If you’re anything like me, this situation might sound familiar:
- You’ve got too many projects you’re working on in various stages of completion
- There are many things you want to “get around to eventually” that you know would be helpful to your business
- There’s just so much stuff to do and things fall through the cracks as you’re juggling priorities
- Just as you get close to finishing one project, you realize there’s something you need to do before it’s ready for publishing, and this is frustrating.
The result is predictable: things remain unfinished for an ungodly amount of time, you feel like you’ll never get ahead, and the projects look very confusing in your mind.
Even if you transfer them into a project management software (like Trello, which is what I use), some things are difficult to visualize in a way that makes sense in your head. One project informs the second projects, depends on a third project, is necessary for the fourth project…
That’s the reality of a creative brain (which we all have). With so many ideas hitting you from all directions, it’s a challenge to organize them, let alone bring them to fruition.
What I’ve identified as the main blocks to completing projects are dependencies and bottlenecks that aren’t immediately obvious.
Dependency is a link between two steps of the project. There are different types of dependencies:
- activity A must be complete before activity B can begin
- activity A must be complete before activity B can finish
- activity B can start after activity A has started
- activity B cannot finish before activity A begins.
You need to have a clear idea which parts of the process are necessary to be completed, so you can move on to the next step. The problem is when parts of one project affect another, seemingly unrelated project. I’m sure that professional project management software has a way to address this, but to you and me – small biz owners who don’t have time or desire to learn new complex software, this isn’t very useful. I’ll get to my proposed solution in a minute, and you’ll probably laugh.
Bottlenecks are parts of the process where you consistently get stuck. This can be copywriting, design, development, communication with other people, editing, or whatever your least favorite part of the project is. If you trace back to where your current projects are stuck, I’ll wager it that for some of them, it will be the same thing.
How do you solve bottlenecks? Either you push through and decide to get better and faster at it, or you hire someone else to do it for you. Bottlenecks will never sort themselves out on their own. If anything, they get clogged more and more.
These two tendencies combined together lead to confusion, paralysis and abandoned projects. It can show up in your business in many ways, and I’ll give you a few examples from my life.
“I’ll get to it when I finish my new website”
Last year I didn’t want to do any marketing or outreach (like guest blogging, speaking or new opt-in offers), before I launched my website re-design, because I felt bad about new people seeing my outdated design. The old website didn’t represent me well, and it’s only when I launched the new design that I felt comfortable about getting my stuff out there.
Recently just as I was wrapping up a client website redesign project and we were chatting about how it all went down, the client said:
“Lately I wasn’t scheduling any new meetings with potential clients because I waited for the new website. Now I feel like the site represents what we do so well, and I’m eager to start making new connections.”
Both of us were self-conscious about our most important marketing asset, and we’ve felt uncomfortable promoting the old website, since we were aware that it doesn’t paint the best picture of our work. We avoided marketing and sales activities – stuff that brings in new clients and money – because we didn’t feel good about what those new potential clients would see.
The website was a source of dependency for all future marketing activities. It was a boulder in the road, and nothing else happened until we pushed it out of the way.
Could we have done the marketing regardless? Of course. I submitted one guest post at the time, and it resulted in many new newsletter subscribers. They didn’t seem to mind that my design is old and stuffy. But it was a serious block in my mind, and going through with the redesign was more effective than trying to convince myself I don’t need it.
In case you’ve missed it, this is was it looked like. Now you may understand why I was so embarrassed.
The same thing happened again, with that email course on authentic branding I’ve been talking about for ages. I have a lot more to say on branding, but I’m keeping it under wraps until the course is launched, because I want to use this content (especially guest posts) to attract more people to the course.
(EDIT: Here it is, finally!!)
I still haven’t launched my Croatian website because there’s a shitload of text I need to translate from English. I should probably pay someone to do it for me, because I just can’t seem to find the time.
Examining all this made me realize that contrary to popular opinion…
Success is not out of your reach because you “don’t know what to do”
You know enough. You have plans.
But in those plans are a few tasks that are blocking all the rest from taking place. They’re a hurdle you’re not sure how to get over, because they require a disproportionate amount of time or money, compared to other stuff you’re working on at the same time.
So the project that has the biggest potential to bring you attention, clients, money and recognition, remains unfinished.
In the meantime, you’re busy working on projects that are easier, but ultimately ineffective at getting you where you want to be.
Is it finally time to deal with the nagging, difficult tasks?
There’s a point in your life when you realize “Enough is enough. I’ll do this, or I have no business trying to achieve X.”
You remember the big moments when you’ve decided to quit your job, leave an unfulfilling relationship, and other huge, disrupting life events.
There are also smaller and less memorable moments where you’ve realized something had to change, and the time for change was now.
The moments when you’ve decided you’re done with waiting and finally…
- hit the “Publish” button on that post (after working on it for weeks)
- sent that first newsletter (6 months after the first person signed up)
- announced a sale to your subscribers and Facebook fans
- finished writing that workshop outline and sent the pitch to the first corporate client
- overhauled your website
Moments like this can happen at any time.
Maybe you’ve just had a frustrating experience with a client, so you stomp your foot and proclaim “I’m done with people who don’t respect my work!” – then set out to do everything you can to connect to the clients who understand why what you do is important, and why it costs as much as it does.
These moments are not glamorous. (You’ll make them into that as you re-tell the story of how you changed things around seemingly overnight.)
There’s a tipping point when you realize what you’re doing isn’t working, and that you’re ready to make a change.
At times like this, I go back to pen & paper
Awhile ago, I had this moment of clarity happen, and I’ve decided to switch up my priorities so I can focus on one bottleneck, one stubborn boulder that isn’t moving, at a time. And as it’s usually the case when I think about topics that bend my brain, I used plain old pen and paper.
I went through my Trello boards and listed all bottlenecks in my current projects, and the related projects they’re affecting. To make things even clearer, I drew flowcharts of dependencies to see how it all relates visually (I’m a flowchart nerd, sue me).
This made it very easy to identify what I should focus on next. I picked one thing that I figured it would be the easiest to complete, and did that. Then I followed the next steps on my chart, so I could move forward. I wanted to chase that single thread until I was done. Then, I would move on the the next, completely separate project.
I’m still in the middle of this process, but I can tell you, things are happening. Stuff that I’ve been postponing for months is suddenly getting done.
I know it sounds too simple to work, but I prefer simple solutions over convoluted ones that require a manual. Give it a shot, it can’t do any harm…
What’s the holdup?
Look into your current projects and identify where’s your biggest bottleneck?
What can you do to eliminate it as soon as possible? Can you improve your skill so that it flows easier and faster? Or can you pay someone to do it for you? One requires time, the other requires money – the choice is yours.
Feel free to share your bottlenecks in the comments, and we can all brainstorm some ways on how you can tackle them.
If you’ve happened to realize that website shame is the source of your woes, and that your marketing suffers because if it, I can help. My “Brand New Website” package includes everything you need: full brand design, hand-holding as you complete your content, a responsive WordPress website, plus training. Check out more details here.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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