I read an article the other day on a site called Quartz at Work, yeah, I’d never heard of it either; the post was: Five things to do when you have too many ideas and never finish anything. My paranoid android kicked in – that’s you – and I gave it a read.
The post was reasonably interesting and quoted some research linked to choice and how having too much choice can lead us into making no choices – hey, isn’t greater choice the one thing we all seek according to slavering capitalists everywhere? – well, it appears that too much choice is bad for you.
This rang a bell with me. I remember when I was a child, way back in the desolate wastes of the pre-internet age. Days would drag on forever, especially in the school holidays as both of my parents were out at work, and I’d find myself gazing into space daydreaming. I rattle on at my children now about how great it is to be bored, about how a lack of stimulus can lead to exciting ideas and force them into being creative and inventive. Back then, I would spend hours re-reading comics or copying the artwork, writing and drawing my own stories, or, more often than not, just making them up in my head. I look back at that time now and see it as a melting pot of ideas and productivity.
So what went wrong? Choice. We have far too much choice. If you’ve ever sat scrolling through Netflix trying to find something to watch you’ll know exactly what I mean. Choice leads to anxiety – if I watch this, I won’t be able to watch that, and what about these? I can’t watch all of them. Aarrgh! It’s the same with ideas. I should be finishing my novel, but this short story has just popped into my head, and then there’s that other short story I haven’t finished yet, and the comic strip I meant to start, as well as the audio fiction, and… You get the idea.
The five steps! Wow, if I just take these five steps, I’ll become a productive genius. I’ll defeat the paranoid android and bask in the glow of completed projects and adoration. Who knows? Maybe you will, but it can’t hurt to try.
Step One. Create mini-deadlines. Tasks that you have to complete that day. Instead of looking at the enormity of what you have to do – shit, I have to re-write 80000 words from the third person into the first person, and cut out the subplot with the octopus! Focus on the small blocks that make up the whole. This way you cut out the paranoid android that buzzes in your head – shit, there’s so much to do; you’ll never finish it all – and you focus on the smaller, achievable task. Hell, and if you’re a list person, you get to tick it off, cross it out, highlight it in red, whatever floats your boat. Something else you need to be aware of with step one is Parkinson’s Law – “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” I’ve found, that whenever I have less time to do something I get more done. To negate Parkinson’s Law, estimate how long the task will take and then cut your time in half. Scary huh? Give it a try.
Step Four. Develop the habit of finishing. Neil Gaiman talks about this a lot. Make a conscious decision to be a finisher and get stuff done. I have many projects that are outstanding at the moment, and new ones that keep starting up, but I’m working hard to get them done. In the past, I started a lot of things that were never finished. The paranoid android would kick in, and I’d begin to doubt whether they were any good. I wouldn’t say I’m past that yet, but I’m working on it.
Wait a minute. You said five steps, but you’ve only mentioned steps one and four. Why? You’re internet savvy. You’ve seen a smidgen of all the crap that’s out there. I’m an adult. I read the article and thought steps one and four made sense and that the others were just contradictory padding, so I left them out. Feel free to track the piece down and draw your conclusions.
Keep writing. Keep finishing.