Last week, I started looking back over my flawed “boom and bust” working cycle, with the eye towards seeing how can avoid the pitfalls of previous attempts, improve upon my systems, and hopefully end up breaking the cycle completely. These are all lofty goals, and they might be unachievable at this time, but by critically examining my thought patterns and processes, I can maybe achieve them in the future at some point.
This week, we will start at the beginning – Step 1: Decide to Start a New Project. This is an important step, although most people don’t realise it, let alone critically examine it. After all, without making the decision to actually start a project, nothing can begin.
Generally, this step is often associated with starting a NEW project, yet this doesn’t have to be the case. It is tempting to throw away all the old ideas, get rid of all the clutter, and begin again from scratch. A blank sheet can often be intimidating, but for many people it can be enticing and invigorating.
I often fall for this – being all too eager throw away my past work, thoughts, and ideas, in order to get to a fresh page, a fresh project, and a fresh start. In many ways, this article series can be seen as a manifestation of this trait. I typically draw a line under my previous work and move on, completely forgetting and abandoning what I did before.
So, what can be done about this trait? The first step is to acknowledge it, and to understand why the urge to completely start over, exists. In my case, it is typically because abandoned ideas equate to failed ideas, and I don’t like to be reminded of my past attempts and failures. I want to look towards the future, and as such, I am tempted to ignore the past, which often dooms me to make the same mistakes, and trap me in the “boom and bust” work cycle which I am trying to escape from.
Instead, the decision should be made whether or not a new project is actually necessary. Could a simple restart and refresh of the previous material be a better option? Could looking back at a previous project be desirable. Are there things that could be finished up, or recycled, in your current project(s)?
For me, these are all valid options, but ironically, in this instance, I have already made the decision to start a NEW project. After all, this is a NEW article series, based on a theme that I haven’t considered before. If I opted to continue a previous project, this article wouldn’t be getting written, and I wouldn’t be critically examining my working cycle in this way.
Having made the decision to start a new project, there is still a bit more to this step. After all, if we are working on a new project, we still have to decide what to do with the old material. Old material can often clutter your mind, your harddrive, and your workspace, and often can distract you from finishing your current project.
Generally, there are three approaches to this critical question, and the answer you take seems to have a significant impact upon how likely you are to return to the “boom and bust” working cycle in due course.
- Keep Your Old Material
- Destroy Your Old Material
- Archive Your Old Material
There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these methods, and understanding these can be the difference between success and failure, both of this project, and of future projects.
Keeping your old material is often the easiest approach, and has the advantage that you don’t spend time clearing your mind, harddrive, and workspace in preparation for your new project. It allows you to resume your previous project at any time, or to refer to your previous notes and ideas. This can be advantageous if your current project is somehow related to your previous work.
The downside is that you can easily be distracted from your current project by your previous work. Focus can be impaired, as you often feel the draw to improve your previous attempts when you refer to the material. Storage can become confusing, and mistakes can creep in. Plus, you often don’t get the sense of a “clean start” that could otherwise invigorate your work.
Destroying your old material is an option, and is good for providing the blank sheet that sometimes helps push a new project onwards. It allows for an efficient, distraction-free, working environment and mindset, that often allows for a sharper focus on the task at hand.
On the downside, destroying old material often means that you might find yourself inadvertently retracing old steps and repeating tasks that you have already covered, and sometimes even making the same mistakes. You have only your memory for reference, and it comes down to your capacity to learn to avoid such pitfalls. In addition, who knows when you are going to want to consider restarting or returning to a previous project?
Archiving your old material is considered a compromise between these two extremes. It allows you to store your old material in a way that is fairly easy to retrieve, but is not so distracting when you are working on your current project. Archiving can give that sense of a new start, without the finality of never being able to return to previous ideas.
The downsides of archiving are that it is essentially an extra step that can often be time consuming and get in the way of the invigorating energy of starting a new project. In addition, you can end up with a lot of material that simply becomes too much of a chore to search through at a later date.
For me, I used to destroy all my previous work, because I really needed that “fresh start” to fire me up and get me working. However, I would still end up burning out, and then found myself going back over the same material, essentially repeating the same project over and over, while never seeming to get any closer to finishing it.
This is clearly a key factor in my continuing “boom and bust” working cycle, and changing this is a good start to trying to break this cycle. For the past few projects, I have started archiving my material instead, allowing me the uncluttered mindset that I require to work, but meaning that I don’t necessarily have to repeat content I created in the past. As of yet, I have not got to the point where I would commonly end up repeating my work, so I have not found whether this is actually a better approach for me yet. Time will tell.
After deciding to start/continue a new project, and what you are going to do with your old material, it is time to move on to Step 2. We will cover this next week, so until then stay AWESOME.