Hey there, Pollywog!
When it comes to sitting down and actually doing the things you’re interested in, the first question you might ask is… where do I start?
For anyone with more than one or two interests, answering this question can be a bit tricky. When you have a whole lot of interests, you have a whole lot of ideas, which translates into just as many projects.
But no matter how many ideas you have bouncing around in that multi-talented noggin of yours, you need to start one of them first, whether you’re a project juggler or a one-at-a-timer.
(After all, even if you’re an ambidextrous super genius, you can’t write the opening lines of two different novels at exactly the same time. Right?)
So how the heck do you choose?
Challenging, helpful, or exciting?
Over the years I’ve read a lot of advice about picking projects, and I’ve noticed three common themes.
Some people say we should pick the ones that scare us the most, that bring us out of our comfort zone.
Others suggest that we choose the projects that will help people, and that other people will be interested in.
Neither of these is a bad idea. Depending on how we approach a challenge, it can be an amazing, enriching experience — and so can helping people, for sure.
Still, for me, these first two themes take a back seat to the third one.
When I’m picking a project, I always look for the one that excites me the most.
In fact, one of my favorite quotes, credited to Howard Thurman, is this: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Challenges for the sake of challenges are easy to give up on when things get rough. There’s also no guarantee that other people are going to love what you do — humans are unpredictable like that.
But the more you love a project, the more you’ll want to start, continue, and maybe even finish, no matter how tough things get.
Besides, enthusiasm is contagious. When people see how completely and utterly and thoroughly freaking jazzed you are? They’ll pay attention. They won’t be able to help it.
Here’s my method for finding my most exciting project. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
- List your projects in the way you’re comfortable with; in an electronic document, a notebook, or even on index cards. Describe each project in a paragraph or so, and for reasons that will be clear in just a minute, leave at least another paragraph’s worth of space between each one. If you’re using index cards, leave the backs blank.
- As you make your list, and then as you read over the finished one, pay attention to how you feel. Not just emotionally, but physically. Do you get the classic butterflies in your stomach? Is your heart racing? Are your fingers twitching restlessly, waiting to begin? That’s your project.
(In fact, if you start to feel like this in the middle of making your list, you have my permission to put it away and start working on your project. That would be awesome.)
If there’s still more than one?
I believe that everyone, polymath or specialist, has some ideas that excite them more than others at any given time.
Still, we’re polymaths, and the poly part can’t help but come into play. After you’ve gone through the listing process, you might have one most exciting project, or you might have two or three… or more.
- Remember when I told you to leave plenty of space between the items on your list? Here’s why. Go back to your list and circle your most exciting projects. Then, start filling in more details about each one.
- When you’re finished, sit back and ask yourself… which idea is the most fleshed out? The more meat on a project’s bones, the more likely it’s the one you’re ready for. It’s also very, very likely that it will have those small actionable first steps that make it easy to start working.
A personal example
Pollywog, it’s no coincidence that my very first blog post is about where to start. I set up this blog with literally fifty pages of ideas and notes. I put off the actual blogging for as long as I possibly could, and when it was time to write my first post, I panicked. And I asked myself… where do I even start?
Then I remembered the list.
- The very first thing I did was scroll through my notes. Every time I found a topic that looked interesting, that gave me a little jolt of excitement, I started a draft post for it. I ended up with seven drafts.
- I wrote down the main points for each one, right there in the draft, along with one or two sentences relating to each one.
- I ended up writing more than I expected to for each post, so when I was done, I went through each of these again and asked myself… which one has the most meat on its bones? Which one would be the fastest, and the easiest, to start?
- The post about starting had the most material, by far, and it was the one I was ready for. It was also the one that made the most sense to start. Starting with a post about starting? It doesn’t get more self-referential than that.
It may seem like a lot of work to make this kind of list, but you’re doing yourself a favor. Hang on to that list. Use it again, or use parts of it, the next time you’re wondering where to begin.
Having a list of your projects is also a great way to keep track of them. When you have ten million ideas, some of them could get lost, and you never know when you’ll need them again.
For me, the list helped in another way. Those other six posts? They’re ready to be worked on whenever I feel like it, and because I have those main points down, picking up where I left off will be a breeze.
The big questions
Here’s a quick summary of the questions you can ask yourself to find your first project.
- Which one is the most exciting to me?
- Which one is the most fleshed out, has the easiest first steps?
- Which one does it make the most sense to start?
From there, if you want to ask questions about challenges, and about other people’s interest, go ahead. But honestly, if you tackle the above questions first, the rest is going to work out on its own.
The idea of picking one thing can be scary when you have so many that you’re passionate about, but remember: the faster you start one project, the faster you can start your other projects.
From there, you can play around with different ways of project juggling. Refuse to Choose has some seriously clever ideas about scheduling, and I’ve got a few up my sleeve, too. Just wait and see.