How asking this couple of simple questions will help you finish your project in half the time

I’m writing this post right now and I have no idea of what the title will be. Some time ago, I realized that I was wasting a lot of time (and creative effort) thinking about titles for my posts even before I start writing them.

This is a pattern that we see everywhere: We waste time and energy thinking about things that are not relevant in the moment. There is a huge opportunity cost implied in this behavior.

I have always asked myself why parents are so rushed to think about kid names before the baby arrives. What if you have decided a name, and then when you see the baby, the name just don’t make sense? What if you select a pool of options and then decide on the final name when you see the baby’s face?

When doing a project, it makes more sense to focus on creating the work first. After you finish, after you are familiarized with what you have created, then you will know how to name it and how to apply the final details.

First, paint. Then the painting itself will reveal its name…

Without even realizing it, one of the reasons why we fall short of ideas is because we limit our thinking and our work by putting labels, titles and creating barriers even before starting.

Titles and labels create a bias. The moment you label something, your infinite world of ideas comes down to a very tight, very specific space to work on.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, when creating music, they don’t limit themselves to a specific genre, and they don’t work following a specific process. They start to write or to play some chords, and then they build the song from there. They don’t care about genres: At the end of the day, you can see those guys composing a blues, a country song or an eclectic mix of samba with Rock n’ Roll honoring the devil. First you create, then you put labels and names on the things you created.

We all should learn from the musicians and start feeling comfortable improvising. Sometimes, getting out of our normal context and the regular things we have already ‘labeled’ in our heads is the best way to really take advantage of our creative energy.

Some months ago, a friend told me that he was thinking about starting his own company. He was proud and super excited because he felt he had come up with a couple of cool and original names for the company. He even showed me the business cards mockups, the logo and the color palettes he wanted for that logo. He spent 3 entire days thinking about those things.

When I asked him about what was the company about, what kind of problem he wanted to solve and why he thought his company was going to be substantially better than the others in the market that were already offering something similar, he had difficulties to answer. He had spent more time thinking about the name and the logo than thinking about the company.

Why having the most beautiful business card ever, if you don’t even know what and how are you going to sell?

He spent his precious creative hours thinking about the wrong things. Sure, the logo and the name are very important, but they become important in a further stage, once you already know, at least, which problem do you want to solve with your company, and how do you pretend to get your first clients.

By default, we are careless with our creative hours. We do not size the magnitude of the opportunity we would have if we correctly assign priorities and do the correct things within those hours.

But instead of thinking about the opportunities we have, we let fear, disguised as procrastination, to take control of those hours. We know that the important things are usually also hard things. So, we avoid those hard things by assigning our creative hours to easier, non-important tasks. We think that, with these tasks, we are going to get distracted and forget the ‘pain’ of thinking in the hard things we need to do.

The hard things Vs. the easy things – Determining what and when something is important

This ‘replacing the hard things for the easy things’ used to happen a lot during my writing process. Instead of focusing on the actual writing, I tended to distract myself with other ‘important’ things. At the end, everything was an excuse for postponing the hard process of writing a blog post.

What I used to focus on during my creative hours:

Blog posts title.

– Blog post image.

– The length of the post.

– Thinking about when I was going to publish the blog post.

What should I have focused on during my creative hours:

– Actually writing the blog post.

– The quality of the blog post.

– Is this topic relevant to me and to my audience?

– Establishing processes and routines to achieve my goal of writing at least one hour every day.

Remember, is not only a matter of defining what things are important, we also need to understand when they are important.

The “dinner questionnaire”

I have come up with a technique that could help to assign priorities to the different elements of our work. Ask yourself “If I were at a dinner and someone asks about my project, which elements are the most important for the other person to know so he could understand what is the project about and why it’s valuable?

Let’s suppose I am at a dinner and I need to explain to someone about what my next blog post will be about. Which elements are relevant to mention?

– Does he need to know the title of the post in order to understand what is it about and decide if he wants to read the post? –> Not necessarily.

– Does he need to know about the image I’m using in the post to understand what is it about and decide if he wants to read the post?–> No.

– Does he need to know the length of the post to understand what is it about and decide if he wants to read the post?–> No.

– Does he need to know when am I going to publish the blog post in order to understand what is it about and decide if he wants to read the post?–> No.

– Does he need to know what I’m actually writing about (and why do I consider it important) to understand what is it about and decide if he wants to read the post?–> Yes

– Does the quality of the blog post will have an impact on this guy perception about my writing and is an important factor to determine if he will share with his friends this blog post? –> Yes

– Does he need to know if this topic is relevant to me and to my audience?-> Maybe, because that is a factor that could reflect how committed I am to try to write something meaningful and high quality.

– Does he need to know how do I establish processes and routines to achieve my goal of writing at least one hour every day?–> Maybe not, but if he realizes that I have a routine, he will perceive my commitment. This is also a way to show that I care about the quality of my writing and that I’m concerned about writing meaningful things.

Now that I have answered the “dinner questionnaire”, the second step is to arrange the elements depending if the answer was “Yes”, “Maybe” or “No”, assigning priorities and importance levels to every element of my writing process. This way, I will know how to spend my creative hours and I will have a checklist of what to tackle first:

  1. Is this topic relevant to me and for my audience? Is it really worth it to write about this idea I have in my head?
  2. Actually writing the blog post.
  3. The quality of the blog post.
  4. Establishing processes and routines to achieve my goal of writing at least one hour every day.
  5. Blog posts title.
  6. The length of the post.
  7. Blog post image.
  8. Think about when I am going to publish the blog post.

There you go, now you have a structured process to decide how to spend your creative hours. Stop worrying about the name you are going to give to your project even before starting it. And remeber…you can have a great company even if your business cards sucks….