In the new Creativity Exercises That Work series, which will run right through to the end of the year, creativity coaches share creativity exercises that they have used with clients to help clients effectively handle their creative process issues, creative personality issues, and creative career issues. This week’s exercise is provided by Nadia Arbach. Enjoy!
Creativity Exercise: Your Master Project List
When you have many projects on the go at the same time (and keep getting ideas for new ones) it can be overwhelming, and you can end up fritzing your energy away as you try working on several projects at the same time.
To enumerate and prioritize your projects so that you know exactly what you’d like to work on, try creating a Master Project List. This list will help you decide what projects are no longer worth your time and effort, and will consolidate everything else into one place so that you always know what you have going on.
Have you ever felt stuck, blocked, or overwhelmed because you have so many projects going on at once? When you have a significant number of projects (and ideas for new projects!) that need to be completed, you might feel like you just don’t know where to start.
The Master Project List exercise will help you bring all your projects together, rank them based on how excited you are about them, delete the ones that no longer excite you, and decide which ones will be your top priorities – so you can get down to work, confident that you’ve got all your ideas in one place.
1. List all your projects. Get a blank sheet of paper and write down every single project you have in the works – or in your head as an idea. Walk around your creative workspace or home and find all the projects you’ve been working on, that you’ve put aside for the moment, that you’ve bought the materials for but haven’t started working on yet, and that you’ve planned in your head. Even if it’s just a nebulous idea at the moment, give it a title and write it down anyway. The object of this step is to make sure that you haven’t forgotten a single project or idea. Listing them all ensures that you’ve consolidated everything in one place.
2. Rate your projects by excitement level. Go through the list and give each project a rating on a scale of 1-5, where 1 means you’re not excited about it at all, and 5 means you can’t wait to work on it. You many never have thought of rating your projects by excitement level, but it’s a true barometer of how you feel about your work – and if you find that you have plenty of projects that rate lower on the scale, it will be an indicator that your work isn’t in alignment with your values and desires. If you find that all your projects rate a 4 or 5, great! That means you’ve chosen work that truly lights you up and brings you joy.
3. Cull your list. Take a look at all the projects that you rated a 1 or a 2, meaning that they hold little to no excitement for you. Cross all of these low-rating projects off the list! You don’t have to spend your precious time on projects that you don’t love. If these are personal projects that have gone stale because too much time has passed or you just didn’t enjoy the work, let them go – they’ve already served you by showing you that your true interests lie elsewhere. You have no further duty to complete them.
Culling them from the list and removing them from your creative workspace will make room for what really excites you! If these are work-based projects and you do have a duty to complete them even though you dislike them, go ahead and finish them up – but you may wish to examine whether you can be more selective about your work-based projects in the future, or whether you might switch directions so that your future projects contain more of what you love to do.
4. Select your priority projects. From what remains of the list (all items that rated a 3, 4, or 5), select up to five projects to work on at once. Five is the maximum number I recommend to my clients – any more than that and things begin to get overwhelming again. If you know you don’t enjoy working on several things at once, you may want to select only one or two projects from the list to make your priority right now. Put a star next to each of the projects you decide to prioritize. Those are the projects you’ll be working on right now, to the exclusion of everything else on the list.
5. Revise your list as needed. Whenever you finish one of your starred priority projects, cross it off the list and add its star to any other project on your list to bring that project up to priority status. As you think of new ideas, add them onto the list and give them a rating of 1-5 for excitement level. And remember to go through the whole list every so often (I suggest about every two months) and examine your rating level for each project – sometimes our excitement will wane, or something will suddenly become much more compelling, so it’s important to take note of these changes and act accordingly.
Possible issues: If you have more than one creative practice in your life (for example, you may be a professional photographer who also loves painting, collage, and weaving), you may find that you’ve got quite a large number of projects when you take into account everything you’d like to do for each creative outlet. You may choose to create two or more separate Master Project Lists so that you have one for each creative pursuit, or you may choose to list all projects, no matter what field they’re in, on one single Master Project List. Both of these options work. No matter how many lists you create, though, your object is to have only five (or fewer) starred projects that you’re prioritizing at any one time – so if you have multiple lists you’ll have to use those five stars across all of those lists, rather than have five starred projects for each individual list.
Variations: If you’re an artist whose passion lies with one kind of art but your main financial income comes from a different kind of art, you may wish to create two separate Master Project Lists – one for personal/passion projects, and one for income-generating projects. For the income-generating list, you may wish to replace ‘rating by excitement level’ with a more conventional rating factor: you could rate by income potential or by deadline, depending on which is more salient for you. However, I prefer to still rate these projects by excitement level as this an indicator of whether or not your creative work is in alignment with your desires.
Additions: After doing this exercise on paper, you may want to recreate your ongoing Master Project List in a different format. It could be anything from a simple Excel spreadsheet to a project management app such as Trello. No matter which method you choose, ensure that you only have ONE format for your list – otherwise you might end up with a notebook, an Excel sheet, and an app that all have conflicting information about your projects, which defeats the purpose of having everything listed in one place.
Clients: When a client of mine tried this exercise, she began with over 200 projects and ideas that she wished to complete. Her level of overwhelm due to such a high number of projects was creating a huge amount of stress, and had also contributed to a buildup of clutter in her creative space because of the sheer amount of materials necessary for all these projects. When she listed everything, gave the projects a rating based on excitement level, and then began culling the projects that gave her a low or non-existent sense of excitement, she was able to whittle down her list to a much more manageable number, and the clutter began to disappear too. She found that recreating her list in the Trello app allowed her to continue managing her projects much more easily.
About Nadia Arbach
Nadia Arbach, The Creativity Coach, helps women transition their creative hobby into their CREATIVE DREAM LIFE. This might mean starting a creative business, writing the book they’ve been dreaming about, having their work featured in an exhibition, or otherwise moving their creative work from being on the sidelines to sitting at the very core of their life. She uses her expertise as a Professional Declutterer to help her clients cut through any mindset issues that are no longer serving them, let go of their old identity as a hobbyist, and step right up to going PRO! She is the author of four self-study online courses for creative women, and runs a parallel business, Clear the Decks!, helping creative women declutter their creative workspaces.
You can contact Nadia via her websites at http://nadiaarbach.com and http://clearthedecks.co.uk. You can also find her on Instagram at @nadiaarbach and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/clearthedecksUK.
Nadia, this practical advice is so helpful. I love how easy it is to implement and that it’s flexible enough to be applied to any project-oriented aspect of our lives, not just the creative parts. I can also see that taking the steps to make and prioritize the list will provide a sense of moving forward that can often get lost in the overwhelm of too many projects. I can’t wait to take action on my own list! Thank you for the guidance and your wisdom.
Thank you, Nadia, for the good suggestions.
Great exercise! I now have my list on an Excel spreadsheet, with the top five in bold black and the others in grey – really helpful! Thank you.