If you are a creative business owner and chaser of bright, shiny ideas like I am, you probably have lots of unfinished projects around your home and in your business. You probably have stacks of books you say you are going to read and boxes of art supplies, craft kits and folders full of DIY ideas for projects around the house.
This idea is on my mind because I had two different client meetings today with clients who suffer from what I call “idea-itis” – their minds are full of ideas, visions of what’s possible and dreams of future novels and business success ideas. Trying to rein these creative minds in to focus on just one project at a time is a challenge but one that I am always up for.
I just finished this piece of art today, I was stalled on it. I only needed to color the hummingbird but I wasn’t ecstatic about the way the flowers turned out. I debated taking some gesso and painting the canvas over and beginning again. But it was bugging me, just sitting there in my craft room, waiting… so I decided to take my own advice to my clients and finish one project. This was the one I picked.
It took my maybe five minutes to color the hummingbird. It took me longer to release my need for perfection and any fear of judgment from my readers or my friends. I am publicly sharing this piece because I completed it. It is no longer an unfinished project. Time for a happy dance and the next unfinished project on the list.
The problem with unfinished projects is that they take up space in three different ways that can stop us from making real progress!
First, unfinished projects take up physical space.
Just like this canvas, unread books, piles of magazines, receipts and bills waiting to be sorted and filed and laundry waiting to put away (before you wear everything right out of the basket) take up our visual space and create clutter, collect dust and annoy us when we see them because they remind us of our failure to get things done.
We shared more about this in podcast episode 100 on taking care of and nurturing our environment.
Second, unfinished projects take up mental space.
Our mind becomes just as cluttered as our office or living room with piles of unfinished projects dangling behind our eyes. This mental clutter means we don’t have clear, open space for more creative thoughts to come in! Soon we feel completely stuck, overwhelmed and confused about what to do next.
Third, unfinished projects take up emotional space.
When we have piles of unfinished projects taking up our mental and physical space, they begin to adversely affect our emotional well-being. We begin to criticize ourselves, judging ourselves too harshly and seeing ourselves as failures because we can’t seem to finish anything! Then we lose sight of our own creativity and genius and lose faith in ourselves.
The truth is that it is natural for creative entrepreneurs to have floods of ideas and piles of possibilities stacked around us in the real and virtual worlds. We might come back to it for inspiration another time, but in the moment we are off chasing the latest spark of inspiration like a magpie chasing shiny objects.
I do believe that we need to finish some of our projects in order to feel a sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. We also need to finish projects if we want to make money in our business. But I also believe we can do a better job of being okay with letting projects go and not holding onto projects that seemed exciting at first but we quickly get bored with.
Here are three solutions to help creative entrepreneurs tackle the unfinished projects:
1. Pick one and finish it or ditch it. If you are committed to finishing it, block time in your calendar to make it happen. I do this with work, with art and with home projects. Otherwise they don’t get done. Be sure to celebrate and share your success when you do complete a project, even if you don’t love it!
2. Schedule time once a week to look at one or two of your projects and make a decision – will I ever read this or finish this? If the answer is a resounding no, donate it or trash it. If the answer is a maybe, ask again next week.
Clutter can really overwhelm us – the mental and the physical kind. Take it slow and be patient with yourself.
When you find it hard to let go, ask yourself why? Is there an emotional attachment to the project? Is it your million dollar idea? Do you feel guilty because you spent money on it and now you are throwing it out?
Take a minute to answer these questions to get to the root of what’s really going on.
3. Finally, stop making excuses. If procrastination is causing you pain, try to get to the root of why. Unfinished projects could simply be part of your nature of moving quickly from idea to idea or they could be a symptom of some underlying fear. Take our quiz to discover your Unique Productivity Style to understand how your approach to time and tasks is either supporting or hindering your progress.
Ask yourself: what will happen if I do finish this project?
If fear is the real problem, is this something you can safely and comfortably work through on your own or is it better to call a trusted friend or adviser? Getting support is so important when your emotions are getting in the way of your success.
If you want to be successful as a creative entrepreneur, you have to learn to do two things: make decisions quickly and finish projects. The Unique Productivity Style quiz can help you understand your natural approach to managing time and tasks. You can take it here.
I know, this is all easier said than done. Take baby steps, like I did with this canvas today.
My next project? My content strategy plan that I have been putting off because the next part doesn’t feel fun, sigh! I have cleared off my craft table, finished this blog post and finished my artwork in progress. I feel refreshed. Now it’s time to get to work.