Compulsive Creatives are not known for being the most productive people in the world. We tend to get distracted, have hundreds of projects we want to work on, and often exhaust ourselves on whatever is in front of us.
Over the past ten years of running a variety creative businesses, these five things have helped me the most to stay on track.
1- Set Deadlines (but not too many)
A quick car trip metaphor….
When you are going someplace, you estimate arrival time. GPS automatically does this for us now, but it is still something we use.
This is for a couple reasons.
First, we want to be able to plan the trip better. Will we need to stop for food, will we get there before dark, or will we need to get a place to sleep?
The second is if we hit that time, and we are not at our destination, we know something went wrong. Either we took a wrong turn or we’re navigating to the wrong location.
These are the same reasons we need to set deadlines for our projects. If we have a timeframe for when we should be done, we can plan all the details of how to get there.
If we miss the deadline, it means something is wrong. It might be that we underestimated how long it would take, or we are putting way too much time on something that isn’t essential.
Having deadlines helps us stay on course, but it is also important not to have too many. If you want to get stressed out quickly, come up with ten deadlines. Missing one will throw off all of them; it becomes a nightmare overnight.
I like to limit myself to only one big project deadline at a time, but two or three can be manageable for certain personality types.
2- Time Boxing
Time boxing is a micro version of setting deadlines. It involves taking to-do’s for the day and giving those tasks specific times to be done.
For example, writing the blog post was time boxed for 9–10 am. Creating the graphic above was scheduled for 10–10:30 am.
The process is easy.
Step 1 – Figure out what needs to be done.
Step 2 – Calculate how long you think it will take.
Step 3 – Determine when would be the best time to do that task.
I learned this from Stephen King’s On Writing.
According to his book, Stephen King writes every day. He doesn’t take off for holidays, and he only commits 3 to 4 hours in the morning.
Committing to a small amount of time consistently over months (then years) allows a habit to form, limits burnout, and helps reduce the dreaded creativity block.
4- Distraction Time
This is my newest tool for getting creative projects completed.
I schedule time on my calendar called “distraction time.” If I am working on a project, and an idea or another project enters my mind, I write it down and go back to what needs to get done. During my scheduled “distracted time,” I am allowed work on whatever I want.
This list can get crazy quickly, so I have to go through it daily and delete the things that I am no longer interested in doing.
If there is anything that I want to add to a future project I put it on a separate list called “Projects to Consider.”
5- Work with End in Mind
Picture in your head the outcome of your project.
Right now I am writing this post. So, I imagine it live on Medium, I can see you reading it, and I picture that this article helps you finish your projects. Your creation then becomes a big hit and a global phenomenon. The world is changed, but if I don’t finish this article none of this will happen.
I know, a very dramatic and a glamorized view of what I do, but this helps. When I get distracted, I think of you and my little contribution to your’s and other’s successes.
My impulse to check Facebook is ignored and watching “Blacklist” can wait, but this article can not… So, I continue to work and hit publish.