Photographer Paul Strand said, “Your photography is a record of your living for anyone who really sees.” How do you see your photography? Where? How often? What ways? Why?
Performing an annual review of your images is one way to see your photography over and through time. When you do this, it’s useful to make a record of your observations. Consider both the selection of images and the observations you make about your selection a journal. It’s one of many different kinds of journals I keep. Like a journal, to get the maximum benefit, you need to make multiple entries at different times. The frequency with which you do this is up to you. I find I get the most out of this exercise when I do it annually.
An annual review or your images is useful in so many ways. It brings you more clarity. It helps you see what you accomplished. It shows you what is missing or left undone. It reveals new possibilities. It gives you more choices. It helps you set goals for the future. It increases productivity. It leads to greater fulfillment. While it takes discipline and effort to do, the results it produces feel great.
Annual reviews are not a waste of time. Quite the opposite, annual reviews help you spend the limited time you have before you more effectively. Annual reviews can even drive you to greater productivity. Knowing that you’ve got one coming up you may start working earlier, chart your progress over time towards a goal, and/or make a last minute sprint to the finish line to achieve your vision of success.
Record Your Observations In The Right Form
What’s the right form to record your observations in? The one you’ll use the most often. You could use someone else’s system or come up with a complex system of your own, but if it’s not practical and meaningful you won’t use it, so you might as well not have it. Remember what Albert Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
You could keep this process as simple as making a selection of images. Create a collection in Lightroom for fast access and flexible updating. And/or print out thumbnails for durable record that can be displayed for as long as you like. If you want to share your selection with others consider making a blog post, an ebook, or a print on demand book. Giving these types of activities a social dimension can encourage us to maintain them. Sometimes we get valuable feedback when other people see our selections. When, where, and how much you share is entirely up to you.
This process becomes even more valuable when you use words to state the reasons for your selections (inclusion and exclusion) and your observations about your new collections on their own and in comparison to past collections. In this way, what starts intuitively becomes clearer and more actionable, something you can use not just feel.
There are many ways you can record your observations video, audio, and writing. It might be fascinating to look back at and hear your younger self at some future date. Still, for quick retrieval of information, I find nothing beats text, especially when it’s flexible digital text. You can even use the search function to find an item quickly or to find connections between different items.
After you make your selections of and comments about new images, look back at your past selections and comments. The comparisons and contrasts you make between years can be very revealing. Doing this can reveal much more than a personal history of events. Looking back at past successes can reveal changes in level of skill, consistency of results, frequency of experimentation, clarity of vision, development of style, changes in subject matter and theme, shifts in goals and your definition of success, new opportunities, and so much more. In short, it can show you how your vision has developed, where you are now, and where you are most likely to go next.
Missed a few years? While your current perspective will never be the same as your past perspective, it’s never to late to create these kinds of collections. You may find that you will want to revise past selections and make new comments. Keep your old selections and comments for comparison at a later date, either in the same or in a separate location.
Find The Right Images
Select only your best images. What’s best? That depends on what you’re trying to do with your images. While it can be useful to select images based on what gets a strong reaction from other people, that’s only one kind of selection that offers specific kinds of insights. There are many others. Make time and space for yourself. Define what success means to you before you start your selection process. How you define success will change your results. Remember. It’s your process. They’re your images. You’re doing this review for yourself.
The collections you create from annual reviews are often very different than the collections of images you make to develop a project. When performing annual reviews the images you select tends to be more varied and divergent, share fewer similarities, and contain little or no flow between them. You see core qualities but lose the narrative arc that drives your story forward or the connective tissue that makes it hang together. Subtler, more complex, sometimes contradictory or not fully resolved elements are often eliminated. Often, significant details are lost in this mix. The bigger picture may become clearer.
Select The Right Number Of Images
A very different kind of benefit is gained by looking at all of your images simultaneously. When you become more selective, you cut right to what’s essential. Limitations become useful. I recommend you select your top image (The apex is the bottom.), your top two or three images (Create a generative tension.), and your top twelve images (Confirm your vision and style.). (Read more about this in The Benefits Of Selecting Your Top Images.) There’s nothing special about the number twelve. With fewer than twelve images it becomes more challenging to fully see both the variety and the connections within images. If you choose more than twelve images make sure you don’t set the number so high that you can no longer see the larger patterns at work in your images.
Ask The Right Questions
They say that ninety percent of a solution lies in asking the right questions in the right ways. Not sure where to start? Get the ball rolling with these questions. Are there frequent technical deficiencies you’d like to correct? Are there past technical deficiencies you have corrected? Of all the new skills you’d like to acquire, which would be the most beneficial to invest your time in now? What kinds of images were produced? What common qualities do they share? What would you like to do more of? What project(s) would benefit from more sustained attention? What’s the easiest project to complete? What’s the most important project to complete? What haven’t you done yet? What missing? From these images, how many directions could you go in? How would you rate your overall progress? How would you rate your overall progress technically, compositionally, narratively, emotionally, and conceptually?
While there are some classic questions that we would all benefit from answering, only you can determine what the most useful questions are because only you know your true goals. It’s a healthy sign when you find that you need to ask other questions that are unique to you and your images. Engage the process of asking useful questions fully and repeatedly you will be guaranteed to make important discoveries.
When it comes to answering the questions you ask, remember that in this arena your audience is you. Use the language that you think the most fluidly in and the words that mean the most to you. Do challenge yourself to go deeper and achieve greater clarity. (Exactly what does that mean – to me?) Don’t censor yourself and don’t change your answers to please someone else. How much you choose to share with others in completely up to you. Do it if it’s useful. Don’t do it if it’s not.
Things change over time. So do we. And, so do our images. Nothing else records the change itself like a journal. Records of how our images change (and don’t change) can offer us (and others) valuable insights into both our creative lives and ourselves. Most importantly, we can learn from our past to make our future more like the life we want to live.
When asked, “How many good images do you make in a year?”, Ansel Adams replied, “Twelve good images in a year is a good crop.” Imogene Cunningham responded, “One in a lifetime.” Both perspectives are useful.
We all make a lot of photographs. Selecting the few that are worth developing and sharing is an essential skill. Choosing what to show and what not to show, we train our eye, connect with what’s most important to us, and develop our visual voice.
We edit our images with increasing degrees of focus; generally for all the images we make, more specifically for certain spans of time, and even more particularly for a few chosen subjects or themes. From the thousands (sometimes tens or even hundreds of thousands) of images we make, we select hundreds and finally dozens to focus our attention on.
Reviewing what we have created offers us an opportunity to revisit the events of the past and see them from a new perspective, savoring all they have to offer us and possibly what we missed. Selecting only a chosen few of our creations to collect, highlight, and often share, offers us opportunities to reflect upon and interpret our experiences and gain the strength that comes from the discipline of courageously committing to our vision.
To gain the maximum benefits from this process of selection, we can choose to be even more selective and identify even fewer of our most important images. To do this, we must ask ourselves vital questions, which become rich wellsprings of personal insight.
Take it to an extreme. Identify your top one image, two images, and twelve images. Do this for a lifetime, each year, and specific projects. Make this a habit; revisit it annually.
While the order you answer these questions and the time period you give yourself to answer them will influence your outcome, ultimately it doesn’t matter in what order you do this or how long you take, as long as you arrive at your personal answers. The vast majority of people never ask these questions, much less answer them. Be exceptional. Ask these essential questions and find your answers. In time, you will find that you will get better and more fulfilling results from all of your creative efforts.
Identify Your Best Image
Identify your best image – the one image that you feel is most successful at achieving what you want to achieve with your images. When you have finally selected this one most important image, ask yourself, “Why this image?” and, “Why not that one?” Doing this will help you identify your key core values and desired outcomes. There’s usually so much richness in this one image that it’s likely that you will need to ask this question many times over a significant span of time. Once you have begun to find your answers (Feedback from others can be helpful, just remember your answers count most.), ask a few follow up questions, “How many things can I do to make more images like this?” and “How many things can I do to make even better work?”
Finding this one image can be important for other people as well as yourself. When discussing the work of artists, people often ask “When you think of this artist, what one image do you think of?” Ask yourself, “What one image do you want to be remembered for?” “Which image is that now?” “What image would you like that to be in the future?” “If you were to create a new image that you would be most known for, what would you like that image to be?”
Your single best image for your lifetime is a guiding light that not only reveals your highest accomplishments but also coalesces core qualities that become the keys to unlocking your future successes and ultimate fulfillment.
Your single best image for a year is a touchstone that can be used to compare and contrast current successes with past successes and identify future directions.
Your single best image for a project communicates your vision and style most successfully. Often, it is used as the lead for a post, a cover for a book, and a card or poster for an exhibit.
Find Your Two Best Images
If you were to select a second image to go with your one best image, which image would that be? How is it similar? How is it different? Both the comparisons (reinforcement or confirmation) and contrasts are important. The comparisons are useful because they help you identify core qualities. There are so many things that can be said about one image and only a few of them are truly significant. When you see what two highly successful images share you can quickly cut through the noise and find what’s essential. This provides both confirmation and reinforcement. The contrasts are useful because the unresolved tension it created can become generative. It can lead you to more ideas. How many images could connect the two? How many ways can you connect the two? What kinds of images could be created by combining their different qualities? If the two images you select are so similar that no generative tension is created, you may want to select a third that creates it.
Your best two images for a lifetime create a synergy where all that is implied between the similarities and differences becomes a fertile field of possibilities.
Your best two images for a year can display multiple directions – whether subject, theme, or style – whose tension can become generative. Caution, if the tension is never reconcile, either in whole or in part, it often produces confusion rather than richness and depth.
Your best two images for a project can show how both are multi-dimensional, telling more than one side of a story.
Select Your Twelve Best Images
Twelve images are more than enough to tell a complete story. If they’re your images, the story your images tell is not only the story of the subject and themes you select, the story they tell is also your story. The curation you perform to create collections of your work speaks (and sometimes creates) volumes.
If your top twelve images display entirely different subjects, themes, and styles it’s likely that you love your craft but have not developed significant depth in your vision. Jacks of all trades master none. Commitment is the key ingredient to achieving depth – the greater the commitment, the greater the depth. It’s not that you can’t do different things; variety can be energizing. It is that if you have a way of doing things that is your own and it informs everything you do then you are on your path. You may wander but you are not wandering aimlessly.
Ask a few key questions will help guide you on your journey of discovery. How are the insights you gain from looking at individual images different than the insights you gain from looking at groups of images? How does your perspective shift when you create different groups from the same material? Remember that outliers can be both revealing and generative.
For professional artists, a majority of the income from the sales of their works tends to come from their top twelve images. But be careful not to use sales as the criteria for selection here; to live the most fulfilling creative life determine what success means to you.
Your best twelve images for a lifetime confirm that you’re much more than a one hit wonder and have a depth of vision that is supported by a well-crafted style.
Your best twelve images for a year can reveal many directions, potential projects, and overall levels of performance commenting usefully on growth both present and future. Look carefully for milestones, breakthroughs, and outliers.
Your best twelve images for a project provide a strong framework that supports and guides all the other images that are added to it serving as enticing introductions, setting and maintaining a course, and creating compelling conclusions.
If you can’t see the benefits of selecting your best works by now, then trust me and just try it. Nothing teaches you more than direct experience. If you can, just do it. Talking about it will actually reveal much, but doing it will reveal more.
What’s a bucket list? A list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket” or die. At first, making a bucket list sounds macabre. Once you consider that a bucket list is really about identifying the things you want to do most while you’re alive, you’ll quickly realize that it’s not scary or depressing at all. It’s exciting! You make a bucket list to help you live the life you really want to live.
Ask the important questions. “What do you most want to do before you die?” Or, “What things haven’t you done that if you don’t do them your life will feel incomplete?” Some people never ask this question, until it’s too late. Those that do ask and answer these questions have a much greater chance of living the lives they want to live than those who don’t.
Start your list. It’s never too early or too late to start a bucket list. Younger people often think there’s plenty of time to ask these questions and make their bucket list – later. Don’t count on it. Start now. Imagine the life you will live if you do! Older people sometimes think it’s too late for them to start a bucket list. It’s never too late. It’s likely that as you grow older your list will become shorter – and quite likely more important than ever.
It’s your list. Only you can answer what you want to add to your list. Still, looking at other people’s bucket lists may help you identify things that you’d forgotten or had never thought of. It can be both enjoyable and meaningful to compare lists with your friends. Doing this may help you clarify your thoughts and feelings and make important decisions.
Make your list a garden of possibilities. Grow your list. Weed your list. Train your list. Long is good. If you don’t list everything, important things may be missed. Unmanageable isn’t. Your list may quickly grow so long it becomes impractical and unmanageable. Rather than making your list shorter and limiting your possibilities, rank your list, sequencing the items in order of importance. Put the most important items at the top of your list. Identify the most important thing, the three most important things, the six most important things, and the twelve most important things. For each item, ask yourself, “What is so important about this?” Remember, the only right answer is your answer. By thoughtfully considering what’s on your list, your thoughts and feelings about yourself and your life will become clearer. Align your goals with them. You may find that when you identify important qualities and outcomes you find other ways, possibly even better ways, to satisfy them.
Work your bucket list. It’s not written in stone. Your list is there to serve you, not the other way around. Instead of writing your bucket list once and putting it away, revisit it – frequently. Visualizing the things on your list will increase the likelihood that you will accomplish them. You can do many things with your bucket list –remember things, clarify goals, set and revise priorities, add new relevant items and remove outdated ones. Though it may grow shorter, your bucket list is never finished – until you’re finished.
Take action. Making and managing a list isn’t enough. You have to start making things happen. For the most important items on your list, ask “What thing(s) do I need to do to make something happen?” “Are there other people who can help me make it happen?” While it’s most important to identify the most important things on your list, it’s also important to identify the easiest things to do. At any given moment, there’s always a new balance to be struck between effort and resources. Don’t let the little stuff get in the way of the big stuff, but do enjoy it. Doing these things will quickly give you a sense of accomplishment. You can do this! Once you start making things happen for yourself, you’ll find this becomes habit forming. It’s a good habit!
Give yourself a timeline. It’s easy to get distracted or make excuses. And, there are some things that can only be done at specific times, sometimes for a limited time only. Often, the distractions or excuses come from other people. Make time for yourself. Having trouble rationalizing this? Add up all the time you spend doing things for other people. Now add up all the time you spend doing things for yourself. If you’re like most people, you’ll quickly see that an imbalance. So, don’t you deserve a little more time for yourself? Imagine what the benefits to both yourself and everyone you help or spend time with will be, if you make time for the most important things in your life and become the best you you can be.
Record your accomplishments. List the items you do and the dates you did them. (You may even want to make notes on the benefits of having done them.) I recommend you make this a part of your bucket list. Then, whenever you look at your bucket list, you’ll see that you’re moving forward. In time, looking at this part of your bucket list will probably bring back many fond memories.
Still don’t have a bucket list? What’s stopping you? After all, it’s your life. A bucket list will help you make it more so.
January 7, 2016 | Leave a Comment |
These are two book covers for projects I’m currently developing.
I create visual reminders for projects I’m currently working on. Then I place them in my working environment. They constantly prompt me to consider the work I’m developing at many times and in many moods. I sleep on it. I collect sketches and notes. I plan trips to make new exposures and list what I kind of material I’m looking for. I assemble relevant finished images in the series. I look for connections between images currently being made and images made in the past. I list many ways to develop the work.
What projects are you developing?
What kinds of visual reminders would be helpful to you?
What other things can you do to develop the work you want to do right now?
As a fine artist, I advance my career with personal projects. Personal projects also create a clearer direction for and develop greater meaning in my life. My life would be unfulfilled without them.
You don’t need to have a fine art career to benefit from personal projects. Many commercial photographers find that personal projects re-energize them, add purpose to their lives and quite often lead to new assignments or whole new streams of income. Many amateurs, making images purely for the love of doing it, find greater satisfaction and personal growth through personal projects.
As an artist who mentors other artists in workshops and seminars, I’ve often been called to speak about the importance of personal projects; how to find them, start them, develop them, complete them, present them, and promote them.
Here’s an overview of what I share.
Define a personal project.
Defining a project is one of the single best ways to develop your body of work. When you define a project you focus, set goals, set quotas, set timelines, create a useful structure for your images, collect accompanying materials, and polish the presentation of your efforts so that they will be well received.
Focusing your efforts into a project will help you produce a useful product. A project gives your work a definite, presentable structure. A finished project makes work more useful and accessible. Once your project is done, your work will have a significantly greater likelihood of seeing the light of day. Who knows, public acclaim may follow. Come what may, your satisfaction is guaranteed.
Create a mission and set goals.
Define the purpose of your project and what you’d like to achieve through it. Many times, people adopt the mission and goals of others without first checking if those goals are personally beneficial. Some have professional aspirations, others don’t. Your goals will help you determine projects and timelines that are appropriate for you. The few moments (or hours) you spend clarifying why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’d like to see come of it will save you hours, months, even years by ensuring that you’re going in the right direction – a direction of your own choosing. When you take control of your personal projects, you also take control of your life.
Make a plan to achieve your goals.
A plan will help make your project a reality. A simple action plan is all you need to get started. Action plans define the steps that are required to achieve completion. Action plans should be clear and practical. Action plans should be flexible; odds are, things will not go exactly according to plan and you’ll need to modify your plan to accommodate surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Reality happens. Grace happens too. Having defined what you need to accomplish, your unconscious will go to work on the task, generating many ideas. You’ll find yourself ready to make the most of unexpected opportunities as they arise.
Set a timeline.
A timeline can be used to combat procrastination and/or distraction and encourage you to produce work. Set realistic timelines. Unrealistic timelines simply produce frustration.
Identify where and when you’ll need and who will help you.
While many artists define and produce projects themselves, some artists engage a curator, gallery director, publisher, editor, agent, writer, or designer to help them realize a project, in part or in whole. Finding the right collaborator(s) can improve any project. Above all, seek feedback. Seek feedback from people with diverse perspectives whose opinions you value and trust. One thing you can always use, that you can never provide for yourself, is an outside perspective. People with different perspectives may identify ways to improve, expand, or extend the reach of your project. Remember, feedback is food for thought, not gospel. In the end, all final decisions are your decisions; it’s your project.
Stay focused and follow through.
You can work on multiple projects at a time. Be careful that you don’t get scattered. Starting projects is easy. Finishing them is hard. Make sure you’re working on the best project. List all your possible projects and identify the ones that are most important and the ones that are easiest to finish. If you’re lucky enough that the same project fits both criteria, focus all of your efforts there. Otherwise, you’ll have to strike a balance between what’s practical and what’s most important to you. Only you can decide this and the balance is likely to shift as time passes and circumstances develop. Look for a common theme among projects. Often your projects will be related. Focus your efforts in related areas. It’s very likely those areas have greater relevance for you than others. Your work will be perceived as stronger and more cohesive if your projects relate to one another, implying evolution.
What’s your project?
A project is a wonderful thing. It gives direction. It brings clarity. It increases productivity. It produces tangible results. It brings personal growth. It presents your work in the very best light. You and your work deserve this. Pick your projects well. They define not only how other people see you but also what you become. You are what you do. Take the first step today; make a commitment to create a personal project. (Write something right now – put your words somewhere where you’ll constantly be reminded of them and can continue refining them!)
Now, let me speak in more specific and personal terms, as a way of sharing a few more of the insights I’ve found over the many years I’ve developed personal projects.
Plan to plan.
Many people refuse to plan, especially in creative fields where discovery is desired. They say, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Everyone needs a plan. Often, when you start a project, knowing you need to learn more as you go forward, you feel like you don’t have enough of the pieces to make a plan or you don’t have all of the pieces to make a complete plan. My recommendation is to start with a rough plan and continue to refine it as you go.
The best plans aren’t written in stone. The best plans remain flexible. Flexible plans allow you to make course corrections along the way as you learn more about your subject, your medium, yourself, and your audience. Expect to update your plan. I find that, if I don’t update my plan during the development of a project, this a clear indicator that I haven’t found the insight(s) necessary to complete it. I expect to be changed, for the better, by the projects I engage in. I expect to grow.
It helps to have a mission.
You have so many options before you, and so many more will soon present themselves to you, that you’ll find it challenging to choose which project(s) to move forward on or which path(s) to choose during project development. Defining a mission for your creative efforts in general will help ensure that you stay on track. I don’t take on a project unless it contributes to my mission (what’s achieved), reinforces my brand (how it’s communicated), or makes a lot of money (how it’s supported).
My mission is to “encourage conscientious creative interaction with our environment.”
The first time I went to Antarctica in 2005, I planned to make altered images. I was surprised that I had enough finished images by the end of the trip to exhibit a small body of images, that were comparatively unaltered. This represented a significant challenge to my brand. I found the challenge created to the public perception of my work in general was useful; rather than creating confusion, it clarified many things about my vision and my purpose, especially how I create images that are unaltered and altered in parallel with one another.
Be prepared to be surprised.
You don’t have to know all the answers before you begin to work. You just have to know the most important questions. Creating is a matter of solving mysteries, of finding answers. You don’t have to solve a mystery completely; you just have to find a few answers that you can stand by. If you’re lucky, you’ll find new questions and new mysteries along the way.
The second time I went to Antarctica in 2007, I had a lot of questions about how to complete an unaltered body of work. How journalistic or cinematic should I be? Should I photograph everything I saw? Ultimately, I found a balance between my personal concerns and passions. I focused on climate. I returned with enough material to produce a book.
Find your groove. Find your message.
Doing things consciously, repeatedly, and consistently brings mastery. Repeat your successes and find meaningful variations on them. When you do this you give your work a theme and style, which communicate a message. When does a groove become a rut? Don’t worry about the rut too soon, most people don’t stick with one thing long enough to find a groove. They go off road, traveling anywhere and everywhere, by any and all means, and ultimately don’t end up anywhere in particular, much less a place to return to, a place they can call their own.
The third time I went to Antarctica in 2009, I expanded my body of work further adding relevant variety to the material. I searched the work I had produced to date and listed the missing pieces, as well as the ones I wanted to reinforce. Each voyage was significantly more productive than the previous one. I created a website to support and extend the project, which includes blog posts made live during the voyage and details my creative process.
Past projects lead to new projects.
Often the seeds of future work lie in present work. Themes that were unclear or latent, at the beginning of a personal project, once developed, lead to new lines of inquiry and more work. A creative life is never truly over. The best creative lives evolve; growing deeper, more complex and more sophisticated.
Now as I plant to return to Antarctica (Find out about my next Antarctica workshop here.), I’m developing my original idea of producing a body of altered images from a new perspective. As I recently sketched out this plan, once again, I realized much of the work is already done. I’ve been producing altered images with material from the region all along, but not presenting them in this way. Now my challenge is to develop them in a way that makes this collection cohesive and contrasts the collection of unaltered images in a useful way – or to move in an entirely new direction.
Having developed an Antarctic body of work, I’ve also been developing an Arctic body of work, to create a useful comparison and contrast. I’d have gone to these regions sooner, but the opportunities came later. I learned I had to make the opportunity rather than wait for it – and that took another kind of planning, so did getting there at the right times of year. Now, like Antarctica, my Iceland and Greenland photography workshops are semi-annual traditions for me.
Find a way to monetize your project.
Projects take time. Time is money. Don’t fall prey to the cliche that art and commerce are and should remain separate. If artists can’t make money with the fruits of their labors, then they need grants or patrons. Projects need funding. You often can’t do the work unless you can afford to do it. There are many expenses to consider – equipment, travel, production, collaboration, presentation, promotion, etc. You need to think about these things early in the development of a personal project or you may later find yourself without the necessary resources to finish it. So empower yourself with good business practices. You can be just as creative in business as you are in other arenas.
Prepare to make your work effective.
Even the best images will go unnoticed if they’re not presented and promoted properly. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time and resources to develop a personal project, you own it to yourself to see it presented well. This may be as simple as presenting your images well to yourself or as complex as promoting a publication and or exhibit, physically and/or virtually.
I’ve created my own exhibition / publication workflow. Framed exhibits are ready to ship with supporting biographies, statements, and press releases online. Complete bodies of work are supported by a portfolio of matted prints, also ready to ship, and a print-on-demand catalog. This makes producing, shipping, and promoting exhibits much easier, so I can readily respond to new opportunities at a moment’s notice.
Make visible touchstones to guide your progress.
If you’ve got a personal project you want to complete, make a visible touchstone and keep it in one or more places where you can see it frequently. By doing this, you’ll be directing your conscious mind to focus on it and suggesting to your unconscious mind that this is a matter of importance – both will start to work on the challenge, even when you’re unaware of it. You will literally be sleeping on it. Many of the best ideas come during this period of gestation and incubation.
I print covers of unfinished book projects for developing series and display them in my studio.
Projects take time.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to finish a project in a day. Projects can take weeks, months, or even years to complete. Some projects are ongoing and never end, producing many milestones along the way (publications, exhibitions, commissions, etc). Some projects lie dormant for a period of time and then suddenly come to life again. Projects have a life of their own. Personal projects require commitment, but the depth of your commitment will be reflected in both you and your work and in the achievements you make with it.
I can’t recommend more highly that you start your own personal project – now.
One of the things I do at the beginning of every year is review the accomplishments of the past year.
I take my projects list from the last year and color code it, assigning one color for done, one color for soon to be done, and another color for not done.
I want to know what happened. It feels great to see a list of everything that got done, especially when you get a significant surprise windfall. It can also be disappointing to see what didn’t get done, especially when the items that weren’t accomplished are important. Seeing it the items collected in one place is always revealing.
I want to do more than just see clearly what happened. I also want to know why things happened.
I find the vast majority of things that got done were things I identified as important and scheduled time for – wishing won’t make things happen. If something great and unexpected happened, I want to know why it happened, so I can make similar things happen again. If at the end of the year, I’ve completely rewritten my plan for the year, but it’s been substantially improved, I’m delighted.
If something important didn’t happen, I want to know why. I want to learn from my failures. How many items are close to being done? (A calendar date can sometimes be arbitrary.) Was something delayed for an important reason? Will the delay make it more successful? Did I not see the problem clearly? Were my expectations unreasonable? Did I not perform at peak? Did I overextend myself, taking on too many projects? Did I not allocate enough resources? Did I have the wrong team? Was the timing not right? Did I get distracted? What I can do to avoid this in the future? How can this apply what I learned on one project to my other projects?
This yearly review helps me mentally consolidate everything I’ve accomplished and everything I’ve learned. Often, while I’m doing this review, I learn more things and find more ideas. At the end of the review, learn from my failures and repeat my successes. I want to know if I’m on track and moving forward toward my long term goals.
With those insights fresh on my mind, I make a new projects list for the next year. (I copy last year’s list and delete everything that got done or is no longer relevant, add new items but be careful not to add an unrealistic number, and prioritize them.)
What plans will you make for your creative life now?
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