As regular readers know, I’m working on my first book right now. The book is about the power of small improvements in a world obsessed with overnight success.
For the most part, the book will include the best ideas from my weekly articles plus dozens of additional research studies and topics that I haven’t mentioned yet. I will also mix in my usual dose of practical ideas, interesting stories, and real world experiences. I have about 40,000 words written right now. My hope is that it will be the best work I’ve created thus far.
So what’s the problem?
I am really struggling to tame this beast and make progress. I haven’t written consistently on the book for weeks and lately it feels like the project is always in the same place today as it was 10 days ago.
Although I write about habits and consistency every week, I have said many times that I am no expert. Like everyone else, I'm just learning as I go. In this article, I’m going to share a few of the issues I’m struggling with and discuss just how hard it is to take a big project from idea to execution.
Big Project Syndrome
Over time, I have learned how to become better at maintaining habits and reaching short-term goals.
- I publish a new article every Monday and Thursday. I have missed exactly one time since starting on November 12, 2012.
- It is the same in the gym. I typically lift every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And because of that consistency I’m squatting 100 pounds more this year than I was last year.
- And so on…
Meanwhile, I seem to be very bad at managing larger, long-term projects.
For example, writing a book.
I know that I am capable of writing a book. As I mentioned in my article about systems vs. goals, I published over 120,000 words last year simply by writing two articles per week. So it’s not a question of ability.
I also know that I have many readers who want to read the book. I get emails from kind folks each week who say they are looking forward to buying the book when it’s released. (Thank you for the support!) So it’s not a question of audience size or potential sales.
And because I already write about these topics each week, I already know much of the material that should go into the book.
What could be more frustrating than having the knowledge to create a product, knowing how to create it, having the ability to create it, and having a group of people who want it … and then not doing anything about it? What kind of mental block prevents someone from taking consistent action on the things they are skilled enough to accomplish?
Right now, I’m calling it “Big Project Syndrome.” It’s simply an execution issue. But, of course, execution isn’t always simple.
What Holds Us Back?
I realize that I’m not facing a unique problem. Pretty much every entrepreneur I know has battled this feeling before…
You have an idea. You have a skill set. You’re pretty sure that you can make it happen. And yet, for some weird reason, you don’t execute on the project. It’s incredibly frustrating.
What is it that holds us back from doing what we are capable of?
For me, it seems to be two things.
- Wanting my work to be perfect, which causes me to spend more time planning, outlining, and researching, rather than actually writing.
- Focusing on how big the project is and how much needs to be done rather than working on one small piece each day.
There’s a bit of irony in all of this.
I write about habits every week and tell people all of the time: “An imperfect start can always be improved, but obsessing over a perfect plan will never take you anywhere on its own.” (More on that here.)
But when it’s my project — when it’s my baby — I want it to be incredible. I’m trying to set a high standard in the work that I do and the ideas that I share. And that is a difficult balance to maintain because sometimes I end up putting the quest to be perfect before the importance of being done.
That said, this is the very reason that I try to offer a blend of scientific research and real-world experiences in my articles. You can have the greatest research and theories in the world, but if you don’t understand the struggle that comes with implementing those ideas, then you’ll never see the full picture.
Big Projects and Small Starts
In many ways, big projects are an exercise in getting started over and over. Each day, you wake up and have to find a way to work on something big, but in a small way and without letting the overall scope of the project overwhelm you.
That can be a tough task and it’s proving to be a struggle for me.
I want to make this happen and I believe that I can. But I have to remind myself that an imperfect project that is complete is always better than a perfect project that is never finished.