43 Folders

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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.

flavor's picture


I have the same problem - but what is worse is that I'm a perfectionist, which means usually I walk away from a project thinking, "well, I'll come back to it and finish it (ie, do it the right way) later." This has caused me nothing but grief. Lately, though, I've been using a trick I learned in a design class I took: make a prototype. When I have an idea for a song or a story, I get the thoughts down in a form where I can work with them -- I'll make a thumbnail sketch, write a few lines of description, capture a few key phrases of dialogue -- and put them together into a folder labeled with the project. But the real insight here is realizing the project doesn't have to be finished (ie perfect). All you need is a working model. Then, you can start developing the model -- adding to it, editing it, reworking it -- and if all goes well, you can develop it to a point where it really is good enough to send out. Then, if you need to move on to something else, you are now in a position where you can store away all the materials you have put together so that when you come back to it, you have something real to work with. A better advantage of this, though, is that when you're working on developing a prototype for something else and think -- hey, I can use that picture I drew for the other project -- then its there for you to take and the two projects are now one. At least, thats the way it is supposed to work in theory -- nothing is perfect.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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