BlogWhat I'm curious about right now
There’s been a recurring theme lately in my conversations with clients, and it’s this:
“How can you take that big idea, and make it smaller?”
Don’t misunderstand me: I want you to dream big, huge dreams! Let yourself, and your ideas, take up alllll the space.
It’s just that there comes a moment when you know it’s time to actually start. And when that moment comes, I see so many of you freeze. Overwhelm sets in. The big-ness of your dream feels oppressive, all of a sudden. Yikes.
(I experience this too. All the time. You know I write these posts as reminders for myself, right?)
So that moment – the moment you freeze, and begin to feel your body and mind contract – is the moment when it’s time to ask, “How can I make this smaller?”
In the tech entrepreneur world, we call this “designing an MVP” – a Minimum Viable Product. Alexandra Franzen recently sang the praises of tiny projects, and shared an inspiring list of incredibly feasible creative ideas.
Same deal, different packaging. The point is: when the task feels daunting, make it smaller and achievable.
Maybe it’s going to be a book eventually – but today, it’s a blog post.
Maybe it’s going to be a career change, eventually – but today, it’s reaching out to someone whose work inspires you to schedule an informational interview.
Maybe it’s going to be a thing you can’t quite picture yet – but today, it’s tuning into the joy of your own passion for it and asking yourself, “What’s the most exciting next step I can take?”
Take the contraction you feel, and listen to what it’s really saying. Not, “too big to attempt” but rather, “too big to tackle all at once.”
Find the small opening, and start there.
(Right after you read this one article, that is.)
For those times when you know what you want to do, and you just can’t seem to get off your ass (or onto it) to get The Thing done: a compendium of techniques that actually work.
Note: I’m assuming that you have time and the capacity to actually do this thing, and are simply struggling with follow-through, for whatever reason. If your thing is not getting done because you have no time or space in your life for it, that’s a different issue entirely.
1. Remember WHY you want to do it.
Write that down, or speak it aloud. What will it do for you (or for others)? What goal will you be closer to when it’s done? What practice will you be cultivating? How will you feel in your body when it’s underway, nearly done, finished? Remember all this and feel your commitment renew itself.
2. Set a realistic deadline and tell someone about it.
Stop feeling stupid that you need an accountability buddy; according to my entirely unscientific research, approximately 99% of people do better when we feel like we made a promise to someone. We don’t like letting each other down. Go post your deadline on Facebook, or text a friend, and then celebrate with them when it’s done.
3. Design carrots and/or sticks.
I’ve come to believe that some people are Carrot People: they are motivated by rewards. And the rest of us are Stick People: we’re more motivated by fear of punishment. Whatever your driver, sit yourself down and make yourself a promise. When you finish The Thing, you will reward yourself with… fill in the blank: an afternoon spent on your favourite activity, a date with your favourite person, a delicious treat of your choice, et cetera.
Or, for the Stick People among us (hiiiiiiiii!), if you don’t finish by your self-assigned deadline, you will do An Onerous Thing. Some examples of Onerous Things that have worked for me and folks I know:
- Making a painfully large donation to a cause you do NOT support.
- Sacrificing or postponing something you’ve been looking forward to: e.g. a vacation, the new season of your favourite show, etc.
- Giving up a favourite activity for a set period of time (e.g. “If I don’t get this done on time, I’ll go a month without chocolate” sounds painful enough that it would motivate me).
4. Play a theme song.
5. Floss one tooth.
My friend Sarah Bray has an excellent method for unsticking yourself, if you’re someone with multiple projects on the go, which is to spend just 15 minutes a day on each of your projects. You’re allowed to go over 15 minutes, if you like, but the idea is to make the commitment small enough that you feel silly blowing it off. I think of this as the creative person’s version of Leo Babauta’s habit-building method (hence, flossing one tooth).
- Articulate your why.
- Be accountable to someone.
- Promise yourself a carrot — or a stick, whichever works better for you.
- Music helps.
- Try just 15 minutes.
And then, let me know how it goes.
I’ve been putting together an instalment of my Web Career Clinic wherein I discuss – in very broad brushstrokes – how to make your tech team more diverse and inclusive, and in it I share a few of my go-to resources on the subject. This is a huge topic, but if you have limited time and want a short reading list to get you started, here are the first four places I suggest you go:
This round-up of practical recommendations comes from a researcher at the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Insightful article on a company that has made significant progress on improving both diversity and inclusion, particularly on its engineering team. I always feel it’s helpful to read about concrete steps taken by real-life organizations.
Aimed especially at CEOs and managers of early to mid-stage tech startups, but many of the recommendations apply to other kinds of teams. Warning: this is an extensive project, with a ton of excellent insights, but can be overwhelming if you don’t pace yourself.
Iris Bohnet: What Works: Gender Equality By Design
This book by a Harvard behavioral psychologist (Harvard UP | Amazon | Powells) is specific to gender diversity, but is a fantastic guide to concrete examples of organizations and projects that have successfully improved diversity and equality. Of note: according to research by Bohnet and her colleagues, while diversity training is not very effective, concrete process changes like blind application processes can make a huge difference to who gets hired and promoted. Also recommended: this video of Bohnet from Google’s speaker series.