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Lost in the Woods? 5 Ways to Get Back on the Trail and Finish Your Project

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When was the last time you were lost? I’m not talking about missing a few left turns in an unfamiliar town, but actually, bewilderingly lost - as in out you’re on a hike in a park or forest and you can’t find north, much less the way back to the parking lot where your car is parked. I believe getting lost in a work project - unable to find your way - can be just as bewildering (if not as life threatening). But you can always get back on the right trail with a few timely creative tricks!

Here's a little story to illustrate: A few summers ago, I went hiking in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with some friends, and had a few minutes of feeling totally lost. I had somehow diverged from my group and taken a trail that lead in a different direction. In the back of my mind, I knew this new trail - clearly human-made - would lead me somewhere, but I didn’t know where. A brief bout of panic set in. My heart-rate picked up. But after a few deep breaths, I retraced my steps and it turned out I wasn’t that far from the correct trail after all. My group hadn’t even noticed that I’d left!

As I’m sitting at my desk, this feeling of being “lost” seemed apropos to some of the writing projects I’ve been working. You dive in and get started on something - say, you’re creating content for a client - and somewhere along the way, you get lost. The initial excitement for the project wears off, you feel the deadline looming over your shoulder, and yet you can’t find a way out of the woods. How did you get here, again? You originally had such a fantastic idea for the project, and you knew exactly which direction to take it, and now you’re just, what...out to lunch? (Literally and metaphorically, perhaps!)

If this ever happens to you, it’s ok! In fact, here’s my opinion: It’s a good thing to get lost sometimes in your projects, especially if those projects require creativity. Even though you might start to panic for a few minutes - or hours! - if you stay with it and utilize a few of these creative tips below, you’ll find your way through the project and you might even surprise yourself with what you end up with.


5 Ways to Get Back on the Right Trail with Your Project:

  • Put Down the Phone!
    Yes, even though your cellphone’s GPS might help you get out of the actual woods, it doesn’t help you find your way through your work “project woods”! It can be a major hindrance, and in my experience, scrolling through your phone does not make you more creative - because you’re just taking in information, and you’re mind is totally passive. You want your mind cleared of information, even if that means simply staring out of your window for a few minutes.
  • Get Moving
    If you’re working long hours on your projects at a computer, consider getting up to stretch, go for a walk outside or even around your office - getting your blood moving has a positive impact on your mind, every time - just ask science! https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/well/move/get-up-stand-up.html
  • See the Trees, not the Forest
    Contrary to the famous adage, sometimes you do need to start looking at the trees in front of you and forget about the larger forest. Don’t think about when the project needs to be done or what you’ll do when you get fired for not finishing the project - . Tune that "panic voice" out by zooming in. Focus on a few things you need to do to get this project accomplished, little boxes you can check off easily. Do those things first and it'll be easier to tackle the big stuff. 
  • Return to Your Notes
    In order to recapture your initial idea or direction for the project, try just returning to the project intake, your supervisor’s or client’s request, or maybe the notes you first took about it. Print out the email or intake. Doodle all over them, brainstorm, write whatever comes to your head - keep this “review” pressure-free. Just looking back can often lead you forward. Maybe you’ll find a new way out of the woods, one that’s better than you would’ve found had you not gotten a little lost!
  • Say it Out Loud
    Ask a co-worker or colleague if they're willing to listen to your original idea for the project and provide feedback. Sometimes the mere act of saying your ideas out loud with another person present will help you see what is/is not working. 
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