It’s a wonderful feeling to finally finish a big creative project. I’ve just submitted my second book, and juggling that alongside running a business (and growing a baby with the appointments, admin and ailments that this entails) has been a mission – but ultimately very rewarding. More and more crafters are starting a business, maintaining a vlog, writing a book or embarking on some other big project – often alongside a day job, kids or other commitments – so perhaps you know the feeling?
Today I thought I’d share a few tips on how I stay on track, both with my business and big creative projects such as writing a book, in order to achieve my goals. I’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments too.
1) Focus on your main goals
If you’re a creative person, you’re no doubt constantly coming up with new ideas for designs, products, events, systems, marketing, you name it. Having a light bulb regularly switching on above your head is a valuable skill to have. However, shiny new ideas can also cause a big distraction from the main things you’re trying to achieve and the big projects that you want to get done.
It took me a while, but I’ve finally made peace with the realization that I’ll never get everything done that I want to do. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. The important thing is to identify the main things I want to achieve this year – whether that’s creating two new courses, restructuring our website, writing a book or improving our email system – then break those goals down into seasons, months or weeks, and stay focused on them.
Of course, sometimes a new idea is too good to ignore, and the plan may change to accommodate it. But if it’s not more important than what I’m already working on, I’ll make a note of those ideas in a section below my main task list under the subtitle ‘Ideas for later’. If it’s still a good idea in 6 months’ time, look at it next time you’re reviewing your goals – or simply save the idea for a rainy day.
2) Learn to say no
When you have a business, blog, vlog or even just an Instagram account, you’re continuously bombarded with enticing opportunities to collaborate, review products, meet for coffee, give a talk, create sponsored posts… the list goes on.
If, like me, you have people-pleasing tendencies, it’s easy to get distracted from your goals by other people’s priorities. Moreover, many of these opportunities sound extremely appealing – especially when you’re in the middle of sorting out your tax return or scratching your head over a technical pattern issue. Meeting interesting people! Free stuff! Money! Being the type of person who goes for macchiatos with other creative business people!
But if you want to stay on track with your priorities, you have to learn to say no to many more prospects than you say yes to. I trained myself to do this a few years ago by keeping a Post It note prominently displayed on my computer monitor with the question, “Does this help me achieve my goals?” I say yes to a small number of things that are genuinely aligned with what I’m trying to achieve – plus the occasional fun thing when I have the time just because – and politely decline everything else.
This simple reminder has kept me on track with the plan I have for my business and has helped me to grow my brand and products in an intentional way, rather than purely reacting to whatever opportunities happened to pop into my inbox that day.
3) Close your inbox
Speaking of emails, omg how distracting are emails?! I distinctly remember a time early on in my business when I felt so tied to my inbox that I wasn’t doing anything else all day apart from replying to whatever was coming in. But there’s a simple fix for this.
Set aside one or two times a day to work your way through important emails as efficiently as you can. If you can summon the will power, delay opening your inbox until you’ve ticked off at least one important task from your to do list each morning. Even better, if your emails can wait until after lunch or the end of the day, you’re going to be productivity superwoman! If you do need to look at your emails earlier – perhaps because you’re expecting some information required to drive your big project forward, or you need to check in on a team member who works remotely – then by all means check them first thing.
And then close your inbox. Get on with the big tasks you need to get done, and don’t even think about looking at your emails again until you’ve made significant progress.
Otherwise there’s a real danger that you’ll spend the whole day reacting to whatever pops up, whether important or minor, and you’ll never achieve your goals.
4) Do it for 25 minutes
Procrastination can hit hard, particularly when you’re doing something creative that takes thought and decision-making rather than following a set procedure.
When I’m working on a big project that feels overwhelming, or even something little that I’ve been putting off for too long, I swear by the Pomodoro technique. Named after those little tomato kitchen timers, what it entails is setting a timer for 25 minutes – preferably one which emits a little ticking noise to remind you that it’s running.
During those 25 minutes, get on with whatever it is you’ve been putting off doing. 25 minutes feels manageable, even on the most challenging tasks. The ticking timer will help you stay on track and avoid checking Instagram or sketching up a new design when you should be writing that chapter or drafting your cash flow. Once the timer goes off to signal the end of the 25 minutes, stop wherever you are – even if you’re in the middle of a sentence – get up from your desk, and go for a 5 minute break.
Chances are, you’ll have got into whatever you were doing, realised it’s not so bad after all, and will be itching to sit down again to do another 25 minutes. Repeat these sessions regularly, and you’ll be amazed at the progress you’ll make on your project!
5) Know when you’re finished
Let’s face it, finishing a creative task or project can be scary. What if this chapter isn’t good enough? What if I’ve forgotten something in this blog post? Could I make it better if I read over it just one more time?
It’s easy to keep tinkering with whatever you’re working on. But while the word “creative” puts an emphasis on the origination of a project, it’s just as important to be able to complete it.
If you want to achieve your goals, it’s so important to let go of the perfectionist tendency towards constantly tweaking, and to actually finish what you started. Put down your tools. Press publish. Submit that book already. Yes it can be scary. But the feeling of having accomplished what you set out to do is the real reward.
So that’s how I stay on track with the big goals I want to achieve each year. Do you have your own tips on finishing big projects? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!