Which of My Thirty-Seven Projects to Tackle First?

by Sam Bennett

You have so many great ideas, and you can’t decide which one(s) to follow through on. Or maybe once you finally settle on one and get into it, you get bored and drop it like a hot potato for something new. I know.

One of the side effects of being a creative genius is that you have a billion great ideas and a lot of skills and talents, so it can be difficult to figure out where to focus. This is so often what happens: You get a brilliant idea. It appears instantly — so full and rich and detailed and vibrant inside your mind — and you just know it’s a truly 
great idea. And then — just as quickly — you feel stuck, overwhelmed, defeated. You have no idea how to move forward. Thinking about the thing in its entirety is just too overwhelming, so you get stuck before you’ve even started.

Here’s the thing: your brain is a beautiful machine especially designed to look for patterns and solve problems. It works like a charm. Pose almost any question to your brain, and it will present you with an answer in no time at all. Genius, I tell you.

But if there are too many unknowns or too many variables, the machine grinds to a halt. Or it gets stuck in a loop, going around the same block over and over again. “I want to do X, but maybe I should do Y first, but I can’t do that until I do Z, so maybe I shouldn’t even try...but I really want to do X, but maybe I should do Y first...” Exhausting, right?

Breaking It Down
Let’s say your big, beautiful idea is “I want to redo the whole house!” And you can see it! Gorgeous and gleaming. A full, rich, detailed vision of your house completely redecorated appears in your mind.

In this situation some people recommend creating a Vision Board, which I think is fun because I love gluing things onto other things. A Vision Board is a fun, artsy, self-actualization project — it’s a collage you can make of images and words, usually cut from magazines, that, posted prominently, serves as a visual reminder of your goals and dreams. You can also make one online, which is fun, too. And if a Vision Board helps or delights or inspire you, then go ahead. But artists usually have no problem articulating a clear vision. Their vision is usually quite detailed and complete and often features sequels, theme parks, and a worldwide grassroots social movement.

As you consider this beautiful vision of your redone home, you feel the gears in your mind begin to grind: Where to begin? How to afford it? Is now the right time? How do I know if a contractor is trustworthy? What if the paint comes out ugly? Where do I find those cool glass tiles? I don’t know how to tile! Ack!

Too many unknowns and too many variables.
So if you can limit the scope of your project — take it bit by bit — you will be doing your brain a big favor. Tackling, say, just the carpeting in the upstairs bedroom will allow your brain to start searching its files for carpet in the same way that your computer can search for and find information easily once you give it the right name or search term. And now that your brain is whirring away on the idea of carpet, it might just remember that there’s a carpet store over by the lunch place you like, and it might remember that your cousin Denise just redid her house — and maybe she’ll have a few ideas for you — and hey, is that an ad for a carpet sale in today’s paper?

If you have some Vision Boards that are just hanging around making you feel bad about not having achieved your goals yet, for crying out loud, get rid of them. Inspirational tools are just that — tools to inspire you. The minute they quit inspiring you, lose ’em.

Breaking your project down into manageable, bite-size bits makes it something you can actually do, as opposed to leaving it a big, overwhelming, untouchable vision that leaves you stuck. Think of it this way: If you find yourself procrastinating, your project is too big!

You can see how you might be able to make some real progress if you break you projects down into smaller chunks and spend a little time on them every day, yes? But this still leaves you with the all-important question, How do you know which project is the right one? For starters, you have to discern which of the projects matter most to you, and ditch the ones that don’t. Here’s a little quiz-type exercise that will help you do that.

We often downplay the importance of desire in our lives, but I have noticed that the things we really want to do pretty much get done. And the things we do not want to do pretty much do not get done. Have you noticed that, too?

Exercise: Five Quick Questions
Call to mind one of the many projects you are procrastinating on. I know you have lots, but for now, pick just one. Whichever one floats to the top of your mind first is fine. Now — working swiftly and without pondering — answer yes, no, or sort of to these five questions:

1. Do you think you will learn from and enjoy working on this project?
2. Will completing this project make a difference in your life?
3. Will completing this project make a difference in the world?
4. Does your soul ache to work on it?
5. Ten years from now, will it matter whether or not you have done it?

Take a minute to muse on your answers, and jot down a few notes about what you notice. You may have noticed that those five questions are really one question, phrased five different ways — five different angles of attack on “Does this project truly matter?”

You may find that while you feel your project would make a big difference in the world, your soul does not ache to do it. That’s okay. And that’s important information for you to have if you decide to move forward: don’t expect this project to make your soul sing. You may need to find some other spiritual sustenance while you’re working on it.

Or perhaps you answered yes to every question but the first — that might be an indication that you need to find someone else, or gather a team, to execute this project.

But if you discovered that the project you were thinking about really doesn’t matter to you, then for crying out loud — cross that project off your list or delegate it or something. There’s no sense agonizing over a project you don’t even care about.

Now think of another possible project, and repeat the exercise. In fact, repeat it until you have five possible projects that definitely matter to you. Feel free to pull projects from various areas of your life; this doesn’t need to all be about your creativity. It’s always a good idea to try it with at least one really crazy-daisy, dumb idea — even something you think is a bad idea. And you may also want to add in some “duty” options (like the voice in your head that says that you really should go back to school and get that advanced degree).

So now you have a list of five front-runner projects. Congratulations!

From the book Get It Done by Sam Bennett. Copyright © 2014 by Samantha Bennett. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com

Sam Bennett worked at the renowned Second City Theatre in Chicago alongside comics Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. In addition to her multifaceted writing and performance work, she specializes in personal branding and career strategies. She lives in Los Angeles, CA. Her website is TheOrganizedArtistCompany.com