The clamoring voices of my children are ever in my ear: “Play with me! Daddy, daddy, daddy!” I have to close my eyes sometimes and intentionally focus in order to quiet their cries for attention. But if I’m ever going to get some writing done, I have to set some of my children aside.
It’s not that I don’t love them—I do! But that’s actually the problem. I am so in love with some of my “children,” aka the ideas that I have for projects, that I find myself jumping from one to the next without truly finishing ANY of them.
So I have learned: some of my ideas, I have to ignore them. Some of them, I even have to kill. It can be hard to decide, because I have invested a part of myself into every single idea. But I can’t do everything. I’ve tried. And I end up doing nothing.
I’m still working through this myself, trying to decide what ideas I need to set aside (perhaps forever) in order to actually accomplish something. But I’d like to share with you some ideas that have helped me as I am learning how to ignore some of my “children.”
- First things first—acknowledge that you can’t do everything. This sounds obvious and simple, but honestly this might be the hardest thing for some of us to do. We think we can do it all, ESPECIALLY when it involves our own good ideas. But we can’t. We are limited. We are constrained by time, energy, priorities, and a whole host of other borders. We can complain about that, wish it weren’t so, or we can recognize it and use the constraints to help us produce great works of art. As James Clear notes, “We all have constraints on our lives. The limitations just determine the size of the canvas you have to work with. What you paint on it is up to you.”
- Assess your projects and ideas. Once you understand you can’t do everything, now you need to decide what projects to let go of and which ones to hang on to. Make a list of your projects and first determine which ones are pretty much dead already, the ones you haven’t touched in months or years. You can eliminate those. Next, determine which ones still really ignite your creativity and passion. Keep those. And third, determine which ones are backburner projects. They still excite you, but you know you can’t give them any attention right now and have a low priority. Waste no more mental energy on the dead list or the backburner list. Now you can focus your energy on that list of projects that are active, the ones that spark your imagination.
- Start small. Focus on only ONE project on your active list. Make it one that is easy to get done—small word count, a blog post, or a project you have already invested time in so it might be close to finishing. Having a quick victory under your belt will motivate you to tackle a next project on your active list.
- For bigger projects, chunk ‘em up. Make reachable goals on your bigger projects, and treat those goals as a single project alone. This can stop you from getting overwhelmed. Your reachable goal might be a word count, or a draft, or a certain number of blog posts completed, whatever! The idea is just to make them achievable, and once you achieve them all, the whole project is done!
As I said, I am still learning how to do these things myself. I get lost under a metaphorical pile of great ideas that I really want to do. But I am learning my limitations and learning that I can really only focus on one thing at a time.
Have you ever had to let a great idea go in order to follow through on another great idea? How did you prioritize your ideas? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Cody is both a writer and a pastor, and the only Flying M-Inkling Emeritus. He’s an idea generator, partly borne out of his eclectic reading style; he’s willing to discuss any of those ideas with anyone who wants to listen.