There’s nothing more frustrating than spinning your wheels.
I did that for a couple of years on a project, so I speak on authority here.
When our first guide dog in training left our family, I was hellbent on making an online slideshow to not only remember her time with us, but share the amazing, life changing experience with others. So in earnest I gathered up the best photos I could find of the 14 months she spent with us and set them to music. Easy, right?
Not so much.
That thing was an elaborate, bloated mess.
I had way more photos than I could possibly use but the problem was that every one of them was an important part of the story (or so I thought) so it was hard to whittle them down. It took 3 full songs to get through most (MOST!) of the photos.
It was unwieldy, I knew, but I didn’t see a way around it. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the size of the show down. Compounding it was the fact that there’s no real documentation for the program I was using, it’s Google it or nothing.
So the project just sat around on my hard drive for a couple of years, irritating the hell out of me.
Meanwhile my desire to put our service dog raising experience out there into the world was growing. But apparently not fast enough to get me to figure the thing out.
As makers we learn to push through our blocks and work around problems that come up. I’m fond of calling mistakes in my handmade projects “design opportunities” which of course is just a euphemism for “I screwed this up and now I need to figure out how to fix it without it looking bad.”
So when trying to get my slideshow up and out into the world I pushed and I pushed and I pushed and no matter how hard I tried, I could not for the life of me get it to work the way I wanted.
But then something kind of crazy happened last week.
A group of friends was planning a get-together, nothing fancy, just hanging out at a friend’s house on a Friday night and I really look forward to these nights. We laugh and laugh and laugh and the fact that all of the other friends in the group are significantly younger than me doesn’t hurt either. We have so much fun together.
But as Friday night got closer, I really didn’t want to go.
I was feeling so focused on my business development stuff all week, I’d chipped away at all the zillions of tasks that need to be done and it felt like I was finally making a little bit of progress. Yes, I deserved a night off with friends but something told me to keep my focus and stay home that night.
So after making dinner I puttered around with other small work projects; I watched TV with Aster and got a few tiny things done. Then on a whim I flipped open the iMovie file (that I hadn’t looked at in months) and I had a new idea and I tried it out.
And it worked.
I actually got it to work, not exactly how I wanted but better than I had up until then. I played around some more, I pulled in a dummy set of photos for practice, and in not too much time I had what I wanted. I ended up staying up way too late that night playing around with it and getting started on the real project I was after, the dog training slideshow.
I swear I went to bed that night doing the happy dance.
And after thinking about it some more (and still feeling a little shocked that I actually figured it out after all this time), I came up with what I did that helped smash through my creative blocks:
1) Walk away with no plan to return.
If it’s something you need to get done by a certain time like say, a work assignment your boss is waiting for, then of course you need to give yourself a deadline to get back to the task at hand to tackle it. But if it’s something that doesn’t actually have to get done (or anytime soon), don’t impose artificial deadlines on yourself in the hopes it will motivate you. It won’t. It will only piss you off more that it’s not working out the way you want it to.
By giving yourself the freedom to abandon the project, you also free up your mind to explore alternatives without constraints, and this is what often leads to mental breakthroughs.
It wasn’t until I absentmindedly popped open my iMovie file last week, started messing around and trying things out then Googling answers when I got stuck, OVER A YEAR LATER, that I was able to solve my problem. Although I never gave up, I put the task of figuring it out on the bottom of my priority list.
2) Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
We often get so close to our projects that it’s hard to maintain any kind of objectivity. Though this is to be expected of course (especially with creative projects that come from that place deep inside us) it’s also one of the most dangerous traps we fall into. We create in service of connecting with other people. When we fail to take into account the path that others travel to meet us on our journey, we lose our best chance of making an impact on them.
As much as I wanted to include hundreds of photos in my original slideshow, when I thought it over from an outside point of view, I realized that making the show too long would drive people away more than it would draw them in. Better to make multiple shorter slideshows for people to choose from than one long one that no one sees in entirety out of boredom.
3) Follow your instincts.
High quality software programs are called “intuitive” because you don’t need a lot of reason or structure to use them – you just go with what makes sense at the time and more often than not, you find what you’re looking for and get the job done.
The same is true with our projects – that little voice inside that we all too often ignore in favor of rational thought is the same one that knows exactly what you need to do and will tell you, if you give it a chance. The trick is quieting your lizard brain long enough to allow your instincts to take over, and then act on those instincts.
Although I always enjoy spending time with this particular group of friends, all week something told me I should stay home and keep my mind on my business development projects. Logic told me I should take a break but I followed my intuition to stay home and that’s when I ended up solving my two-year problem.
So what project are you ready to walk away from?
And the practice slideshow I made that night? It's a little rough, but it was just a test after all. Even still, it captures one of the kids' biggest handmade projects to date. Take a look and tell me what you think: