Rekindling that “new project” feeling (even when you’re so over it)

03.06.2020insights

colorful publication fading to greyHas your team lost that “new project” feeling? It’s normal for energy levels to wane mid-project – the initial excitement wears off, other priorities creep in. Here are three things I put in place at the start of every project that act as touchpoints that we can revisit when the going gets tough.

I’m a huge fan of starting new things. New notebooks. New jars of peanut butter. New years. There’s just something so energizing about starting anything for the first time.

When I was working in development organizations, new project start-ups were always one of my favorite parts of the job. Even the most mundane tasks were still imbued with a sense of purpose and excitement. The realities of implementation – recruiting the right staff, setting up the right systems, navigating relationships with partners – hadn’t quite set in yet, sapping all that initial energy.

In my business today, a new project or client has me feeling that same way. After an initial discovery call I’m practically giddy – oh, the possibilities! But then the hard work starts and it’s natural to lose some of that spark. If it’s a really long project, it can be downright painful to even look at it towards the end.

So the question is, how can you get back to that “new project” feeling without scrapping it all and starting fresh every time (and losing your mind in the process?)

Since I’m often brought into projects when the team has already been working on the content for some time (not ideal, but we’ll tackle that another time) I run into this dilemma a lot.

Imagine you’ve been working for weeks to write up your success stories you want to share at an upcoming conference. You’re on version 12 of the Word doc, the text is drowning a sea of tracked changes, and that one Manager just keeps adding his passive-aggressive comments that you have no idea how you’ll resolve. Worse, it still has to go for another round of reviews by senior management, and you’re just hoping that they don’t send you all back to the drawing board. Again.

The last thing you probably want to deal with is a chipper newcomer into the process, asking questions and making suggestions. You’ve looked at this thing for such a long time now that you just want it to be DONE already.

But I know that the final stage of getting the doc from Word to something that gets noticed and helps you tell your story is JUST as important as crafting the perfect words. (Maybe more important?)

So I have to figure out simple and quick ways to tap into that “new project” vibe again. I do that by facilitating conversations designed to re-ignite some of the initial spark you felt for the project, the excitement around why you’re working on it in the first place. I see a big part of my job now as capturing and bottling that initial optimism to drive the work forward, especially if (when) we get to a place where the implementation of our plan is feeling a little more challenging.

There are three touchpoints that I have found to be critical for rekindling the excitement and for keeping a project moving in the right direction once that new-ness has worn off:

  • An initial project launch call to drill into the WHY of the publication. The real reason that we’re working on the toolkit or training manual is often the first thing we forget when we get caught up in wading through the depths of Word doc comments. Getting the wording just right, navigating the politics, being too focused on the event where we’ll launch it all easily distract us from the bigger picture. On this first call, I ask a ton of questions designed to get us back to that WHY. Even though it can sometimes be tempting to skip over this step to get right into the work, I find that it’s super important to at least touch base and reconnect with the reason we are doing this piece of work in the first place before starting the process.
  • A project roadmap to document the HOW. After that call, I take the time to put together a detailed note that records all the nitty gritty details of how we’re going to get to the finish line of the project. Things like who is going to be involved and what their role will be, the major milestones we need to hit and dates of when those need to happen, what will happen at the end of the work (how it will be distributed, to whom, etc.), as well as the WHY from those first meetings. I find that this doc is a fundamental resource we can go back to when we’re in the trenches of the work.
  • Periodic check-ins to make sure we’re on track. I like to schedule these check-ins at certain stages of the project to reconvene the key folks and make sure we’re headed in the right direction. In these I start by reminding us all of our end goal (building up our thought leadership and expert credentials at an upcoming conference, driving policy makers to look at a problem in a different way, or driving a fundraising appeal, for example). We then check to see if the design is meeting those goals and go through the details around what needs to happen to get us to our next step. (I’m not one for having meetings for meetings sake, so we keep these brief and to the point – sometimes via email, others on a quick call – they’re not onerous but they’re important). Longer projects obviously have more than these, but even short projects benefit from them.

Simple, right? I find when I follow these processes and really focus in on the team’s WHY it not only helps capture the energy for the publication, but it also frees up my brain space for all that excitement and creativity to flow even more freely. It means that we end up with a final product that meets your end goals and keeps you moving towards your larger impact, with a minimum amount of fatigue and frustration.

Next Steps

What are the things that you find sap your energy the most when working on communications in particular? Are there things that you’ve found that help you to stay motivated all the way through a big project? Have you tried any of these strategies in your own work? Click here to send me a note – I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

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