Like most people in their early twenties, my younger sister dreams, nay, hungrily yearns, to get her mittens on a new car. Her current rust bucketdoes occasionally start when coaxed with a biscuit, but lacks air-conditioning, rendering all attempts at feminine elegance painstakingly difficult. You can’t be the Belle of the ball as a ball of sweat. 

I recommended she use the same approach I’ve been using recently, and which I’m implementing as my ‘theme’ for 2015. It’s an approach that features in just about every major book or course on creative thinking. Brian Tracey advocates it to delegates of his life-skills courses, and high-level players in a multitude of industries swear by it. I’ve come to love it. 

The 20 Ways Approach: 

Get a sheet of paper or launch a page on your computer. Headline it with your goal, for instance: “Get a New Car this Year.” Now see if you can come up with twenty different ways, twenty separate ideas and approaches, for achieving the goal. 

My sister, for instance, might start with ‘1. Grand Theft Auto,’ and ‘2. Bank robbery.’ Fair enough. But of course, that’s only two. Eighteen more to go. 

It Works Because it’s Hard: 

It’s the very fact that twenty is a demanding number that makes this approach so effective. The first five or six ideas will come quickly. Thereafter, it becomes more challenging, and that’s when the magic happens. Often, as you force your way slowly into the realms of ‘11,' and ‘12,' you have moments of epiphany where you say things like, “I could actually do that!,” and perhaps even, “Why haven’t I been doing that already?!” 

You can also open your list to outside input. My wife, for instance, has no hesitation in telling me what else I should be doing.

This year, I’ve already created five of these ‘20 ways’ lists. They range from the lofty, ‘How do I become one of the most booked practitioners in my field?’ to the more pedestrian, ‘How can I make my office a nicer place to work?’ In both cases, forcing my way through the creation of a full list of 20 was taxing, but richly rewarding.

Now do take note that you don’t actually have to implement all twenty ideas in each case. The point is not so much to create a ‘to-do’ list as much as it is to create a ‘what could be done?’ prospective. It’s the richness and depth of thinking that you’re after, and for that reason, don’t judge your ideas too harshly. Let them flow. Once you see which ideas are clearly superior, and implementable, you can pick and choose what will work for you.

Use it for Work-Place Projects: 

The approach is wonderfully agile in the sense that it needn’t only be applied to personal goals. If your division at work has a project to complete, or if you’ve been tasked with managing a large deliverable, creating a ‘20 ways to’ list will focus your thinking and open you up to an innovative range of approaches that might have value. 

So whether it’s making your home more comfortable or raising your physical fitness; whether it’s growing your business or lusting after new wheels, there is always a way. Chances are, it’s hiding among twenty.