You have a brilliant idea for a project. You’ve talked about it, planned it to death, analysed your options — yet nothing has come of it. It’s time to stop talking about that project and actually do it. Here’s how.
We’re assuming you know how to find time in your schedule, but you’re still stuck. Maybe you’ve got analysis paralysis. Maybe you’re great at doing stuff for other people, but terrible about starting your own projects. It could be a book you want to write, a website you want to launch, or a side business you’d like to get off the ground. Here are some steps you can take to stop planning that project and finally get it going.
Find Out What Motivates You
Before anything, it helps to understand what motivates you, and what doesn’t. We’ve talked about the four types of motivation personalities. To recap:
- Questioners: They must completely understand expectations to follow them.
- Obligers: They’re great at meeting other people’s expectations, but bad at meeting their own.
- Rebels: They resist all expectations.
- Upholders: They’re great at keeping any and all expectations.
When you understand how you’re motivated, you can better manage your project because you know what to focus on. For example, if you’re a questioner, then maybe analysis is very important to you. In that case, rather than analyse your project as a whole, break it up into smaller chunks, analyse one chunk at a time, and get started on it. This way, you’re still analysing your expectation enough to follow it, but you’re not paralysed by too much information.
If you’re an obliger, you might need to involve other people with your project. This way, you have an external expectation you feel obligated to meet, even if it’s just friends keeping you accountable.
Knowing your motivation type gives you an idea of which of these methods will work best.
Get Some External Deadlines
Deadlines put your project in motion. But if you’re not great at following your own deadlines, use someone else’s. Sign up for an event, workshop or class that forces you to have something prepared. It might be a writing group; it might be a startup bootcamp. If your project requires you to travel, book your plane ticket.
For example, I wanted to start a writing a story I’ve had in my head for a while. I gave myself deadlines, but they would always get pushed because of work, obligations with friends, and chores around the house. So I joined a writing group that required me to turn something in every now and then. If I didn’t, we didn’t have a group. This sense of obligation forced me to find time to get my project done by the group’s deadline.
The idea here is to force a time frame on yourself based on an external obligation. An internal deadline you give yourself can always be pushed. But when outside forces are involved — whether it’s people in your writing group or the money you’ve paid for a workshop — it’s harder to skip out.
Grab a Partner
There’s a reason NanoWriMo has gotten so popular. It does a great job of using the power of accountability. With a big group of writers, you work towards the goal of writing a novel in a month. It’s a good example of using external deadlines, but there’s also a strong community of people who hold each other accountable.
We’ve written about accountability partners before, and here’s how to get started:
…partner up with a co-worker or group of peers — people who are committed to helping each other do what they say they’re going to do — and plan to check in with each other at least once a week. Whenever you meet (whether virtually or in person), review your progress, share your upcoming goals, and provide feedback and encouragement. You’ll be a lot more likely to finish your blog post if you have a friend who checks up on you: “I haven’t seen an update on your blog today — when are you going to post it?”
I’ve taken this advice and have an “accountability group” with two friends. We each have different projects in different fields, and so far, we’ve each been successful in making progress. Here’s how we do it:
- Meet and discuss what we want to accomplish and what’s holding us back.
- Draft 3-5 reasonable SMART goals to accomplish in the next 30 days.
- Check in with each other periodically throughout the month.
- Meet a month later and follow up on those goals. Repeat.
Of course, you can tweak this according to your own schedule and preferences. It also helps to make sure you have the same work ethic and both you and your partner(s) are committed to holding each other accountable.
A big part of not getting started is being terrified of failure. If that fear is holding you back, keep these points in mind:
- You learn by finishing things. If you don’t get started, you can’t finish.
- Failure is a possibility. But you learn something valuable with each failure. When you don’t do anything at all, you’re not learning anything. Failure is how you get better.
- You might make mistakes with your project, but you can figure things out as you go. You learn by finishing things, and you learn stuff along the way too.
We’ve also rounded up a few questions that can help you understand and kick your failure fear. For example:
- What if I fail — how will I recover?
- What if I do nothing?
- What’s truly worth doing, whether you fail or succeed?
Learn to embrace failure. It’s a lot easier said than done, but a little introspection on the topic can help shift your perspective.
Use Rewards Strategically
Rewards can be a powerful motivator for getting started. You can come up with a few small indulgences for hitting certain milestones in your project. But rewards can backfire too.
Sometimes, rewards can make your fun project feel like a chore that you need a break from. To combat this, come up with a reward that’s relevant to your overall goal. If you’re starting a business, this might be a new book on the topic. If you’re launching a career as an artist, maybe it’s buying yourself some fancy art tools. You can come up with your own reward. The point is, keep it complementary to your goal, not contradictory.
And finishing a task can be its own reward too. Make a project to-do list, then sort items by how emotionally rewarding they are. Which tasks will make you feel mildly satisfied? Relieved? Triumphant? Sorting your list this way can help remind you how rewarding it feels to finish certain tasks.
Getting started is often the hardest part of a passion project. Once you find your groove, it’s a lot easier to keep going, feeding off the momentum. But first focus on putting in the work to get past your initial block and get that project off the ground.