How to finish creative projects.

It is 3 am and creativity stroke again!

 Coming up with Ideas are relatively easy for me, but turning them into reality and then to finish them, is a totally different ball game! 

My question: Why do I keep on doing this? I start to read a book, and stop halfway, not because I do not like it, or want to finish it, just because I did not feel like it. I have a heap of shame: sewing projects that I started, and never finished. There is a Kist full of knitting UFO’s (unfinished objects). Lets not even talk about all the half-written blog posts, videos and photos that need editing, the book outline that never got started, the diets and exercise programs that were abandoned after a week and the languishing quilt in a box.

Newton one of my Heroes from the science world states: Newton

A body in motion stays in motion (His first law of motion).To get started is easy, because you have that spark of the new Idea to get you going but if you are interrupted then it takes a lot of energy to get going again.  The sad reality is that often we interrupt ourselves!

I will be busy with a dress and need a piece of lace, so, off I go to find set peace of lace in one of the numerous scrap boxes. While looking for the lace, I will find a UFO ( un finished object) and then start looking for the pieces I need to finish it. Before I know, every box will be emptied on the floor and I will end up on the couch , too tired to move. Now I  am at the end of the day with 2 unfinished projects and a house that needs sorting and cleaning before I can do anything else and I just don’t have enough energy left to restart the old projects , so I grab a new one.

I used to use the excuse that I am a creative and as a creative, I will not be put in a box because it stifles my creativity. 

But I am fed up with myself and have 2 options either take all the UFO’s and burn them and delete the digital projects or, find out what is causing my inability to finish and work with it. I am choosing the latter! 

“  To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy. … If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”. Sun Tzus  33-best-pieces-of-leadership-advice

I am taking Sun Tzus advice to heart today and am jumping down this rabbit hole of finding out why I do not finish and what is the psychology behind that. I will know this enemy and I will know myself by the end of this! 

Why do creative people struggle to get things done?

  • I call it creativity ADD (Attention pulled in Different Directions). New Ideas pop up all the time and we live in fear that we might forget. So we keep on starting new projects.
  • We are ruled by Perfectionism . If I can’t do it perfectly, then I’d rather not do it or I will stop if I made a mistake.
  • We are overworked, as Creatives and often underpaid , so without a Passive Income we try to get as many things done as possible and end up not finishing anything
  • Most Creatives are masters at procrastination. That means we simply struggle to get things done because we’re good at putting them off! 

According to research conducted by Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of the book Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done Paperback  about a quarter of adults are chronic procrastinators. And I think that quarter are Creatives.

  • We get excited by new projects and older projects become boring. It is basically an addiction to the thrill of creating. (in neuroscience they have found that “flow state” is addictive and creating new things can put you in that state).
  • Being creative takes time, most projects will not be finished in a few hours. So you basically pour your life into it and then If the end project gets criticized or rejected, we take it personally because our work is our Identity. So subconsciously, we will rather not finish.
  • Creativity goes in seasons and there are seasons when we need time away from all our projects in order to feed the soul. I wrote about it Here
  • We need space to create and you will often find a creative frantically cleaning and moving furniture. This gets mistaken by others as procrastination and If you hear it enough then you end up believing it. It is therefore important to recognize our motivation for doing things.
  • Lastly, we do not grow up, our inner child have free reign most of the time and if you leave that child to play all day, then you will get back to a proper mess and very few finished projects. 

Sometimes Fear stops us in our tracks

  • Fear of failing to impress
  • Fear of setting too high a standard ( what if this is so successful that I won’t be able to repeat it?)
  • Having so much fun that you don’t want it to finish.

At times we are geniuses at making excuses that keeps us from finishing.

  • We Looking at the negatives and use it as a reason not to start or finish.
  • We using perfectionism as an excuse.
  • Saying that we work better under pressure. ( research has shown that in most cases this is not true)
  • The excuse of:” I am focusing on the bigger picture”. This is often paralyzing.

Now I know The Enemy of Unfinished Projects and I know myself, The Creative. So let’s go to battle!

But first, let me teach you about your weapons.

Bluma Zeigarnick a 1920’s psychologist observed how waiters remember difficult orders completely until the order was done and then they would forget it. She started researching the way the mind works after this observation and found the following. The human mind hates unfinished tasks. It causes tension and your brain will keep on thinking about it until the task is finished.

 Zeigarnick Effect: How Incomplete Tasks Trigger Stress and the brain will keep on thinking about the task until it is done. 

The CLIFFHANGER in television shows and books are Hollywood’s take on the Zeigarnik Effect.

Further research in cognitive psychology by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister suggests that the Ziegarnick Effect can be removed from long term projects by making concrete plans and setting goals. Getting Things Done Stress Free Productivity .The brain is wired to remember unfinished tasks, and because there is no closure, it leaves you with very little energy and low will power. By writing things down and making it measurable, scheduling time for it, or If you can, do it now and having concrete plans, frees up the mind. Use lists to get the “things” out of your head free up some head-space.

The key is to Identify the next project  that matches your readiness for engagement.

If you have never done it before,start small and go bigger, it is like exercising for a marathon. You will start with shorter distances and then work up to the longer distance. Goal achievement takes work, dedication and commitment. Let’s use the SMART Principle to explore this.

Goals need to be SMART

Specific and clear and can answer the questions: what, why, where, who and which?

Measurable answer the questions of how much and how many and how will you know if you achieve it? It needs to be clear and have only one meaning or purpose. (not ambiguous) 

Attainable: do you have the emotional and physical resources to attain this goal?

Relevant: is it fitting in with your bigger goal? Is it worthwhile and right for you?

Time-based: The question that you have to answer is when? But you also need to manage the time in between. With a time frame and commitment to a deadline, you are more likely to focus on finishing. If you are working on something without a clear deadline, it makes it hard to finish.

The SMART principle can help you not to get caught in the following traps

  • Fantasizing about the Idea and then thinking about it so much that you feel like you have done it.
  • Not committing to the project so it ends up as another UFO 
  • Focusing on the outcome and not the process, It is like my quilt in the box, when I think of it, I see the finished product and then I get overwhelmed when I think about the amount of blocks that I still need to make !
  • Giving up after setbacks, Oh Edeson and his light bulb can be your inspiration here.

He had 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

  • Procrastination
  • Getting distracted
  • Forgetting about it
  • Spending too much time on unimportant things, convincing yourself that you are working towards the goal.
  • Making up reasons why it is not going to work and how it will go wrong.

I will be applying what I have learned to the un finished projects, but first I will sort through them and only keep the ones that still resonates with me . The rest will be burned, deleted or recycled! 

I hope you found this post helpful and that when we chat again, we will all have some finished projects. Speak to you soon! I am of to make a fire! 

2 thoughts on “How to finish creative projects.

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