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Keep Your Project Moving

I'll admit it upfront. I like starting new projects. Unfortunately, I'm hardly as fond of finishing them.

One exception is my book, A Manager's Guide to Newsletters: Communicating for Results, which I did get finished. Even on that project, though, getting finished wasn't a slam dunk -- it took more than seven years.

Do you have that problem, too? Many of us do, apparently, and it holds us back from reaching some of our goals, or reaching them as quickly as we would like.

So, let's explore what's happening, and what we can do to keep moving ahead with big communication projects.

First, the hurdles. One that immediately comes to mind is the determination to make everything perfect (at least in our own eyes) before we let others read, see, or hear it. Rather than settle for acceptable work (and after all, not everything has to meet the standard of excellence), we keep polishing and polishing.

Trouble is, as you'll know if you've done this often enough, additional work doesn't always equal additional quality. Sometimes we actually make things worse by repeated editing and rewrites.

If you're troubled by this habit, ask yourself how you'll be judged. If you'll be judged as a writer or speaker, then it probably makes sense to put in extra hours. On the other hand, if you're preparing a technical report, then your ideas probably matter more than the manner in which they're expressed.

Here's another hurdle: not enough planning in advance, and you end up making too many changes. Communication projects generally move more quickly if we start with at least an outline. We can set out, in advance, our objectives, a profile of the target audience, and what we want the audience to take away. From an editorial perspective, we could write an outline that stipulates how the message will unfold.

In addition, it's often easier to revise or procrastinate than to create new material. Especially if you haven't done any advance planning. In that case, you might not be sure what comes next. Polishing existing material gives us an excuse not to do the sometimes hard work of creating new material.

If your big communication project involves writing, you've probably known -- or will soon know -- writers' block and all the other barriers that keep you from getting words on paper or on a computer screen.

Personally, I've found the best way to overcome this problem is just to do something regularly. For example, during the course of writing A Manager's Guide to Newsletters I found myself stuck many times. Often it had something to do with an idea that I couldn't work out at the time. And there were occasions when I just couldn't get interested.

But, I kept it moving by regularly writing something. If I got stuck in one chapter, I would work on another incomplete chapter. Sometimes, I had a to-do list for parts that had to be written, and at other times I just scanned through unfinished chapters looking for something to catch my eye.

And, it worked. I couldn't spend more than a few minutes browsing before I would have a new idea to write out. Of course, that new stuff didn't always survive later revisions, but much of it did.

In addition, the rejects often led to other, better passages. The original passage might be lost, but if it led to something that did work, then the time spent on it was worthwhile. On some occasions, when the idea wouldn't fit, the rejects ended up being the foundations of standalone articles.

If you still find yourself stuck after looking at your to-do list and browsing the work you've already done, you can do a couple of other things. Taking a walk works for many people, including me. Simply getting outside and taking my mind off the issue often helps, as does thinking about the issue as I'm getting ready to go to sleep.

You can also look for ideas in other places. Take a trip to a library or bookstore, for example, and let yourself -- and your mind -- wander. Don't go in with a plan in mind; simply go in and browse books and magazines, anything that catches your eye, even if it's not even remotely connected to what you're writing about.

You can also use rewriting as a spur to starting again. I've often found that a door opens and new ideas emerge when I revise, simply because I've changed my focus.

Finally, and assuming the project doesn't involve a boss or client, it sometimes makes more sense to take your time than to charge ahead. If you get satisfaction in seeing your work improve with each new set of revisions; if you are or want to be a professional of some kind; or if you're enjoying yourself too much to want to finish, then enjoy the process and let finishing wait for another day.

By: Robert F. Abbott

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. If you subscribe, you will receive, at no charge, communication tips that help you lead or manage more effectively. You can get more information here:

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