The Upside of Your Unfinished Projects

First Published: July 09, 2021

If you’re reading this article, I bet you can relate to the pain of the Endless Project Backlog. You know what I’m talking about: all those notes, GitHub repos, and registered domain names we all have waiting in the wings to become our next great idea. We get excited about something, do the first few bits, then lose motivation, run out of steam, and abandon it (temporarily, I promise!).

I think we all try not to think about them. Why?

Well, if you’re like me, that endless list of unfinished projects feels bad. Maybe they feel like wasted potential for you. Maybe they make you feel guilty or overwhelmed. Maybe, deep down, you think one of those is going to be that magical thing that makes you happy.

I want to give you a different perspective on those unfinished projects and what to do when that negativity creeps in.

First, there’s a secret superpower hidden in that pile of unused domain names: you have an amazing amount of creativity.

Look at your backlog of article ideas and half-finished projects again. You’re never going to run out of ideas of things to work on. That’s really amazing and not everyone has that ability.

The answer isn’t to stop having ideas so that you stop feeling bad; you just need a system to harness that creativity and help you figure out which ideas are worth pursuing.

Next time you're feeling bad looking at your list, try to pause and be grateful for just how amazing it is that you have the creativity and intelligence to think of all of those ideas in the first place.

It’s inevitable, though, that those feelings of negativity will creep in. For me, I get really frustrated with myself when I’m doing a bad job at something or failing to live up to my own impossibly high standards. I learned a trick a couple of years ago that really helps me and I want to share it with you.

Whenever I notice I’m getting frustrated and discouraged, I’ve trained myself to shift that emotion to curiosity. See, the most insidious part of feeling frustrated and discouraged is the extra layer of judgment and guilt we lay on ourselves for even having those emotions. I start to feel bad about feeling bad, which just compounds the problem.

I’ve learned that, instead of running that same cycle over and over again, I can short-circuit it by just observing the emotions and asking questions:

  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Is there some element of truth to this feeling?
  • What skill am I underdeveloped in that might be leading to this frustration?

Don’t judge yourself for having the feeling or try to argue with yourself whether it’s valid. Think of those feelings as data. Something is causing them somewhere. The data may or may not be accurate, but they’re still showing up for a reason. Getting curious about where that data is coming from and what it’s trying to tell you helps disconnect you from the negative emotions that come with identifying with those feelings. I call this an experimentation mindset. Let me give you an example.

Last summer, I was feeling frustrated with how slowly my engagement on Twitter was growing. I don’t obsess over follower count or things like that, but Twitter is definitely part of the developer relations and personal brand big picture. I felt like I wasn't getting any traction with the content I was sharing. As I was beating myself up for sucking at Twitter, I remembered that this was one of those times I was supposed to shift my frustration to curiosity.

I started thinking, “Okay, instead of feeling bad about this, why don’t I actually do some research into Twitter strategy? Why isn’t what I’m doing working? Where can I improve?” I started digging into what makes engaging content on Twitter. I picked up Danny Thompson’s Twitter course and Daniel Vassalo’s Twitter course. I learned that hardly anyone ever clicks on links or quote tweets because they inherently don't want to leave Twitter. I started thinking about how to create threads that added value to people’s timelines and started seeing some results. In fact, many of you reading this might have found me through Twitter!

Am I where I want to be? Not yet, but I am definitely making progress, and there’s a 100% chance that I’m better off now than I would have been if I had continued to wallow in my frustration instead of being honest with myself and trying to figure out how to improve. At least now I know what to measure and how to experiment in order to impact those numbers.

So, to sum up, next time you are staring at your list of unused domains or unfinished projects, try two things:

  1. Recognize how creative you truly are.
  2. Shift your frustration to curiosity. What are these feelings telling you? How can you use them to your advantage?

Let me know if that's helpful. Thank you so much for reading, I appreciate each and every one of you!

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