So for a while now, I wanted to document the kind of mental obstacles that typically prevent a project from ever being completed or even being started. This record is from my own experience and of course, by no means claims to be a complete list. 😉
Most of the people I know did at some points in their life talk about a project they really wanted to do. However, most of the plans that were forged were never started – even though many of them, in my opinion, did sound promising.
So why do these plans fail?
- Expecting failure instead of success
Most plans come with some kind of expectation. Making money, gathering a large amount of interested followers, a visually stunning, bug-free and easy to use software as a result. Additionally, some projects actually require interest before they get interesting. Multiplayer games, starting a new community. I believe you have to dream big here and be optimistic when you plan the features of your project. You have to genuinely believe that your project has a chance of making it. Allow yourself optimism, and even if your project fails, take what you learnt with you and stand up again. Some people are pessimistic when imagining the future of their project because when you fly low, you don’t fall so hard. Expecting failure and then actually failing makes you look like a smart person. It’s a self-protection feature. You already foresaw the future, at least you got that going for you. But why should you start a project you personally think is going to fail? Where are you going to find motivation to pick yourself up? You most likely won’t, and that’s why the project will most likely not be started at all. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-handicapping )
- Project chunks too big to handle
A second problem is that many (myself included) feel like they need a big time slot in order to start doing something. In the past, it happened fairly often that it was an early evening, and I had a plan coming up in about 1-2h hours. “This isn’t enough time to get something done. I shall browse the internet randomly instead and wait for a bigger timeslot to appear.”. It is not long ago that I realised that even small time slots are sufficient to make progress on your project. Don’t wait for the big free day where you have all the time you need. Don’t be afraid of stopping in the middle of something – small time slots will probably occur every so often that you do not forget what you were working on.
- Planning too much
It’s good to have a good plan, no doubt. But in my opinion, it’s not good if you are working on the plan so much that you never get to the “getting it done” part of the plan, because it will hardly ever be possible to foresee everything that is going to happen. If you don’t actually start, you will also delay the feedback process – what other people have to say about your project. This might reinforce tunnel views. It’s a diverse world out there, might as well make use of it. Starting soon and iteratively refining aspects of your projects works much better at least for me. Also, getting feedback motivates you to keep going.
- Shattered by insufficient external enthusiasm
Most people I hear talking about project ideas are highly enthusiastic. Then they meet a person who had a bad day, is generally a skeptic or does not share their love for woodwork simulators. “Eh… okay… well did you hear about Elon Musk’s idea to drill a tunnel below LA? Now that’s something.”. Fresh motivation is easy to destroy. I’ve witnessed many projecteers [ 😉 ] interpret a single’s person unenthusiasm as a general sign that no one is interested in the idea. The plan is subsequently discarded. Accept that there are people out there that will not like or be impressed by what you do. Consider their opinions rationally, but don’t value a single person’s opinion higher than your own.
Also, don’t expect and base your project on enthusiastic people contributing to your project, making up for skills you do not have. Appreciate and be thankful when that happens, but prepare yourself to do everything on your own and acquire the necessary skils to do so. In my experience, people are more willing to contribute if they don’t feel like the project is dead as soon as they stop contributing. It’s also fun to learn new stuff. 🙂
- Progression not fast enough
So the first step is taken and the project’s running. A Twitter was set up, or maybe a YouTube channel. And 2 weeks later, there are still only 10 followers (friends, mostly). Very disappointing, why is such a great idea not getting attention?
The reason is that there are hundreds of beginning ideas trying to get attention out there. And most of them give up way too soon. It’s good to think about how to promote the project, but you should mentally be ready to pull it through without much attention. It’s most likely not because the idea is bad. And as many give up in the early stages, with enough perseverance, your project will begin to stand out more and more – simply because it the internet is used to beginner ideas dying quickly and will naturally be more interested in a project that has the realistic chance of reaching a final stage.
A second point is that today, in the times of internet, numbers have become an odd thing. I have started a YouTube channel a few months ago that deals with a very specific topic: instructional videos about car repairs of a specific car model. It’s in german, so the target audience is relatively small. At the time of writing, I have 530 subscribers, gaining about 100 more a month. To me, personally, that is a great achievement. I am no video editing / vfx specialist and I didn’t do any marketing. But there are people who are used to channels having hundreds of thousands, if not millions of subscribers. Having less is not worth mentioning. I do believe that appreciating “small” achievements makes you overall a more satisfied, more balanced person, which is a very helpful stance when it comes to tackling projects.
For me, when visualizing the number of people that “follow” my projects, I always envision university classes. When giving a presentation, 30 students staring at you always seemed like a lot. When I imagine almost 30 classes of 30 students actively wanting to be informed about a video I realise – that really motivates me! Also, “just” 500 gives you a manageable community where you actually recognise people commenting and discussing by name, which is also nice.
- Afraid of not being capable of maintaining quality
So this one happened to me fairly often. I start a project and give it all I got. When I code something, the code of the first day is of a quality that is unrivaled (given my standards, haha!). Routine kicks in, and stuff gets gradually more, um, casual. And one day, I reach the point where I think: “Today, I won’t be able to deliver the quality I had when I started. Let’s give it a break and wait until the day where I will be able to do quality again.” – this usually results in the premature end of the project.
For me, it has helped to accept the paradigm “optimisation last”. Sure, it’s cool when you have a day where your code (or anything you produce) could be featured in a coding museum. But it’s also okay when your code “just works”. Also, on some days, it’s nice to not be creative and go back to old code and refine it here and there. A more relaxed stance towards the quality of your output is acceptable for most projects.
- Afraid of taking breaks
The previous points where a lot about perseverance and not giving up. But I also do believe that breaks are important. For me, when working on a project, I had my previous failures in mind: Stopping and taking a break was the beginning of the end. As long as I continued steadily, I would be immune to failing. But the day will come where your creativity runs out and you stare blankly at your project. With such a mindet, it’s clear: Your project has failed and you give up.
But actually, taking breaks might be part of working on the project. It’s not important to avoid taking breaks at all costs, it’s important to return to the productive phase after you have freshened up. I do know some people who have shut themselves in, rejecting social activity with the excuse of “working on their project”. They are, in fact, not among the most productive people I know.
Getting out in the world gives you ideas, lessens the tunnel view effect and most important: It’s life and it’s fun. By having fun and engaging with other people, your creativity is refreshed, you receive feedback and you can work on your project without feeling like you are missing out on life. For me, it also works to write blog posts every now and then to document my progress (even though I don’t have that many readers 🙂 ). Being proactively communicative about what you do also increases the chance of getting interested people involved.
I realise some of these points are more or less applicable depending on the type of project and also if there’s the constant pressure of making money soon, such as startup company projects. However, maybe one of my readers can identify an obstacle they have encountered themselves. So, what are your personal obstacles when it comes to projects? 🙂