Last week I suggested that if you’re serious about achieving your creative ambitions, you need to think in terms of projects, not tasks.
Because if you get up every morning and ask yourself ‘What should I work on today?’ you risk making decisions based on what feels urgent right now, rather than what will make the biggest difference in the long term.
But when you focus on projects, rather than tasks, you shift your effort from the daily round of tasks to bigger, more substantial works – writing a book or a script, recording an album, creating an exhibition, producing a show, or launching a company.
When you do this, you give yourself a shot at creating the game-changing, career-defining work that you dream of.
But supposing you’re like me, you typically have several project you’re itching to get on with, and you feel pulled in different directions. How do you decide which project to work on?
Should you do the thing that fires you up creatively, even though you can’t see any money in it?
Or should you focus on a money project, even though it doesn’t inspire you?
Or should you do the thing that will help to build your reputation within your artistic or creative field, even though it’s not obvious what the payoff will be?
Or should you do the thing that’s is currently working really well for you, and people are encouraging you to continue with, even though you’d rather move on to something new?
It’s easy to make a case for any of these options, which is why you can find yourself going round in circles, moving from one to the other, or even worse, trying to do them all at once.
That’s why, last week, I recommended you focus on one project at a time, for a few months at a time. Then pause to evaluate your progress and if necessary, change direction.
But which project should you pick?
If your creative work is separate from the work you do for a living, it’s relatively easy – you’re already paying your dues to society, so you can afford to give your passion projects free rein.
But if you’re a creative professional, then there’s always a delicate balancing act between creativity, money, passion and professional advancement.
One answer is to spend a few months on one project, say your ‘art project’, and then do a more commercial project, or one that will raise your professional profile.
But if you get to the point where it feels like you’re constantly facing a trade-off between different motivations, and if you’re feeling frustrated by it, then it’s worth considering the type of project you’re choosing from.
Passion projects are great, and money projects can be useful, but they are both what I call single-faceted projects. You have one clear motivation for each project. Which means that on its own, that project is not sustainable enough, or not satisfying enough, to be your long-term focus.
But the Holy Grail for creatives is discovering a multifaceted project – where you don’t have to choose between creativity, money, personal fulfilment or professional rewards. Because all of these things are found in the same project.
When something is multifaceted, like a diamond, it reveals different aspects according to which angle you look at it from. You can turn it, and contemplate the different facets. But it’s all the same thing.
If your creative project is like a diamond, it will be valuable in different ways. And it will shine.
In my book Motivation for Creative People, I talk about 4 fundamental types of motivation that are essential for a fulfilling, successful and sustainable creative project.
Firstly, intrinsic motivation – the love of the work for its own sake. This is most important from a creative point of view.
Secondly, extrinsic motivation – rewards for the work, such as money, fame or artistic reputation, and new opportunities. And this is most important from a sustainability point of view.
Thirdly, personal motivation – expressing your individual personality, your feelings, your taste and your point of view.
And finally, social motivation – the energy you get from other people, whether through connection, collaboration, competition, or contributing to your community.
A truly multifaceted project incorporates all 4 types of motivation – it brings you creative fulfilment, financial and other professional rewards, personal satisfaction and social connection.
When you’re working on a multifaceted project, there is no conflict, no ‘but on the other hand’, holding you back.
The different motivations interlock and make each other stronger, propelling you forward.
You move forward faster on all fronts. Partly because of the energy the project gives you. And also because you are saving time – instead of doing different projects for different motivations, one after the other, you get all your motivations at once, from a single project!
For example, The 21st Century Creative podcast is a multifaceted project for me.
I love making it, it’s a creative outlet for me. It brings me coaching clients and also income via the Patreon membership. It also helps to get my name out there and attract interesting opportunities.
When it comes to personal motivation, I always remember the feeling I had when I recorded my very first interview for the podcast. It felt like I was inviting my guest into my space. There are plenty of other podcasts for creatives out there, but this is my show, my place to talk about the things that matter to me, and where I get to do things my way.
And the best thing about the show is the way it connects me to other creators – listeners, guests, clients, Patreon members, other podcasters and the wider creative world.
So that is one of my multifaceted projects. How about you?
Maybe you’re working on a multifaceted project already, in which case, good luck with it.
But if you’re feeling pulled between different types of projects, and you’d really love to have a multifaceted project to focus on, here’s a place to get started.
Write out a list of your current or potential projects and ask yourself, which of the 4 types of motivation it gives you.
Give it one tick for each type of motivation – intrinsic, extrinsic, personal and social.
And I want to emphasise that extrinsic motivation doesn’t just mean money – it could also mean building your artist or professional reputation, growing your fame or attracting opportunities.
OK, so when you’ve gone through your list, consider how many facets each one has.
If a project has 4 facets then it’s a no-brainer – make it a priority!
If it has 2-3 facets – is there a way you can expand it, to add more facets, with different types of motivation?
If it has a single facet, that fine if you really love that one thing about a it. But if not… maybe it’s time to retire that project and focus on other things?
From my own experience, and from observing coaching clients, a multi-faceted project often emerges mid-career, when you’ve tried a few different lines of work, which has given you a range of skills and experience. And then one day, things start to come together and you can see a way to create a project that combines all those different elements in one.
And remember, the surest sign of a multifaceted project is that it shines…