As we shift into low gear for the holidays and start sketching out new year’s resolutions, it’s a good time to reflect on some ways to get more done in 2010 – with less stress. Put simply, we need to focus on setting the right priorities and always taking actions that move the ball forward. Here are a few quick tips on how to get started:
Break the seal of hesitation! A bias toward action is the most common trait we’ve found across the hundreds of creative professionals and entrepreneurs we’ve interviewed at Behance. While preparing properly as you start a new project is certainly valuable, it’s also easy to lose yourself in planning (and dreaming) indefinitely. We must challenge ourselves to take action sooner rather than later. The minute that you start acting (e.g. building a physical prototype, sharing a nascent concept with your community), you start getting valuable feedback that will help you refine your original ideas – and move forward with a more informed perspective.
Work on your project a little bit each day.When you’re working on projects that require a serious infusion of creative juice – such as developing a new business plan, or just learning a new skill – it’s incredibly important to maintain momentum. Just as when you run everyday, the exercise gets easier and easier, the same thing happens with your brain. Stimulate it regularly each day, and those juices start to flow more freely. As Jack Cheng argues in a great recent blog post, “Thirty Minutes A Day”: “the important thing isn’t how much you do; it’s how often you do it.”
Develop a routine.Part of being able to work on your project a little bit each day is carving out the time to do so. Routines can seem boring and uninspiring, but – on the contrary – they create a foundation for sparking true insight. In his recent memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes about how a rigorous routine – rising at 5am and going to bed at 10pm every day – is crucial to his impressive creative output. (In a side note: Alex Iskold derives a series of lessons for start-up entrepreneurs from Murakami here.)
Break big, long-term projects into smaller chunks or “phases.”It’s easy to lose sight of your objectives and your motivation on year-long or even multi-year projects. To help manage expectations and create a sense of momentum, it’s best to break each project into smaller chunks that only take a few weeks or a month to complete. The dual benefit of this approach is: (1) making the project feel more manageable, and (2) providing incremental rewards (and a sense of accomplishment!) throughout the project.
Create simple objectives for projects, and revisit them regularly.When working on in-depth projects, we often have lots of new ideas along the way. This can lead to a gradual expansion of the project’s goals, or “scope creep.” This insidious habit can make it impossible to ever really complete anything. The best way to avoid it is to create a simple objective at the start of each project that encapsulates your goals. And then – this is the part we overlook! – revisit it regularly. When scope creep starts to happen, you’ll notice.
***This post by J.K. Glei is based on research by the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think thank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.