The most common excuse we all give for putting off our passion projects is that we don’t have enough time for them.
For most of us, that excuse is—at least temporarily—no longer relevant, now that we’re saving time on commuting, social outings and travel.
Embrace your newfound spare time as an opportunity to indulge in the projects—personal and professional—that you’ve been putting off for so long. Here are six tips to help you get started:
1. Figure out what you want to do.
You might have been putting off more than one project because of a lack of time or simply because you don’t know where or how to start. Perhaps you haven’t been sure which of your projects to work on, so you never started any of them. Or you’ve started a number of projects but never got far on any of them.
Take a step back. Instead of diving in head-first, spend some time considering what you really want to accomplish. Weigh one potential project against each of the others in terms of your interest in it, your capability to accomplish it; the value it will have to others, your career and your personal satisfaction; and how much time and money it would cost to complete.
A list of each project’s pros and cons might help you narrow your options to a single undertaking that is doable, worthwhile, and well-suited to your interests and talents.
See which project you can “sell” to yourself. Once you do that, you’ll be on your way.
2. Answer this question: Why have I been putting this off?
A lack of time during the busy-ness of your workweek is a valid reason to stick to your routine and neglect your bucket list—or whatever you call your tally of unfinished business.
But is it a reason? Or is it an excuse?
It could be that you use “time” to deflect the real reason you haven’t gotten around to writing that book, changing jobs or careers, proposing a new work process, going after that big client or making your own holiday cards.
It could be that even though you tell yourself and others that you really want to accomplish Goal X, it’s really not that important to you.
It seems that if it were truly important, you would have gotten around to it by now.
We tend to spend our time on the things that are important to us. So take a minute to get honest and real with yourself and admit why you haven’t done what you’ve said you want to do.
There’s no shame in changing your mind about something that appealed to you at one time but doesn’t any longer. Our interests change as we get older, have different experiences and learn new skills.
It’s not often that we get weeks or months of unscheduled time to devote to whatever we want. Invest that precious time in something that is important to you, and you won’t have any problem getting it underway.
3. Make a detailed plan for your project.
No matter what you want to accomplish with your project, your day, your quarantine, your career or your life, you’re exponentially more likely to succeed if you have a plan.
Without a plan, a goal is simply a thought, a wish or a dream. Without a plan, “I’ll get around to it” probably means that you won’t.
Creating a detailed, written plan will force you to organize your thoughts around why you want to do something; what you hope to accomplish by doing it; what the project will entail—step by step; how you will complete each of those steps; what you need to order/buy/set up in order to do the work; whom you might need support from as you work; when you will do the work; and what you will do with your project once you complete it.
That’s comprehensive. But once you turn your dream into a blueprint, all you have to do is follow the steps you have outlined—one task at a time—and each day your project will be closer to finished.
Planning is the most efficient way to spend your time. The more time you spend planning, the quicker the work will go.
4. Create a sales and marketing strategy.
Don’t wait until your project is complete to decide how you will sell your finished project.
You might find that you need to figure out how to sell others—even before the project is finished—on helping you with the work, with advice or with resources. And you might learn, as you create your sales strategy, that you need to tweak your detailed plan here and there if you’re going to sell your project to a certain boss or customer.
Even if your project is a personal one—like making your own holiday cards—you might have to sell your spouse on the design or sentiment. If you’re finally going to thin out your wardrobe and organize your closets, you might have to sell yourself on letting go of those high-waisted, relaxed-fit jeans that looked so good on you 15 pounds ago.
If your project is professional—like pitching a new program to your department manager—you might find that getting buy-in from that manager before you even start the work will help you get approval once the project is finished.
Knowing your strategy before you do the work will save you a lot of time because you will be less likely to have to redo it to suit the people it might affect.
5. Get to work.
During your planning process, you figured out everything you would need to get started. Now, collect those things: paperwork, outlines, forms, supplies.
Then, schedule time to work on the project every day, between teleworking, helping the kids with their online schoolwork, ordering groceries, cooking, or whatever else you have on your plate.
If you count on being able to squeeze the work in between other tasks, you’ll wind up back where you started: with an idea that you will never get around to doing anything about.
Instead, make your passion project as much of a priority as the work you have to do for your job. Spend the same amount of time on it every day that you would spend commuting or getting dressed up for the office every day, for instance. Spending just a couple of dedicated hours each day on your project will get it done.
6. Follow up.
Don’t stop working on your project until it’s finished. Don’t let it be one of those things that you never got around to finishing.
And don’t let your finished project go unshared.
If you’re making holiday cards, sign them; address the envelopes; and mail them the day after Thanksgiving. If you’re proposing a new program for work, submit it as soon as you’re back on the clock.
Most of the time, we devote our best energy to projects that we feel passionate about. Share the fruits of that passion with those who can approve, improve and put your ideas into action.
Make the time you spent worthwhile by following through on your plan.
Dr. Cindy McGovern, CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting and Author of the Wall Street Journal best seller Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work