On the Highwater Creative Project Survey, several respondents indicated that choosing which project to focus on is a challenge.
I too struggle with figuring out which project I should start, and whether I should work on more than one project at one.
Why can’t it be like college? In undergrad I never took less than 15 hours of class (4–5 classes a semester), I worked two jobs and I was involved on campus. I also rarely pulled all-nighters and managed to work out regularly and not over-do it with coffee.
In grad school, however, the classes were fewer and more intense, I worked more (20–30 hours a week) and towards the end of each term, there were some late night-to-next day working sessions.
In the working world, many job descriptions ask for applicants who can work on several projects at once and are good “multitaskers,” despite several studies that say that people never truly multi-task, and that no one does it well. Single-tasking multiple projects, however, can work well.
For my creative practice, I think of the time I spent as a semester of college. I called the following method my Creative Success Schedule.
Step One: When deciding what projects to work on and how many to work on at once, start by doing an honest assessment of how difficult the tasks are.
- Easy Projects– These projects represent something that you already do regularly and don’t require much additional skill, capacity or relationship-building. Example: I’ve been writing for the web for about eight years, so blogging is an easy project for me.
- Intermediate Projects– These projects represent something that you have some experience in, but you want to execute it in an unfamiliar way or at a larger scale. Example: I write for the web, but if I wanted to turn one of my post into a feature article pitch for a publication, I would need to take more time to research and interview sources and fact-check.
- Hard Projects– These projects represent something that you don’t have the skill level for (yet), something that you’ve done, but at a smaller scale, or something that requires additional resources/people/etc to complete. Hard projects usually require that you have some kind of intermediate project beforehand to build your skill, your reputation, your relationships, or something else to get it done, but not always. Example: If I want to write a whole book based on my blog, I would need several weeks, if not months, of intense preparation. I may even need more than a year.
Step Two: When thinking about your next project, think about the time you need for preparation, skill-building, as well as execution.
Here’s a formula I used:
- Look at how many hours you have in a week after your paid gig(s), eating, sleeping, socializing and such. Time management calculators designed for college students like this one are a really good resource for this.
- Take the number of hours left you have in a week (be realistic, and don’t skimp on the essentials to make more time). Example: Including weekends, I have about 30 hours a week to devote to passion projects. These are my passion project hours.
- Rate each of your projects based on their difficulty. Are they easy, intermediate or hard?
For easy projects, give them a 1–2 hour share of your passion project hours.
Intermediate: 2–3 hour share
Hard: 4–5 hour share.
If I want to blog (B), write for magazines (M) and write a book (L), this is how my 30 hours of passion project time would look:
- (B)x+ (M)2x+ (L)5x=30
- Divide each side by 8
So I’m going to spend about 3.75 hours of my week blogging, 7.5 hours of my week magazine writing and 18.75 hours of my week writing a book.
I recommend that if you have 20 hours a week or less to work on a passion project, think about spliting it up this way:
- Up to two easy projects and an intermediate project
- Two intermediate projects
- A hard project
If you eventually want to make most of your living being a self-sufficient creative, I lean towards devoting more time to intermediate and hard projects. The more difficult a project is, the more potential it has to create more opportunities for you. More difficult projects are also riskier.