The creative life can be overwhelming. Being driven by inspiration, creativity and dreams, it's easy to want to do everything. We run hither and dither, creating all over the place. There are multiple projects, developing your craft, social media and all the things to figure out.
We end up feeling scattered, not sure how to choose between our inspiring ideas. Time is constantly running out but little gets finished.
I've experienced this on more than one occasion, and the past few weeks I've been fumbling for a clear direction for my next couple of months.
I want to put time into the third draft of my novel, I want to spend time honing my photography and my Instagram feed, I want to do more collaborations with other creatives like the summer kick-off I'm doing with Katy McCullough. I want to learn more about the creative life, sharpen my website a tad, work on my first free course and expand my Etsy shop.
In other words: I want to do everything, right now, and it's not quite working out.
Trying to figure this out, I sat myself down and had a firm and honest talk with myself. Prioritizing and choosing between things I'm passionate about has always been hard for me, and it will probably keep being hard. But hard doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, right?
So here are the questions that have helped me to handle that scattered and overwhelmed state. They might just help you too.
1. What is the goal of your current phase?
Whatever your dreams are in your creative life, them becoming reality is probably not around the next corner. The nature of dreams is that they are most often long term.
When we try to reach quite far away goals, it's easy to end up frustrated and overwhelmed with the amount of work between us and our dreams. Therefore, I want you to forget your big dreams for a moment and look at a shorter time frame.
What phase are you in right now, working towards those dreams?
If you want to be an author, and you're working on book one, you're still in the phase of figuring out how the hell to write a book. Focus on that! Ignore the steps that come afterwards for now, and make your current phase your main goal.
2. Which activities would have the biggest impact right now?
When you have your smaller goal, the next step is to ask yourself what activities matter most in this phase. In the case of writing your first book, would your time be best spent writing as much as you can to practice, or read books on the craft of writing? The answer might not be obvious, but try narrowing down the options to as few as possible.
The world is filed with advice that could help you on your way, but they're not specific to where you're at. Some things might be incredibly important later down the road, but not very helpful right now.
Look at your phase goal and ask yourself what would propel you towards it most effectively.
If you come up with more than one important activity and you can't choose which to focus on, make them into little projects and work on them one at a time. Which brings us to the next question.
3. In which order would it make sense to work on your multiple projects or goals?
If you're working on multiple projects or towards multiple goals, the intuitive solution might be to work on them all, a little bit. That, however, might not be the best solution. Instead, what if you worked on one project for a while, until you either finished it or reached some specific point, then switched over to the next project?
Focusing on one project at a time lets you dive deep into it, which often is more fun, more efficient and less stressful.
You get to dedicate you full attention to your current project instead of running back and forth trying to remember where you left off. Sounds nice, doesn't it?
To some degree it might be hard to completely discard one part of your creative life if you have multiple things going on at the same time, but try to find a way to focus on them at different times. Even if it's just blocking off days for each project, or switching at the start of a new week.
4. What can you let go of?
The hardest part of prioritization is to say no to things you'd love to do. But since none of us have unlimited time, letting go of some ideas or projects might be necessary. Start with the little things you do currently. Have you cluttered your creative life with recurring tasks that are keeping you from working on your bigger projects? Are they all time well spent, in comparison with what you could do instead?
Are there some projects that you want to do, but doesn't really make sense to do now? Could they wait, a few months or a year? Are you doing something you think you should do, but don't really enjoy? Is it really that important?
When you scale down your creative life, you'll find more energy for what is left.
Letting go doesn't have to mean you'll never do it, it just means you won't do it now. Because the now is limited and if you are to enjoy it, you can't cram in too much.
5. What is most important to you?
At the end of the day, you need to choose what is most important to you. If you still struggle to choose and prioritize, ask yourself what would make the biggest difference to you. What would you be most sad to let go of? Which project would bring you most joy? Which dream means most to you? What would get you closer to that dream?
My plan for the next Few months
During my summer vacation in July, I will focus on the third draft of my novel and on honing my photography. I will also read some books about the creative life.
In August, I plan to take a look at the focus of this blog and the website, sharpen the website a bit and start working on my free course. While doing this, I will also consider how my Etsy shop could better be tied into my focus.
When fall comes, I hope to look for some new collaborations and work more on my Etsy shop. I will likely have some writing to do on my third draft and I bet I won't be done with the free course, but that's okay. I'll sit down then and sketch out a new plan.
Will it turn out exactly like this? Probably not.
I'm okay with that though. The important thing is that I have a broad plan, and I don't feel like I have to work on everything right this second. Each thing I'm longing to do has its own time and with that, I can relax and focus on the current one.
I hope you'll take that overwhelmed feeling seriously and make your own plan. It might include some difficult choices, but both your creativity and your projects will thank you for it!