Make Time For Yourself: 7 Tips For Your Successful Personal Project
You’ve a great idea and a burning desire for a personal project. Therefore, you want to ensure that it gets done, you enjoy doing it and the outcome exceeds your expectations. So what can you do to increase the chances of your project’s success whether it’s writing a novel, redecorating your home, organising a large family celebration or turning that damp old shed into a creative studio?
Success factors are those things, that if you pay attention to them, will get you the right results. I’ve completed personal projects such as restoring houses, fixing bicycles, writing books and getting the studio sorted. So I’ve put together my favourite success factors based on this experience.
1. Make the decision to definitely do it.
There are pipe dreams and there are projects that get done. Unless you decide to take action nothing will happen. Don’t wait to feel motivated or for the right moment. The right moment is now. The more you delay the less likely you’ll do it as you’ll be reinforcing your skills at procrastination. The only reason to defer a project is that you’ve committed to, and are doing, an even higher priority project and need to keep focussed on that. The ultimate motivation is that none of us know how long we’ve left on the planet so delay just increases the chances of going to you grave not having done it.
2. Don’t wade blindly in – a little preparation can help.
If you’re building or decorating there’ll will be materials and tools to research. You might even have to find out how to do things like fixing shingles to a roof or creating a three tiered iced fruit cake. Planning how you will do the project though isn’t doing the project. As you can’t plan for everything then any plan is only a guide to be adjusted as you go along. For example, there are many a novelists who has had to change tack when they find they’ve killed off a key character on page 3.
Plan and prepare enough to get going, paying particular attention to having materials and resources (shingles, laptop, baking tins) ready to go. If you’re under time pressure don’t try a new and complex approach you’re not sure about unless you know you can master it quickly. Better to use the trusty old laptop to get the writing deadline met than experiment with a new Mac and some flash storyboarding software that will take valuable time to learn. If you can, set up a separate project to acquire new skills in a less pressured time so you can use them for future projects.
3. If there isn’t a deadline make one.
If it’s a family celebration then there’ll be a set date (that is the birthday, anniversary, etc.) for the event that will need to be met. Other external factors could the deadline for a creative writing competition or the necessity to fix the leaky shed roof before another winter. Dates that have to be met are good for focusing the mind and can help you avoid the pitfall of slowly slipping when you’re going to get the project done by. So if there isn’t a deadline make one. There is though a word of caution for really big projects where there is a higher degree of uncertainty. Whilst an overall target might be helpful, if it’s too distant then then it won’t help and might even encourage procrastination as you think you’ve got loads of time before you really need to do something. In this situation set a definitive date for the first stage such as the first draft of the novel or getting plans agreed for the house extension. When that’s complete set the target date for the next stage.
4. Accept that it will take more time than you thought.
There have been one or two of my projects that have turned out to be easier than expected and in reality were just a short task. I once thought I needed to remove the dashboard in my car to fix a broken cigar lighter. Double checking internet forums on how to do it unearthed an approach that took 15 minutes – a happy day. But the instance of a project being quicker than expected is very much the exception rather than the rule. The reason for this is misplaced optimism. If you aren’t optimistic about achieving your project then you’re hardly likely to start. So a bit of optimism is a good thing but it can lead you to being overconfident about estimating the real time the project will take. Under-estimating is fed by glossy brochures, promotional videos and superficial magazine articles that hide the long slog. A current favourite of mine is the roof shingles video that says “a few hours work”, that would be true if you were fixing a rabbit hutch and not a large summer house/studio. The best way to estimate is to compare the project with a similar one you have done and then at least double the time needed.
5. Keep focussed and enjoy the moment
Focus on the task in hand not the next one. Make sure the nails are going into the shingles straight or the cake is mixed to perfection. Don’t distract yourself by thinking about what comes later. If you’re writing the first draft, write and don’t concern yourself with the cover design of the book it will become. You can get so obsessed with getting projects done that you forget that doing them shouldn’t be just a slog, though it will be at times. So enjoy the moment and with Zen-like focus be at one with the hammer as the nails are rhythmically tapped home with precision.
Whilst, allowing some time for interruptions is wise it also pays to make the necessary but tough decisions to focus on the project and not on other things. Don’t start multiple projects and dilute your attention. If the garden needs to go wild and the housework pile-up so you can get that first draft written so be it. Could you dispatch the family off to a relative or on holiday to give you more chance to focus? Pick the one burning priority and park the rest as it’s better to finish one project than to have dabbled a bit with many and made no real progress on any of them.
6. Keep going dispute set-backs
Shit happens. It will rain on your parade or garden party or shed roof. You’re laptop will malfunction and the cooker will blow up or your favourite spoon, hammer or pen will snap. You can either take a set-back as a sign that you were doomed to fail from the start and this confirms it or if you really want to succeed you can fight on with renewed vigour. Set-backs and obstacles are there to be overcome. The successful regroup, get a new spoon/hammer/pen and crack on knowing that having got through that crises they are tougher and more capable of dealing with whatever the next problem will be.
7. Give yourself a pat on the back after each milestone
Personal projects can be long and demanding and whilst before you’ve finished might seem an odd to time out to step back and assess progress there is merit in reviewing what you’ve achieved and taking encouragement from the solid progress made throughout the project. Give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve finished a chapter, sent the party invitations out repaired the rotten wood on the shed roof. But save the big public celebrations for when you’ve finished.
So get going on the project you promised you would do and use these factors to make it the success you want it to be.