everyone’s work life, but it can be used for some of your more personal aspirations even if it doesn’t apply to entrepreneurial pursuits. You could use a paper fortune teller to help you:
- Choose your next vacation spot
- Decide your next major purchase
- Start reading one of the books on your reading list
- Finalize your decision on what app to use for something
The idea behind using a paper fortune teller to decide my next project was at first nothing more than a new and fun way to get me moving forward with it. Now I may just use it every time I feel stuck on what project to do next. Why? Because it was effective, efficient, and delivered results – qualities I want my next project to have in spades.
So grab a piece of paper and make yourself a paper fortune teller to have at the ready for the next time you’re not sure what project to work on next. It may not be the most conventional way to make a decision, but it makes one happen…in a very fun and unexpected way.