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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Vox Populi: Reasons to Quit

I have a lot of trouble keeping track of what I'm supposed to be doing. It's not that I necessarily have trouble prioritizing my tasks or scheduling things - I mean I do, but that's not the main problem.

The main problem is that I've got too many things I really need (want) to do - too many long-term projects with potential - and I'm never exactly sure when they're a few weeks away from a grand payoff and when they're just wasting my time.

I suppose this is a crisis of faith.

Here's the thing: I'm creative for a living, which means I always have two or three (or 20 or 30) things going on at once, none of which are guaranteed to actually create anything, but all of which could - provided I can focus enough attention to them. You know the kind of thing I'm talking about. Finishing that screenplay. Practicing with the band. Re-editing that short story. Spending the weekend on a film shoot. Learning Photoshop. These are all things that have that point in the middle - the "desperate hour," a creative journalist friend of mine called it - when you're absolutely not sure why you're even there.

And sometimes, the sad truth is, that doubting voice is absolutely right - sometimes, this thing you're sweating over really is just wasting your time.

So here's my question:

How do you know when it's time to move on? What makes you make up your mind?

Because I really need to know.

michaelatwork's picture


I'm also in the creative industry, so I understand perfectly. It is in my personal life where all these creativity-enhancing extras overflow the worst, as opposed to my work life which is practically a model of organizational structure and efficiency. There are just too many things I want to pursue, some of which could be really important someday.

So how to know? I think you can never really know what is important and worth the extra investment. Life, opportunities, trends are just too random. But this basic formula makes sense to me: How much (insofar as can be objectively ascertained, or else guesstimated) does this help me with my current projects and what I expect to be doing within the next 6-12 months? That question helps you answer the next one: Is it keeping me from doing other things that would have more value in the next 6-12 months? If the answer is yes, can it. If the answer is no, then feel free to pursue it as long as it's not stressing you out or ruining your life. I think keeping in a happy flow has more to do with long term success than magical breakthroughs.

Of course there are also the hobbies and pursuits that do not bear fruit until after longer periods of time ... maybe 5, 10, 15 years. If you are chasing any of those, you need to decide how much they are worth. It might be worth it. But don't even think about taking on so many of those kinds of projects that finding fulfillment in all of them (and therefore any of them) will be impossible.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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