Are you a creative who can never seem to finish the projects that you start? Try this simple exercise to help you stick with more of the ones that matter.
I call it the curse of being creative. We have more ideas than we know what to do with. So what do we do? We start projects and we never finish them, telling ourselves that old lie that we’ll get back to it someday.
If you’re a hobbyist, it’s not that big of a deal. If you’re trying to grow a business and generate income, and you’re constantly starting over, you’re going to go nowhere fast.
Why you don’t finish the projects that you start
Before I share the exercise that I use to help you finish the projects you start, we’ve got to understand why we abandon our projects. This is a two-part issue.
PART 1: Shiny object syndrome
Perhaps you’re working on something, like a new design, or a blog post, and something catches your eye, or maybe your ear. This happens to me a lot when I’m listening to podcasts.
Especially interviews with creative business owners who share the secrets of their success. In their story, they may uncover that they doubled the size of their email list by starting a Facebook Group. It’s really hard to hear that statistic, and then not take action. I’m gonna have that Facebook app open and will be uploading a cover photo before the podcast episode is over.
The problem with this is, we have access to so much great information, that it becomes difficult to filter. What has worked for other people might not be the best for us. We only hear the success piece— that they’ve doubled the size of their email list. But were we listening when they mentioned the type of people who make up their audience? For example, maybe starting a Facebook Group will lead you to lose email subscribers because your audience spends way more time on Twitter. They might see your invitation to join your new Facebook Group and think, “wow, this person doesn’t get me at all. I hate Facebook.”
It’s a simple case of a wrong offer to the wrong person. And if that’s not enough to make you stop in your tracks, here’s the other reason why we abandon our projects:
PART 2: Someone else can do it better
The only thing worse than not understanding who our audience is is not understanding ourselves. When we’re not clear about what we’re bringing to the table, we’re going to show up empty-handed. It’s like that recurring nightmare that many people have about showing up to school or work in your pajamas. A classic sign of feeling inadequate or unprepared.
We may start with shiny ideas and great intentions. But the second you begin to doubt yourself, everything goes dim. You question your self-worth, start to make excuses, and ultimately, abandon what you started. Someone else can do it better, you think.
But here’s where you’re wrong. Unique is different from better. Someone else could do it— maybe they already have. But so could you! If having too many ideas is the curse of being creative, this is what’s on the flip side. It’s also a gift. No matter how many people have done it before or will do it in the future, there will always be a creative way that you and only you can present it. So let’s put those gifts to good use.
A simple exercise to help you finish the projects that you start
The next time you’re about to start a new project, whether your idea arrived in a daydream, or as a shiny object, answer these three questions:
- Who is this product or service for? Get specific. This is going to help you filter out the Facebook people from the Twitter people. For example, maybe you are designing a new planner. You can say, my planner is for college students who are art majors.
- How will it help them? Your planner is going to be just what art students need to keep up with their weekly assignments and stay on track to complete their semester-long project.
- Why are you creating it for them? YOU are the keyword in this question. Before you go any further, validate that you’re the right person for this job. Why are you qualified, and what are you bringing to the table that’s going to hit this project out of the park. Maybe you just graduated from college with an art degree, and you wish you had a planner like the one you’re about to create. Or maybe you’ve already created it— and it helped you get through your last semester. Now you’re excited to share it so that more art students can keep up with their assignments.
The last part of the exercise is not designed to make you give up, but to give you the confidence you need to carry it out. If you reach question three, and you don’t feel like you have the passion, the skills, or the experience, then its probably not the right project for you right now. And that’s great because you don’t have time to do everything!
These three questions: The Who, The How, The Why are ones that you’ll ask yourself eventually anyway. But in doing so before you begin, you won’t waste any time. And you won’t feel like you’ve failed by saying no.
Strategically plan to succeed at less
One of my favorite authors, Jon Acuff shares a great strategy in his book, called Finish: choose what to bomb. In other words, plan to abandon most of your shiny ideas, so that you can double down on the best and brightest.
At the very beginning of this post, I mentioned that if you’re a hobbyist and making money from your creative projects is not important to you, then abandoning your projects is really not a big deal. Not every single one of your ideas need to be monetized. Choose just one or two, go all in, and when you do, you will find success. And with that success, you will have the time and space to dabble, to be a hobbyist, and to abandon as many projects as you like!
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