The Weekly Takeaway is a short weekly digest sent to subscribers every Sunday about the biggest learning of my week. It's as much an internal log as it is public facing. Though, often I feel the process is something everyone can learn from — no matter the endeavor — so sharing here on the interwebs, as well.
The Weekly Takeaway: Endless Tinkering Often Does More Harm Than Good
I'm sure you've had this feeling: you have a project you have to show someone, and you just can't tell if it's done: a presentation, an essay, a painting, even something as inconsequential as a vacation itinerary. Currently, I'm sitting on five or six nearly completed songs; and I'm feeling that, too. But most often, when I ask myself why they're not ready for the world, I'm really not sure. Then, off to the "digital shelf" they go, while I focus on some new, shiny song idea bouncing around my head instead. It's a dangerous cocktail of one part procrastination and two parts fear of rejection, stirred on ice and laced with caffeine.
And at the end of the day, I'm reminded the digital shelf means nothing. Unfinished projects are unlaid kindling, and contribute nothing to the bonfire of life. But if you can get that thing done and ready for the world, only then is there a chance for a spark to catch it, and the fire to take.
Here are some concepts I'm using after reflecting this week about how to finish more work:
Use Deadlines To Your Advantage
When something has to get done, often you find a way to do it. It might as well be a law of physics. You'll make it a priority instead of waiting for inspiration.
The confines of a deadline also ironically give you a mental "out" of the prison of perfection. You now have an "excuse" when things don't look/sound exactly the way you planned them - you did what you could with the time you had. And you can move on to the next thing, getting better along the way.
Apply Carrots & Sticks to Your Deadlines
In my experience, it's all too easy to blow off self-created deadlines. You might stick with it for a few days, weeks even, but at the end of the day, when you're tired and the task has lost its shiny new car smell, it's easy to leave it in the garage of your mind. Willpower will not always be your copilot. Apply carrots (incentives) and/or sticks (heavy disincentives) to make your deadlines more powerful.
One of the best ways I know how to get things done is to make your plan public. Tell a friend, make your plans known to others who will keep you accountable. After all, that's what this "weekly takeaway" is. A moment for me to reflect and hold myself accountable, enforced by a need to provide my thoughts to a public audience each week.
The Joy of Stacking
I never forgot a story I read about Jerry Seinfeld's practice of writing a joke each day. In order to visualize his success, he put up a big calendar and marked each day he wrote a joke with a big red X. After a few days you'll have a chain of X's. He went on to say, "You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain."
Find a way to track your progress in a simple, visual way. Seeing the work "stack" up will not only be satisfying, but incentivizing not to "break the chain." This goes hand in hand with last week's takeaway.
Process Over Outcome
This is the underlying subtext in much of the above. It's really just a simple change in measurement. Instead of judging your creative worth on the outcome of your projects, judge yourself on the work you put in. It's easier to track and much less daunting to say I will work on a song for 30 minutes each day than to say I will produce the world's next top 100 hit.
It's OK You Don't Know Everything
It's OK that you don't know everything there is to know about your craft. No one really ever does. It's easy to get sucked into the feeling that you don't have enough skill to make something worthwhile right now. In my case, that I need just a bit more knowledge of music theory or of production techniques before I can publish that particular piece. In that way of thinking, you never reach the end.
Instead, use what you do well now, pick just a few things to add to your depth and then finish the damn thing to the best of your ability. Taking on too many new skills will just delay and dishearten you. You'll get better each time, anyways. You'll often be surprised that you already had much of what you needed, and maybe you even innovated a new way of doing things along the way.
Finished But Flawed Is Always More Useful Than Unfinished Perfection
Of course, in the end, it's worth remembering that it's the finished product that ultimately becomes useful. The unfinished project is really just nothing but potential, until it's finished. Even if the completed work isn't perfect, now you have a solid benchmark for your skills, now you have something tangible to share with others, now you have something to put in a portfolio, now you have something to build on.
As Seth Godin says, "If it doesn't ship, it doesn't count."
In Short: Finish and "ship" your work consistently! That's the point, after all.
More Inspiration On This Subject:
Tim Ferriss: He's written prolifically about productivity, and the carrot and stick idea is largely inspired by his work.
Seth Godin: A marketing guru who famously writes a blog post each day. He coined the term "ship your work," as far as I know, at least.
Lyric Of The Week That Stuck In My Head:
"And do that little thing you do till I
Till I go"
Song - Dandelion by Oliver Hazard