Category Archives: creativity

Working Backwards

Stop and Think...backwards

Often when I start working with a new client, they have a lot on their plate, and they’re feeling scattered and overwhelmed.

And one of the first things they ask is, “What should I be focusing on?”

Usually what they’re really asking is:

Here’s a bunch of stuff I could work on…which option is going to work out the best?

That’s the wrong question.

For one thing, outcomes aren’t within our control. So even if I dig out my Magic 8 Ball, I can’t predict what will work out the best (and neither can you).

For another thing, you’ll always have options. There will always be more opportunities than there is time available to work on them.

But even more important than those two things is this:

Remember why you’re asking the question to begin with.

Presumably, you’re asking because you want to create a work life that’s fulfilling to you. You want work that you enjoy doing. (Imagine that!)

Yet if you start by comparing available options, the chances of winding up with fulfilling, enjoyable work are slim.

It’s like getting in the car, getting on the nearest highway and just driving.

How do you know you’re going the right way? You don’t, because you didn’t choose your destination before you started.

Starting with the end in mind

That’s where working backwards comes in, starting with the right question:

What do I want in my life and business?

(Or some variation thereof.)

You have to know the end-result you want before you can know which steps to take to get you there.

I first learned this during my database design days.

I had to make sure the client was telling me all the information they would want to get out of the database, so that I would make sure to include a way for that information to get entered into the database.

If they wanted to know which zip codes had the most repeat customers, I had to design the database to track customers’ zip codes as well as who ordered what. If either of those bits of data were missing, they couldn’t find out which zip codes were the most profitable for them.

A tiny example

Maybe you’re considering partnering with someone to do in-person workshops, and it means you’ll have to go out of town once every couple of months.

And maybe you’re also considering investing in equipment that would allow you to offer a new kind of service in your business, which would mean more late evening appointments.

If you’re just comparing those two options, most likely neither will feel like a No-Brainer to you, but it might not be clear why.

How does the answer change when you ask, “What do I want for my life and business?”

Maybe, if you’re being honest with yourself, you want more time at home, and your evenings free.

If that’s the case, it doesn’t make much sense to invest money into equipment that will increase your evening appointments. Nor does it make a lot of sense to commit to a partnership that will mean more travel than you want.

Once you know what you actually want, you can work backwards to build your life and business around those desires.

It’s still a process

Might there be missteps along the way? Of course.

Sometimes the step you take will seem like a great choice, but it won’t work out. (We don’t control the outcome, remember?)

Maybe you’ll commit to teaching an online course and discover that you prefer face-to-face communication. Or maybe you’ll hire a web designer who doesn’t work out (and then disappears after promising a refund).

The steps that feel like mistakes still contain valuable learning you can use when you get back on track. (Even though they feel like a kick in the nuts.)

Step or misstep, you’re a hell of a lot more likely to head in the right direction if you know where you want to go.

Not just for big-picture stuff

This same process of working backwards applies to projects, too.

You have to know what you want to create – what end-result you want – before you can make good choices about how to get there.

It’s one of the things I’ll be teaching in Project Prowess in March. If you want to learn how to choose, start and finish projects that will grow your biz, sign up for my advance notice list to receive an email when registration is open. During the program, you’ll get clear on what you want to create, and then we’ll develop a manageable, enjoyable plan to make it happen.

Image credit: PinkMoose

Video Post: You Wouldn’t Want It If You Couldn’t Have It

I humbly present my first ever video post.

(If you’re reading this in your email or via RSS, you may need to click through to watch the video.)

The other day I was feeling overwhelmed and a bit deflated when I thought about one of the things I want to do.

I’m betting you’ve felt that way, too, when what you want is really different from what you have. And you have no idea how you’re going to get from here to there.

I thought I’d share with you some of what I was reminding myself.

How about you?

What would you do differently if you knew that your true desires – by virtue of the fact that you want them – were attainable?

How would it feel to know that it’s not a question of whether it’s possible to get what you want, but instead a matter of figuring out how to make it happen, one small step at a time?

Today’s comment zen:

This was (well, is) scary as hell to publish. I started out writing a post, and then decided on a whim to try it as a video instead. Had I written this piece, I wouldn’t think twice about posting it, but for some reason it feels completely different to share the same content as a video.

Please be kind. And for the love of all that is holy, do not give me video tips. Or advice about how to adopt a location independent lifestyle.

Invisible Creative Productivity

So I did it, right? I’m a blogger now? All the posts and topics will be easy from here on out?

Hahahaha…The reality is that the floodgates haven’t opened with tons of beautiful, helpful material as fast as my fingers could type it.

But that is okay. Or at least I’m trying to be okay with it.

Despite my toiling to come up with more posts, there is a “creative process” that is happening. My friend, Hiro Boga, has written beautifully about this in her new blog.

I hope you’ll all read it in its entirety, but here is a snippet:

On the surface, my life in this time of gestation–before the next creation emerges–looks ordinary enough…

But underneath this seemingly boring surface I can feel the engine of my life revving up . . .  brrmm, brrrmmmmmm . . . Thrumming with a finely pitched pulse.

Until the moment when it reaches lift-off.

Ah yes…it’s so important to know that there are things happening beneath the surface. Because so often it doesn’t look – or even feel – that way.

I should know…it’s been three years since I first had the desire to start a blog.  And there were other attempts that went nowhere. And don’t even get me started on some of the other projects (which shall remain nameless – for now) that I wanted to do that never got off the ground.

Yet, here I am – posting to my blog.

My point is that for a long time it felt like I would NEVER do this blog thing. That I’d never get past my fears (not over them – just past them) to start doing the thing.

And it wasn’t until I took that first “public” step that I could look back and see that all the frustration and struggling served a purpose. Even if I can’t explain why, I know it was what I needed in order to get from there to here.

It may or may not always be hard like this.

I don’t know if I can even generalize that this IS my creative process, because frankly, this is my first creative venture in quite some time. Maybe I don’t even know what my process is anymore.

Here are some ideas that have helped me get through this.  Maybe they will help you to give birth to something creative.

1. Above all else, cut yourself slack as much as you’re able.

Beating yourself up for not doing something tends to kill any spark of creativity.

I’d wanted to start a blog for years and all my stomping and tearing my hair out didn’t get it going. I really believe it was the process of backing off from the goal that allowed it to come into being.

Are you allowed to be pissed and throw tantrums? Of course. The paradox is that you also need to cut yourself slack for not being able to cut yourself slack.

2. Ideas take time to gestate (as Hiro put it, above). Or, we don’t control the timing.

I believe there was a combination of things (call them lessons that I had to learn) that needed to be in place before the blog could come into existence. Sometimes we have control over when those things happen, but often we don’t.  And believe me, tantrums don’t serve as a shortcut.

The project – whatever it may be – will be born when it’s ready.

3. Banish all expectations about the outcome.

Whenever I think about a potential project in terms of how it will look when it’s finished, I’m setting myself up for failure.

A year ago when I thought about starting a blog, I would think about having a huge list of subscribers or daily awe-inspiring posts and it instantly created a scenario I couldn’t live up to. So I didn’t even try.

Instead of defining the success of this project in terms of readership or alexa ranking, I’m working toward defining it in terms of “Hey, I did the thing I thought I couldn’t do.” Or “I still started this thing even though I might fall on my face.”

What does this all come back to? TRUST.

Trust. Trust. Trust.

Trust in the creative process.

Trust that the process is happening even if we can’t feel it or see it.

Trust that it will bear fruit in its own time.

Trust that – no matter who is (or is not) looking at the output – it has value and should be honored.