At the age of twelve, I was introduced to my dad’s machine shop. I remember all those massive, metal beasts that dominated the place. Each machine stood at least double my height and screamed so loud when at work that we had to wear earplugs just to be near them.
I was given a stool to stand on and put to work on a large drill press. There were these little metal widgets, hundreds of them, maybe thousands, that I was instructed to put four holes into each. I’d place a new one on the press, grab the spindle-style handle, and drill holes into each one. Bits of metal shavings and the splash of oily coolant hitting me in the face, as I cranked through them.
By the end of the day, I had a barrel full of widgets completed, each with four perfect holes drilled through them. It was dirty, mindless work, but there’s something satisfying about staring at a pile of finished metal widgets. You feel real, tangible results from the sweat you put into the day.
Our creative business work is rarely this simple, though, with such a straightforward measure of our daily output.
The Overwhelming Weight of Our Creative Business Work
We get a shit-ton of email everyday, a constant, never-ending stream of twitter updates, fresh opportunities to evaluate, documents to pour over, goals to hit, and new issues to deal with. It’s a constant barrage of problems to solve—and many of them just aren’t as simple as drilling a hole through a widget.
Look at your action list, it likely has a number of complex projects on it, such as increasing the subscribers of your email newsletter, kickstarting your blog writing, building key relationships, or researching market trends that are likely to impact your creative business. These aren’t small tasks that you can knockout in a few minutes. These projects are intimidating and they may sit on your to-do list for quite some time.
So, what’s the solution? How do you hit your targets and crank through these projects? The first step toward increasing your productivity, and getting those large projects accomplished, is to drill down into them.
How to Drill Down Into Your Projects
For every project on your list, they each have a next logical next action to take (or a series of related next actions). This is literally the next physical action you need to take to move this project forward. It’s easiest to think of these actions in terms of verbs, such as:
Verbs are actions. What are the very next action steps you need to take on your project?
Priority is dictated by need. If one action has to be done before others can be completed, then your path forward is clear. If there are multiple early stage actions needing to be completed, then just pick one to start on.
Anything that requires multiple actions, can’t be done at once. Start a blog, for example, isn’t a to-do item you can easily complete. It requires a number of actions, such as buying hosting, setting up your blog theme, designing your brand, planning your topic, getting to know your audience, setting your publishing schedule, etc. Starting a blog is too large to knock off your to do list today, as it can take days, weeks, or even months to complete.
Tasks Are Tiny and Ready To Do
Look at how you can take these larger projects you need to complete, and drill into them, uncover all the sub-sets of actions that you must complete, then drill down further until you have actual tasks you can complete today.
Tasks should be tiny—measured in minutes and not days. They are items on your to do list that you can check off this morning. They are like small metal widgets, you can drill the needed holes in, and then chuck into the done barrel.
Projects don’t move forward without actions being completed. Take a look at your to-do list now and make sure each item on it is framed as an action, one that is small enough that you can readily complete it today.
Press Down on That Drill
When things were really humming in my dad’s machine shop, the metal was moving, presses were drilling, lathes were turning, coolant was spraying, the country music was twanging, and widgets were getting machined. Everything was firing away rapidly as each part was cranked-out.
Fire-up your day. Take your big creative business projects, drill down into them, and line up those tasks, so they are tiny, and ready to take action on. By quitting time, you should have a large pile of completed tasks, the hard-worked result from all the sweat you put into today.