How do you prioritize your creative projects?
June 22, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Numerous creative projects, finite amount of time. How do you prioritize?

I spent most of my 20's doing a half-assed job of managing my various creative (writing, visual arts, web) projects. In the last few years I have discovered new reserves of focus, but this also means that I have to be more discriminating w/r/t what I choose to give my full attention to, because of the limitations on my time and energy.

One of my most time-consuming projects is currently wrapping up, and I am having a hard time figuring out what to do next. And I apparently have that disease where I'm easily and constantly inspired, so there is no shortage of queued half-begun projects waiting for me to circle back around to them.

Faced with numerous options, how do you decide what to tackle next? And how do you keep other ideas fresh as you're working on something else?
posted by hermitosis to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I have a similar problem with having a lot of projects going at the same time. I set up a Google Doc with a heading for each project. Under each heading I have two sections. First, a to-do list of tasks to fulfill that project. The second section is a place to jot down thoughts and ideas about the project. Writing down notes is very effective for keeping things "fresh." I have found that no more how hard I try, keeping the whole projects in my head just doesn't work. By trying to write down my "mindsets" I can easily tap into them at any time.

The reason this is so effective for me is the fact that when I have free time, I can attack tasks regardless of the project. I generally don't get behind on a particular project anymore because I tend to pick away at them equally.

At the beginning of each project or idea, I start out by writing an outline of the work I have to do to finish the project. Then I try and guess at how long each task is going to take and overall how long the whole project is expected to take. When you do this for all of your projects and compare them, you really can get an idea of what will be killing your time the most. If one particular project seems to be orders of magnitude longer or more difficult, then I might hold off on it until a different, easier project gets completed.
posted by mungaman at 10:36 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

My suggestion really depends.

If you are interested in doing all of them equally: Do the ones that will take the shortest time to complete.

If you are interested in some more then others: Alternate it, do the ones you're not quite interested in doing, then do one you're really interested in. This gives you something to look forward to and help you strive to complete the one you're working on.

I don't keep my other ideas fresh. I let myself forget about them. If they're important, I'll remember them.
posted by royalsong at 10:37 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Other than my job, I have three active projects. I've decided to do these because I think I'd feel the better at their completion than I would at the end of the literally dozens of other projects I've jotted down as "to do someday."

The way I keep them fresh is that, no matter what is going on, I do a bit on each every week, even if what I do is as trivial reformatting some of the code or text in it. That way, I feel connected with each project, even if it's not my primary focus.

As for what task I do next, I choose from my tasks based on doability, momentum, and entertainment. Whichever task maximizes those factors is usually what I do next.
posted by ignignokt at 10:39 AM on June 22, 2011

I definitely understand the feeling of having more ideas than time to realize them.

Start by blocking out equal amounts of time for each one and do them in cycle (one week on A, next week on B, etc, or A on Monday, B on Tuesday, dot dot dot). As you do them, either you will enjoy the rotation or your will find yourself attracted to project A while doing B. Either way, listen to how you feel. I've found that the priorities make themselves known fairly soon.

The rotation has helped me while working on multiple simultaneous projects by "cross-pollinating" the creative process by seeing inspiration or solutions for project A that I wouldn't have seen if I hadn't been working on project B in parallel.
posted by buzzv at 11:43 AM on June 22, 2011

"so there is no shortage of queued half-begun projects waiting for me to circle back around to them."

This works better on some types of projects than others, but for the types it works on it works REALLY WELL. I got this advice on a sewing forum years ago. You make a list of your unfinished projects and (if desired) prioritize one. That is project A. You work on project A for five hours. (Or 1 hour. or 10 hours. or a week of "designated project time." or whatever.) When you've done your five yours, you take out project B and work on B for five hours. Then A for five hours. Then C for five hours.

You move along steadily on A without burning out on it, you tend not to put things off, and you make at least incremental progress on your other projects. When you finish A, you promote a different project to the priority project.

Or you can just do them all in round-robin if you have none that's particularly pressing.

Anyway, that keeps you "circling back around" to unfinished projects while still knocking them off.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a hard thing, isn't it? For me, it all depends on what I intend to get out of the creative project; I focus on the one most likely to provide what I don't have enough of right now.

Sometimes that's money, and I focus on the thing most likely to get me a little income (but if your creative output is a hobby for you, I suppose this won't be your major driver). Sometimes it's a sense of completion, so I do the thing that will be the quickest to finish. Sometimes I just need to have a rollicking good time, so I do the one that seems like it'll be the most fun. Sometimes I'm looking for more professional credibility, or a stretchy creative challenge, or something that will fit into the X hours I have between Y and Z projects, or something that would allow me to collaborate with particular people I'm dying to work with. Sometimes I merge a bunch of ideas into one super-project.

The problem with this is juggling long-term and short-term goals. So I try to (but mostly don't) try to allot some time to both long-term and short-term goals. Right now, for example, I'm working on a couple of client projects for money, one for less money but some long-term credibility in my career, and another that is purely for the joy of creating something.

But sometimes all of these other considerations fade away and there's one project I know I just HAVE to do before I can concentrate on anything else. If that happens, it trumps everything and you just have to do what's in your heart.
posted by Andrhia at 1:07 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

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