I met Laura at an Entrepreneur Meetup a few weeks ago and fell in love with her crafts. I'm a crafter who can start and finish a ton of projects but I realized that not everyone can multitask the way I do. So I asked Laura to do a guest post about how she keeps herself focused.
I love a good challenge. I'm always looking for new crafting projects, new skills I can learn. But that's the thing: I'm always looking. The next great project is always somewhere up ahead, never right in front of me.
Hi. My name is Laura, and I have a commitment problem. I start a project, but once I have a handle on how it works, I’m no longer interested. The thrill of the chase is gone and I set it aside, finished or not (usually not). It was like that when I was taught myself to knit cables. I went with a small project, thinking it would be easier for me to get through: one of those headband-type ear warmers. I had a stray ball of earthy orange yarn from a remnant bin -- cashmerino, I think -- that was perfect.
So I started. I got 3 or 4 repeats into the cable pattern, and the concept of cables finally clicked. All of a sudden I was bored with the project. The mystery was gone. Next! Meanwhile, I was stuck with something only big enough to warm one of my ears...maybe...as long as I held it in place. (I guess I could have pretended it was a cool new knitted spy phone?!)
Sound familiar? How many of us are afraid to let anyone else know how many UFOs (UnFinished Objects) are lying around our houses? I can justify mine by saying that I prefer the learning process, the discovery of how something works. I want to discover, then move on to discovering the next thing, whether that is a new knitting technique or a completely different craft, like crochet, origami, sewing or woodworking. Switching it up also keeps me from getting bored. It keeps my leisure time fun, and isn't that the point? Never mind that finishing a project provides a sense of accomplishment and clears up space in the closet. It is often easier in the short term to put something aside than to work toward finishing it, especially when the shiny new project that you Just Have to Make flashes across your computer screen. (It’s like they know, isn’t it?!)
There’s one thing I find at the crux of my inability to finish what I’ve started: choices. The overabundance of them, to be specific. Don’t get me wrong -- I like being able to choose, but when the options are seemingly unlimited, it’s scary to choose just one to the exclusion of all the others. Even choosing a few still means there are a bazillion others you’ll never be able to do. So for me, I start -- but don't finish -- as many as possible, to get a taste for them, figuring I’ll go back to those I really like. At least that's what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.
What to do? Here are some ideas:
1. Find a reason to finish. Does one of your projects have a firm deadline (birthday, wedding, holiday, commission)? If so, work on that one. Is someone depending on you to finish a specific project? Or maybe it’s enough to simply realize how good it will feel to finally get something done.
2. Cross off (or postpone) projects that are not practical. Do you have the right tools? Enough space? Is it the right time of year? (If you’ve ever knitted a wool afghan when it’s 90 degrees and humid out, you know about that last one!)
3. Start small, or break large projects into smaller tasks. Sometimes we abandon a project not because we’re bored, but because the project is just too overwhelming for us to imagine finishing. Want to make an entire coordinated outfit? Irene’s headband tutorial is a great place to start. Then move on to the next item.
4. Take breaks. Don’t be afraid to set it aside if you’re not enjoying it. Sometimes it's the right project, but not for right now, and you need to find something else to work on. If it’s a gift, find something else to make in its place. If it’s not time sensitive, put it away for a few months (or years!) until you’re ready to face it again. But don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember: You are NOT a failure just because you didn’t finish something. (Would you rather be miserable while you slog your way through it?) If it’s a project you come to realize you’ll never finish, find a new home for it. A recent yarn swap I participated in included projects in progress.
5. Find an accountability partner, someone you check in with periodically to keep you on track. My friend and I have done this for each other, and while I originally told her she’d have to be on my back constantly, I found that just knowing I needed to report in to her gave me the motivation to get started (and once I got started, I could often work for long stretches, ultimately completing what I needed to). Alternatively, starting a blog can be helpful for some because you need to be accountable to your readers.
6. Choose not to choose. There’s a reason the quote “Variety is the spice of life” has stuck around for so long. Doing too much of one thing gets monotonous. So pick a whole pile of projects and work on one project one day and another the next. You may find that you’re more likely to get things done (and feel better moving on to the next project as a result) if you keep yourself from getting bored.
Ultimately you need to find a process that fits your style. I envy people who can work single-mindedly on a task, but I find that I function better if I let one project percolate while I work on something else, so I always have several projects in progress. That said, it does feel really good to reach the finish line! When I finally finished the ear warmer (yes, really!), I had one less thing hanging over my head. (I mean, I wanted it on my head, just not....oh, you get it!)
So keep stretching your mind by trying new things, and don't feel bad about setting things aside periodically. Instead of committing to a specific project, commit to committing in general. This will help you to keep moving forward on something, anything, and eventually it’ll all get done.
Laura works with her hands to get herself out of her head. Three years after starting to replace the baseboard in her bedroom, she's finally getting better at finishing what she starts. (Thank goodness for helpful, encouraging friends!) Check her out at www.laurajanehandmade.com, like her page on Facebook and follow her on twitter (@laurajanehm).