A Full Closet and Nothing to Wear

Why it’s hard to finish projects

There’s that old joke about how even when your closet is full of outfits, you still have nothing to wear. It makes no logical sense — grab something and wear it! — but I get it. It’s a lot like projects. They’re more fun when they’re brand new. And the human brain likes to optimise for fun, not logic.

I have a lot of projects going right now. I have a lot of things I “should” be doing. But the more important they are, the more the deadline looms, the more I’ll be in trouble if I don’t focus … the harder it is to focus. Whereas if I were to start something brand new and inconsequential today, I know I’d enter a hyper-focused and motivated state.

We’ve all been there. So what’s the way forward?

Personally, I try to sneak up on my deadlines. I need to trick myself into getting them done by reducing the pressure. If I slap myself in the face, stare myself down in the mirror, and say “you need to do this or else,” I’m not going to do it. It’s too daunting and joyless, so I just hit a motivation wall.

Instead, if I allow myself to start an unrelated side project and get into the groove on it, my happiness goes up. I get inspired, I start spotting new connections in my mind, and I’m eager to keep grinding away at the new problem. But — and this is the hard part — the key is noticing as my motivation goes up, then deftly switching back to the real deadline.

Here’s the todo list I wrote this morning with a headache and a bad night of sleep. The stuff on the left is a tactical list. The stuff on the right is my strategy for how I’m going to proceed.

Priority one: feel better
Priority two: take my kids to Jumparama, a trampoline park
Priority three: address my looming deadline (designing a class/workshop)

Written from Jumparama, starting to get into a happiness/productivty groove, and pretending I don’t have a looming deadline. Shh, I think it’s working!

Designer, writer, teacher. I love building things.