For many of us, seeing creative projects fully through completion can be a major struggle. Even the brightest and most prepared creators will have:
- Information to gather and learn
- New skills to obtain
- Diverse points of view to consider
- Many connections to make between related and unrelated ideas
Plus, many of us in creative jobs are guided by curiosity. If the chance of simply getting lost via our own mind wandering doesn't pose enough of a threat, we also have to manage information overload, deadlines, budgetary constraints, and even the possibility of completely forgetting what we set out to do in the first place.
It can all be a little overwhelming
Today, I'm here to supply you with a few useful tools to help you do great work without getting lost in the woods. In the spirit of the Guide Projects hiking and trailblazing theme, here are some wilderness exploration connections to help you stay focused on your next creative endeavor.
Begin with a vision
I know, you were hoping for something a little more fresh than "begin with a vision". Everyone says this! Something new please...
Well, "begin with a vision" lives at the top of nearly every list because it really is that important. As simple as this sounds, it truly helps to begin with this:
Ask yourself: What do I aim to accomplish?
Answer this question with clarity. Be concise. Write it down. Commit.
Your clear and concise answer is your vision. Keep it nearby and revisit it often. You'll be better prepared to remain focused as challenges arise, and it will help you stay on the path toward your goal.
Share and align your vision
If you're doing this work for someone else (a client) or in a partnership, make sure they're on board with your vision or that your individual visions either align or compliment each other in some agreeable and mutually beneficial way.
Sharing and aligning at the start will help you work better as a team. This will also keep many potential conflicts and future pitfalls from ever occuring.
Know and recognize your constraints
Time, money, the weather... anything that would keep you from doing whatever your imagination desires. Make, keep, and maintain a list of known and possible constraints.
What would keep you from realizing your vision? Is there anything you can do to eliminate or reduce this constraint? What can you do to prepare for an encounter with it?
Expect winding trails that fork and branch
Even with a clear vision, embarking on a creative endeavor can be kind of like taking a journey through an unfamiliar forest. You have a general idea of where you want to go, but you're not certain how to get there. When you do get there, how will you even know you've arrived?
Which way should you go? Where do you start? Should someone come along with you? Could you use a guide?
We have tools for this
If your ultimate goal is to find a creative solution, check out lateral thinking and try our interactive lateral thinking exercise.
Try divergent thinking for generating lots of possibilities. Then, use convergent thinking to narrow down, sort, and elaborate on your list.
For an unusual yet effective idea organization system, have a look at CLOSAT Cards for Entrepreneurs.
You'll never get out of this maze
Thanks to the information revolution, we're often faced with too many options. Or, perhaps your journey is starting to take the shape of an endless labyrinth that you can't seem to make your way through. Like our friend Sarah's experience in the film Labyrinth (1986), overwhelm can make it tough to find our way.
Losing your way is part of the process. You're discovering. You're learning.
Stay calm, let the ideas flow, and lend a hand to your future self by keeping a record of as much as you can.
Getting lost and falling behind on other responsibilities? Bring a watch.
Setting a time limit is often the most practical way to keep from straying too far. Did the alarm go off? No matter where you are, it's time to head back.
Our divergent thinking game is a timed exercise for coming up with lots of ideas. We start with a goal, set a timer, and make a long list. When time's up, we dismiss the less useful ideas and elaborate on thoughts with potential.
Imagine you're working on a project when your friend posts a recipie for a favorite new food. There's a spice on the list that you know you don't have, so you search up the spice.
Suddenly, you see all these photos of amazing food that you didn't even know existed. An entire new world of spice just opened up. You must know more. You must see what can be done with this spice!
Next thing you know, you've spent your entire afternoon looking up recipies. Your project? Uh, yeah.
You fell in a time trap
Don't get too upset about it. We all lose our way. It's only human. Instead, simply use this moment as a reminder to re-visit your vision.
Even though I said not to get too upset about it, I recommend recognizing your body's emotional and physical response. Do you feel a physical sensation in your body, like a sense of guilt or panic because you didn't get your stuff done? Maybe it's a warm or hollow feeling in your chest or an exhillarating rush that makes it hard to sit still. If you feel anything like this, it could be your body's way of manifesting cognitive dissonancecognitive dissonance:
View in Glossary.
Increase your awareness
If you started with a clear vision, you'll likely experience cognitive dissonance as you veer off course. Listen for the feeling and train your mind to react by revisiting your vision.
Revisit your vision the moment the discomfort arises.
Know your weaknesses
We all have triggers that shift the mind's focus. A few ways I've been trapped in the past:
- Definition destruction. I come across a word and don't know what it means. Or, I have a vague idea but would prefer to clarify an ambiguity rather than make an assumption. I look up the word, but fail to return to the activity that sparked the curiosity. Instead, I either look up more words or go off on some other unproductive tangent.
- Shopping seduction. I need a tool or a supply for my project, so I start looking to see how to get one. Online shopping has many ways of sucking me in.
- Delayed response. Someone offers an idea in an email or text and I decide to quickly check some facts before responding to the message. It's more complicated that I initially thought, so I keep exploring rather than reply to the sender to request his or her clarification.
Many trails are new to us but have been traveled by others in the past. If we're lucky, someone left markings along the road to guide us and to help us to keep from getting lost.
This way to the waterfall. That way to the bear cave. Good to know. Thanks!
Look for an overlook
Hopefully, a signpost will lead you to an overlook of some sort. Imagine walking through a dense forest, wandering winding paths. Just as you start to feel lost, you discover and approach an overlook at the edge of a mountain. You can see for miles, and you really get a great idea of where you are in relation to your surroundings. You're inspired, no longer lost, and things starting to make more sense.
Center yourself in a clearing
No overlooks to be found? Often, we'll stumble upon a clearing in the woods where many paths converge. Look all around. What artifacts have other travelers left behind? Are there any signposts? Any trails you didn't know about until now?
What can you gather at this convergence so you don't have to head down each and every path leading here?
Check your Scope
You'll never know it all. Rather than head down every path in a quest for total mastery, seek context. How can I make this work with what I set out to do?
Think up an entirely new idea? Don't try to force it into the context of your current journey. It's great that you have a fresh idea or a new place or topic worth exploring, but it's not for now. Quickly record your new idea and take it on another day.
Set learning objectives
You're wandering through the woods and you happen upon a climbing wall. You need to get something at the top of the wall, but you don't know how to climb. A friendly instructor is waiting, complete with all the supplies: ropes, helmet, harness, chalk, shoes... it's all there.
Learning to climb right now is a tempting proposition. It's all right here in front of you. This can be tough to resist if it's something you really want to learn.
Revisit your vision
You could do either of these:
- Learn to climb a wall and then climb to the top to get what you need
- Ask the instructor to hop up there and get it for you
- Skip the climb and use the emergency ladder on the side of the wall to quickly get it yourself
You want to learn to climb. I get it. But now is not the time! Put it on your list of things to do later and keep on trekking!
Allow extra time for mistakes and misadventures
Deadlines are real. We all make mistakes. Misadventures are vital to the creative process.
Delays will happen. Know this. Build in some extra time so you don't have to rush through any part of your project. You'll also enjoy your sidetrek to the waterfall a little more because the cognitive dissonance won't be as strong if you know you have some extra time.
Take good care of your gear
Never underestimate the value of staying organized. This is one of my personal weaknesses. I have a bad habit of creating clutter while doing creative work. In a way, it goes with the territory. You are using non-linear thinking skills, so why would your external world not be the same? Here's my problem projected on to you: If you're researching some topic and you have multiple browser windows open, each with multiple active tabs, how long will it take to go back and find what you were looking for? What are the chances you'll get distracted in the process? Will this help you reach your objective? Or, might a more organized approach work better?
Keep an inventory
Rather than keeping browser tabs open, learn to use your browser's history. Most browsers even have a browsing history search function that actually makes finding what you need faster than directly locating an open browser tab.
Don't expect perfection
Trekking involves forward movement. We keep our feet moving and we build on the experience with each new step.
Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you got and fix it along the way.
Author and Advertising Creative Director
Sometimes, we step in a pile of bear scat. If we just keep walking, the scat will probably fall off our boots on its own. Don't bother worrying about it!
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