Creative LeadershipCreativity

4 Secrets to Help You Manage Multiple Creative Projects

Writer’s block, boredom, hitting a wall – all are terms creative people use when they run out of ideas. One of the best ways to overcome those moments of terror is to work on multiple projects at once. In fact, multiple projects may be the best remedy for creative block. Plus, I’ve discovered that if you actually want to make a living with your creative profession, managing multiple projects becomes a necessity. But if you struggle with simultaneous creative efforts, here’s 4 keys that should help:

1. Invest in better creative tools.  I’m always shocked at the number of writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other artists who skimp on apps and other resources. For instance, my favorite writing tool is Scrivener, which makes it incredibly easy to work on multiple writing projects at the same time. It leaves apps like Microsoft Word and Pages in the dust when it comes to productivity. Here’s my challenge to you – if you want to be a professional, then act like one and start by investing in yourself. Don’t let another day go by without getting your hands on the tools that will help you focus on ideas, and stop struggling just to get those ideas captured.

2. Find natural places in the work to pause.  At any given moment I’m working on a couple books, a series of blog posts, and a handful of magazine articles – not to mention scripts for our Cooke Media Group clients. But I’ve discovered that I need to find a bit of closure on one before I can switch gears to another project. Get to the end of a section or chapter, complete a rough draft, or create an outline before you stop one project. Finding that natural stopping place really makes a difference when you pick it up later.

3. Know what time of day you peak creatively.  When you understand how your internal clock works, then you can better prioritize your projects. For instance, books and long form articles are the most challenging for me creatively, so I work on them in the morning when I’m at my creative best. Scripts or blog posts are a bit easier so I can do them in the afternoon or evenings. From time to time, I’ll have an unexpected creative burst, but I never forget that real creativity isn’t about inspiration, it’s about routine.

4. Create a “parking lot” for your other ideas.  Managing multiple creative projects means that as you work on one, ideas for your other projects will suddenly pop into your head. That alone scares some creatives and causes them to feel they have to stick to a single project at a time. But the solution is simple – just create a document, whiteboard, or notebook to “park” those ideas into until you have the time to think about them. This is another area where Scrivener works well. I can just create an idea file that wild, out of context, or unworkable ideas be quickly recorded, so they’ll be handy to work with later. Never forget that ideas are the most fragile things in the world. If you don’t write them down, you’ll lose them forever.

Managing multiple projects isn’t as difficult as you think. In fact, it could be one of your greatest creative techniques. And if you’re already doing it, I’d love to know if other techniques help you manage your project list.

Any suggestions?

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13 Comments

  1. Great thoughts here, Mr. Cooke!

    Thanks for those!

    Here are a couple lessons I’ve learned, by trial and error, that may help in this area too:

    1. Know Your Deadlines.

    I love giving assigning myself deadlines on projects, even if they don’t have them or if those deadlines are not in the close future. The more ambitious those deadlines, the better. If I can get a project done well before the actual deadline happens, I feel good (Point 2), free myself to do other things (Point 4), and also make those I am completing the project for happy too.

    (These individuals also have other things to worry about; so, it’s nice to be able to give them a box they can check off too.)

    I am constantly in a process of prioritizing projects. Who needs this, and when? It’s a fun exercise and a lot like juggling plates, but very rewarding.

    2. Face Your Fears

    Another great tidbit of advice I got, concerning project management, is from screenwriters, John August and Craig Mazin. Their “Psychotherapy for Screenwriters” episode deals with taking on more difficult projects and how having writer’s block in this area may not be blockage, but just avoidance.

    I admit, I have been guilty of putting harder projects off ’til later. The trouble is, these projects are often the ones that count (going back to priorities).

    So, I may seem to be “accomplishing” something by taking on small projects, but I am actually only heightening the burden the bigger projects have on my back. This burden also hurts how effectively I take on those smaller projects, because my mind keeps going back to the bigger one. (Multitaskers are horrendously good at letting our minds wander like that.)

    I find that if I just bite the bullet and take on the bigger project in earnest, I feel like Superman when it comes to taking on the smaller ones. After all, the more difficult projects often involve learning and/or using a new skill set or mindset than I am used to using, so when it comes to the usual suspects, I am, like, “been there, done that.”

    Best of all, when another big project rolls around, I am more willing and able to do so, because I have fought the beast and lived to tell the tale.

  2. Some great advice Phil. I reckon you should write more about creative leadership!

    I particularly resonate with #3. In fact it is something I lead with. I regularly tell my team to understand their own creative rhythms and maximise it. I believe it is a gift every creative leader can pass on. The young ones will understand how they can avoid the mental road blocks more and why they hit them from time to time.

    #5 is a great tip. I have so many ideas and new entrepreneurial thoughts I can easily get distracted. This is something I’m definitely going to do.

    I don’t normally write on the creative leadership topic but here are some of my thoughts. Feel free to delete the link http://www.stevefogg.com/2014/05/06/21-tips-lead-creatives/

  3. Phil,
    On your “Parked” ideas, does anyone else (outside of heaven) routinely help you maintain that? or know you well enough to say, “it’s time you do that ___#Thing you wrote down”… or do you keep it stowed away to maintain your routine, priorities, personal details and keep team confusion down? (Play to strengths) Sometimes, I’ve seen it work both ways. I let one out before the time is right or hold onto it too long….
    I know it’s never going to be perfect.

    One note on my end. My parked ideas, in the past, have revealed major things about my personality, state of mind and priorities during that era. Even though I write in different areas, specifically parking those thoughts is also another great growth tool into your personal development. It’s a diary. It makes me figure out where I’m lacking vision, leadership, creativity, or what was I thinking!, or why did I never do this?! Now CBS is doing it ….and I thought of it 8 years ago!

    I know whatever we do, we have to keep playing to our strengths, daily.

    Onward. and great article.

    1. All great points Matt. I “park” ideas in a number of places – Cultured Code’s to-do app called “Things” is a great tool. Scrivener is also a great app for not just writing, but researching and organizing. And of course, you’ll never find me without a plain old notebook… 🙂
      Thanks for posting!

    2. Matt, your mention of major things about your personality revealed in your “Parked” ideas file is a good observation. Even if we’re led back to the question, “Why did I never do this?” it’s worth it to park those ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great thoughts here, Mr. Cooke!

    Thanks for those!

    Here are a couple lessons I’ve learned, by trial and error, that may help in this area too:

    1. Know Your Deadlines.

    I love giving assigning myself deadlines on projects, even if they don’t have them or if those deadlines are not in the close future. The more ambitious those deadlines, the better. If I can get a project done well before the actual deadline happens, I feel good (Point 2), free myself to do other things (Point 4), and also make those I am completing the project for happy too.

    (These individuals also have other things to worry about; so, it’s nice to be able to give them a box they can check off too.)

    I am constantly in a process of prioritizing projects. Who needs this, and when? It’s a fun exercise and a lot like juggling plates, but very rewarding.

    2. Face Your Fears

    Another great tidbit of advice I got, concerning project management, is from screenwriters, John August and Craig Mazin. Their “Psychotherapy for Screenwriters” episode deals with taking on more difficult projects and how having writer’s block in this area may not be blockage, but just avoidance.

    I admit, I have been guilty of putting harder projects off ’til later. The trouble is, these projects are often the ones that count (going back to priorities).

    So, I may seem to be “accomplishing” something by taking on small projects, but I am actually only heightening the burden the bigger projects have on my back. This burden also hurts how effectively I take on those smaller projects, because my mind keeps going back to the bigger one. (Multitaskers are horrendously good at letting our minds wander like that.)

    I find that if I just bite the bullet and take on the bigger project in earnest, I feel like Superman when it comes to taking on the smaller ones. After all, the more difficult projects often involve learning and/or using a new skill set or mindset than I am used to using, so when it comes to the usual suspects, I am, like, “been there, done that.”

    Best of all, when another big project rolls around, I am more willing and able to do so, because I have fought the beast and lived to tell the tale.

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