A New Year's Resolution That Works: Going Small

Are you going big on your plans for the new year? I'm talking about those ambitious resolutions creative people love to make, which might include:

  • A new business venture
  • Taking on a large project
  • Learning or improving a skill

These aren't unique to the new year, we make these plans all the time. A new year is just an opportune time to wrap them with a big bow and call them "resolutions".

I'm sure there are hyper-focused go-getters out there who resolve every resolution they make.

Then there's me.

But I'm not alone, I notice other creative people often leave their resolutions by the wayside.

Why?

A big part of it involves the dreaded shiny object syndrome.

Shiny Object Syndrome

Planning to start a web design agency? What about that cool idea for an app? Oh, don't forget the blog. You're taking up painting again? And you want to sell crochet Star Wars pillows on Etsy?

I relate because I am that guy (well, except for the Star Wars pillows).

I've also noticed this behavior in other entreprenural people I've met. Before one idea settles, it's on to the next. That's the double-edged sword of being creative—having a mind that forms webs of connections. Unfortunately, many of those connections lead to distractions and dead ends.

That new connection—the shiny object—is always more exciting. What we're working on is always less sexy, because it's now in the operational stage. But that's the stage we need to be in to get things done.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue new ideas. It just means they shouldn't distract us from what we're currently working on. Keep those ideas and goals on a back burner, and let them marinate a bit. Finish what you're doing, and come back to them when the time is right.

Life Happens

Resolutions we make for the year face another obstacle: life. We all have matters to tend to, and unexpected things that come up.

I began the year with a plan to write an e-book and build my web development skills, among many other things. Design work, getting married, and having to take some time off kept me from achieving my goals.

But at the end of the day, I'm to blame. I overcommitted to too many projects, and I think many of us do. This coincides with shiny object syndrome. When we overcommit we make all these plans that distract from one another.

We also tend to think we have more time than we do. It's cliché to say that the year "goes by so fast", yet we still fool ourselves that it's long. So we tend to make big plans, and put unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

So instead of going big, I'm taking a different approach this year. I'm going small.

Thinking Small

Creative people like to think big. We all want to put our own dents in the universe. And with that hope, we have many ideas. So, when you tell another creative person to downsize their ideas, it's like peeing in their ice cream.

Well, put away your ice cream.

There's only so many days in a year, and so many hours in day. We have to use those hours to focus on doing that one thing we value most.

To do that thing, we need to have what Paul Graham of Y Combinator calls a maker's schedule. People who make things—programmers, designers, writers—need at least half a day to do things well. You have to make time for maker's time.

So, my proposal is to focus on one thing for the year. Find the thing that benefits you most and spend as much time on it as possible.

I've boiled my own resolution to caveman-like simplicity:

I am writer.

I'm a designer by education and experience. I'd like to spend more time on art. So, why am I focusing on writing now? Here are some reasons:

  • Inclination: I feel that writing is a natural fit for me. Still, I need to fine-tune it for the web.
  • Financial: I've started to do some freelance writing, and it could be my most efficient route to sustainable income.
  • Importance: Content drives the web, and writing makes up much of this content. It's the most essential skill for the web.

So for 2016 I will spend most of my time writing—for this blog, for clients, and for myself.

Small focus, big steps.

Focusing on one thing means saying no to other things. That takes some discipline. But it also frees up a lot of space—space that you can use for creativity.

Happy New Year.