🤦🏻‍♂️ 14 purchased and unused domain names
🤦🏻‍♂️ 3 notebooks filled with site ideas and sketches
🚀 1 site actually designed, built and launched

That was my life between 2012–2017. Going into 2018 I decided that my biggest goal was to try and change that habit. Looking back on this year I can proudly say that I think I’ve accomplished that, or at the very least have taken massive strides in the right direction.

I don’t want this post to seem too preachy, or like I have all the answers. I’m not claiming that by the end of this you’ll have a cure-all for your lack of motivation or constant switching between what you’re working on. I’m just putting this out there with the hope that maybe I can help someone in a similar situation.

The habit of chasing shiny things

I’m sitting at my desk working on an idea for a messenger chatbot. Things are going well, and I’m about midway through the bulk of the development. I’ve accomplished a decent amount over the last hour or so. I figure a well-deserved social media break might be just what I need.

Scrolling through my usual feed something catches my eye. I see a comment that someone left that reads something like “Why don’t we have somewhere to find the best recruitment agencies anywhere in the world”. A flurry of additional comments below it have people in a fervor over the idea: “Why don’t we have this?!”, “I need this right now.”, “Someone make this happen!”.

Instinctively, without any regard for logic or reason or past experience, my brain switches directly to “That’s a great idea, we should get started on it right away”. I try and shake off the thought and go back to my bot that I was just working on. But, I have this nagging fly in the back of my skull. It starts out as just a small hum here and there, but the more that I try and work on what I was doing the bigger it becomes and the more aware of it I am.

“What if this time is different?”

That’s all that was needed, I’d stop what I was working on and started on yet another new, shiny project. This habit has been ingrained in me for years, probably even decades. I have fond memories of consistently switching between hobbies and interests ever-since I was a kid.

Figuring out a solution

We’ve done the easy part of identifying the problem, the hard part comes with figuring out a solution. I’ve outlined a few below that, when combined, have worked extremely well in combatting my “shiny new project” syndrome.

Before we continue, please keep this in mind: You can’t expect to break a habit 20-something years in the making quickly, you have to replace it with a better one and you have to continue to build on it day after day.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.

#1 — Create a repository for your ideas

One of the biggest issues I had was that everything was tucked away in my head, locked up in my brain and constantly taking up space or written on a scrap piece of paper somewhere.

My tool of choice is Trello. Right now, I have just one single board called “Ideas” that are separated into the following columns:

  • Backlog — This is where new ideas go. I create a card and unload as many details as possible about the project.
  • Promising — Every week or so I go through my Backlog and decide which items belong in Promising. These are projects that I think actually have merit and are worth building. I will often review any promising projects and if they aren’t cutting it, they go back to “Backlog” or they get deleted.
  • Building — This is what I’m working on right now! I keep this at a maximum of 2 projects. For me, anything more than that turns into a juggling act and no real progress on any of them gets made. In the comments of each card, I’ll put updates when it seems fitting so that in the end there’s a nice little timeline of the effort that went into completing it. Once it’s in this column, there’s no going back. I’m going to complete this project and get it out no matter what.
  • Launched — Once what I’m building goes live to the public, it ends up in this column! Just because it’s here, doesn’t mean the work is done either. If I need to do any updates to an app, fix a bug, or add in a feature, I’ll tack on a comment to the card and set a date for when I’m going to have it done.

While I do recommend a Kanban-style app for this, you can really use any tool at your dispense. Separate columns in a Spreadsheet or even just different sections in a word doc will accomplish the same thing. The real thrill comes with watching your ideas move from place to place, and your “Launched” section slowly grow longer.

#2 — Ask yourself mindful questions

Habits, by nature, are things that you do without any real conscious thought process. Your body or mind will just start doing something without you fully realizing what’s happening. It’s easy to get caught up in trivial things.

The best way to combat those mindless habits, quite simply, is by practising mindfulness. Ground yourself in the current moment and decide if what you’re doing right now, is moving you toward a positive direction (or away from it). The easiest way I’ve found to get started is with a single question:

Is what I’m doing right now helping my future self?

I’ve found that personally, this question has helped me break my worst habits and replace them with exponentially better ones throughout 2018.

It asks a simple question and expects a yes or no answer, is what you’re doing at this very moment in time, going to put you in the destination that you want to be in?

Ask yourself this periodically throughout the day, once an hour or so. You might be surprised to find how easy it is to get locked up into routines, but also how easy it is to recognize what you’re doing and redirect that effort.

#3 — Break down large goals into bite-sized tasks

We’ve found a way to organize our thoughts and projects, realize when we’re slacking and need to get on a better path, now how about actually managing what we need to get done day-to-day? It might be cliche at this point, but it’s time to turn to To-do lists.

When you sit down and start working on your project, you might have a mental map of what you should do to get from Point A (where it’s at right now) to Point B (where you want the project to end up). Storing those steps in your head though can be taxing.

Personally, I like Todoist, as long as you can jot down a list of steps or tasks that you need to accomplish in order to finish a larger project. Your “parent task” should be something fairly broad or complex. For example, if I’m working on a website it might be something like “Build the account settings page”.

Under that, we’ll put our “child” tasks. This is where we break out all of the steps necessary to accomplish the parent.

So, what next?

Some of these might not work for you, or need adjustments to fit you as an individual. There’s nothing wrong with that! There’s not going to be a magic solution that fits everyone. The goal is to find something that provides you with the tools to organize your ideas and create a way of constant evaluation and completion.