Large Projects and Losing Focus

I’m kind of a serial project starter. I’m sure it’s a very common thing. I’ll often have random ideas for projects I could do, big or small. I’d have a dozen of them percolating in my head at any one time. And somewhere between four to five dozen scattered down in various documents, notepads and what not, waiting to be explored. (I literally have two such small post-it notes with 5 such items in front of me right now)

These projects range from the small (programming: small scripts to automate some stuff I do regularly; sketches: quick sketches I want to do; writing: blog posts, short stories;) to the rather large and time-consuming (game development ideas, complicated data analysis ideas, novel ideas, some major reorganization/sorting of stuff, and so on). Unfortunately, starting new projects is rarely fruitful unless you actually finish those projects. And I rarely finish the larger projects.

I think about what it takes for me to get one of the largest projects to completion. At which stages do I typically falter?

Typically it starts with an idea. Something cool I could do. Or make. Or write. At this stage there’s a lot of optimism. I’m probably in love with the idea. If it’s a big enough idea, I might even think it’ll make me famous. Or earn me a lot of money. Or win me a nobel prize. Or all of those!

If I don’t like the idea enough to start on it immediately, I’ll add it to one of my lists that hopefully I manage to get back to sometime within the next century.

If I do like the idea enough, I’ll move on to some form of brainstorming. Maybe I’ll let the idea run around in my head for a couple of nights. Typically I’ll run the idea through some people I trust and would have a similar interest in the area. Then maybe draw up a short idea document outlining some of the details I’ve already imagined, to be expanded or reduced later as needed. If it’s a writing thing, I start to think in broad strokes: what the setting is, who the protag is, where I imagine him to be ending etc

At this point I pretty much have an idea of what I want to do. The next step is to study what I need to execute. If it’s a programming or game development project, I look into what tools I’ll need or programming techniques I need to learn. I might need to access or scrape some sort of data source for analysis so I’ll start looking for sources

Then I would try to get started. For programming stuff I might make a small prototype already. If it’s a writing thing, I might write a scene or two.

After the first tranche of work, I’m going to assess how much farther I need to go. And typically this is where many of the projects will drop off. At this point I become aware of the size and scope of what I plan to do. I would look at the sheer amount of work needed to bring the project to conclusion, and it can be disheartening.

I start out optimistic, thinking about the exciting, cool stuff I get to try out, amazing scenes I want to write, interesting gameplay mechanics I thought of, and so on. But once I get past that I start to realize that finishing the job will require a lot of drudgework too. That means a lot of small, annoying, menial tasks that I’ll put off and won’t want to do

I read a lot of self-improvement and “getting things done” sort of stuff, so I know all the usual advice: break down the big tasks into small tasks, take one step at a time, and so on. The problem is usually lack of focus. Since at this point there’s a lull in my interest towards the project, it’s an opportune time for some other idea to come along and distract me. Or maybe some shiny new video game or book starts taking up my time. Or some other random distraction that takes my time away. Then I’m too lazy to pick it up again, and the vicious cycle repeats with the next big project.

Smaller projects are fine – the ones that only take me a few hours or a day to do. It’s the bigger ones that are the problem. I mostly know where I have to improve – I have to be able to focus and commit my time. Eliminate distractions. Stay on track. And so on. Someday I’ll get it right

 

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