How to start (and finish) a big creative project

What creative ideas, projects, or initiatives are you hatching right now?  Why do I ask? Oh, because if you’re a creative freelancer or business owner, I know you’ve got a thing or two (or twelve!) rolling around in your head. Tell me I’m wrong!

So, how’s it going?

If your answer is a mixed bag of excitement, excuses, and self-doubt you’re in good company (ask me how I know! ). One of the big ideas I’ve been kicking around/down the road for a few years now is writing a business book for creative freelancers and business owners. Oh, all my reasons for putting it off are totally legit, the main one being I don’t have time. But guess what, people who are busier than me write books all the time, so…

It sucks to admit your brilliant ideas have fallen by the wayside and you’re the biggest reason why.  But admitting it is half the battle, so let’s get over ourselves, reclaim them, and make a step-by-step plan to bust them out. Deal?

Read on for 3 actionable ways you can start and complete any project.

We don't do ideas we do projects Charlie Gilkey

Step one: Take out your head trash

I first heard the term “head trash” from business consultant and author, Charlie Gilkey, and think it’s probably the best description for the mix of fear, comparison, and imposter syndrome we all carry around with us.  It’s that inner voice that says “The last thing the world needs is another____” or “Who the heck do you think you are to____” (except mine uses a meaner word…it rhymes with “puck”!)

The reason this mean inner voice is so successful at keeping us small is, it’s hard to argue with. The world doesn’t need another app, business book, or podcast. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need your app, book, or podcast. So, take that trash out and keep moving. And remember, head trash is like regular trash – you have to take it out daily!

Step two: Set “sticky” goals

A sticky goal is one that (a) really matters to you, (b) is specific, and (c) can be broken down into projects with clear parameters, milestones, and timelines.

Using our examples of writing a book, creating an app, or launching a podcast, here are some examples of sticky goals + projects.

Goal: Write a fun, actionable, business book to help creative freelancers build a fulfilling, efficient, and profitable creative business.
Project: Come up with a working title, outline, and chapters for the book by August 31st, 2024

Goal: Create an app that will help people with ADHD build routines that support their mental health.
Project: Develop a wireframe and basic user interface for the main features of my app.

Goal: Create a podcast that inspires and motivates creative professionals by sharing the stories of other creatives who have succeeded in their field.
Project: Plan and script the first three episodes, including securing guest speakers and deciding on episode formats.

Non-sticky goals are gauzy, sweeping, and demotivating because they’re just too darned overwhelming (and a tad judgmental). Examples include:

  • Make more money
  • Get more organized
  • Have more work/life balance

Here are a few tips and best practices for setting sticky goals.

  1. Limit yourself. Most of us are overly ambitious in the number of goals we set and the time we give ourselves to achieve them. Using the guidelines in Charlie Gilkey’s book, Start Finishing, my sweet spot is three big goals for a 12-month period, with no more than 5 projects at any time.
  2. Create some external accountability. Define clear outcomes and milestones and carve out the time you’ll need each day or week to achieve them. Tell someone else what you plan to do and ask them to hold you accountable (please be sure to return the favor for them, or someone else).  This might be an accountability buddy/group (free) or an investment in a professional relationship such as a coach or mastermind group. Work with whatever resources you have available to you.
  3. Make it visible. As a certified ADHD coach, I’ve come to learn that for many of my neurodivergent clients, if they can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Make your milestones and timeline visual by putting them on a wall or whiteboard where you can see them every day. Feel free to go wild with the post-its and markers!

Step 3: Redefine your notion of time

Time is a funny thing! On some level, we buy into the notion that it’s a standard measure that applies to all things and people. But in reality, we know it to be fluid. For example:

Not all hours are created equal: If you’ve experienced an hour in flow state, or with a new love, you can attest that it feels very different from an hour in a dentist’s chair. Acknowledging this will help you reserve your best hours (read: the most productive ones for you) for your goals and projects and assign your less productive ones for errands, etc.

We value time differently: We all have certain personality types that impact how, among other things, we value our time. For example, my husband is an Enneagram type 5 (the investigator) known to be perceptive, analytical, and driven by a desire to understand the world deeply. He values knowledge and independence, often withdrawing to focus on their intellectual pursuits. He will naturally consider time sitting in a chair with a deep, dense book as more valuable than doing some dumb chore.

I on the other hand am a Type 2 (the helper), described as compassionate and empathetic, often putting others’ needs before their own. Type twos seek love and appreciation through their supportive and nurturing behavior but may struggle with setting boundaries and acknowledging their own needs. Left to my own devices, I’ll prioritize running to the supermarket because we’re having folks over for dinner tomorrow, over writing my book.

Of course, personality types are not set in stone, but when we know how we roll, it’s easier to see where we naturally over-value/invest our time and consciously redirect that time to our goals and projects.

Our concept of time is unique to us. One of my kids is “time blind”, while the other can work backward from an endpoint and map his time accordingly. That doesn’t mean one is trying harder/better than the other, it’s simply different brain wiring. Knowing how you engage with time will help you scaffold the support you need with reminders, support, and the accountability you need to prioritize and maximize your time.

Time is made, not found: If you want to throw a big project or idea into your already busy life, something’s gotta give.  I love the story author Lauren Groff told when asked how she found time to write a bestseller that made it onto Barack Obama’s favorite book list while having a baby at home. She shared that she and her husband agreed before having kids that he would handle all kid-related stuff in the morning, so she could put on her noise-canceling headphones and write. I’m currently writing this newsletter at 7 a.m. while my husband gets the kids up and ready for school. So, thanks for leading the way on that Lauren!

OK, how are you feeling about your chances of getting your big, beautiful project started/finished? If you need support of the professional, coaching variety, I’d love to chat and see if we’re a fit. Share a bit more about yourself here and let’s chat!

Start Finishing by Charlie Gilkey
1,000 Words by Jami Attenburg
Atomic Habits by James Clear

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