I am least productive and most vulnerable to discouragement immediately following a major project. The question, “What’s next?” can leave me floundering, especially when confronted with more than one attractive option. I sometimes feel a bit like I’m living out the philosopher’s example of indecision: Buridan’s ass dying of hunger and thirst while equidistant between a bucket water and a pile of hay.
While working up against requirements and deadlines, there is little time to analyze or question if we are on the right track. The destination is clear, and the path is defined. But when a project ends, we are confronted with an overgrown forest shot through with ill-defined trails. We are apt to lose our way before getting back on a clear path.
Is there a helpful rubric to guide us toward our next project while bypassing that overgrown forest of bewilderment? Here are some ideas that guide me, and perhaps they will help you avoid indecision.
What Are Your Immediate Concerns?
In business, there is a vast difference between immediate concerns and long-term considerations. At its birth every new business is preoccupied with immediate concerns. Every day is a fight for survival.
The ultimate short-term consideration is income. A business without revenue is dying. In this case, choosing our next project is relatively easy: follow the money.
We get on the phone, contact friends and acquaintances and put our skills up for sale to the highest bidder. This need for cash flow is one reason so many new businesses begin with freelancing. There is no faster way to make money.
Almost as important as cash flow is skill acquisition. Skills are a form of inventory, and as skills increase our potential sales increase. If there is enough money in your business to allow for it, always be willing to trade a little time and money for a new skill.
When considering a project within your domain of expertise and high income and another with an opportunity to acquire a lucrative skill that interests you and less income, choose the skill.
What Are Your Long-Term Concerns?
Do you love your work? As Abraham Maslow tells us, when food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of, our concerns move into a new realm. My friend Dan Miller serves a community of well-fed, employed people who desire more personal fulfillment from their work. If this describes you, check out his book 48 Days to the Work You Love for guidance. For your next project, carefully consider what brings you to life, or “lights you up.”
What is your legacy? We all need community and the esteem of others. We want our work to have an impact on our family, friends, customers, and the world. Aaron Walker runs a community for men who ask, “How to I move from success to significance?”
If you want to leave a legacy through your work, think about your next project. Ask yourself, “Will this project positively impact my family, friends, customers and the world at large?”
Are you building security? Long term, a business will thrive when it produces income without directly trading time for money. This can take the form of building systems and hiring employees whose time becomes a product for your business.
Your business can create products. A product (especially a digital product) is a way of leveraging your time investment exponentially. Pat Flynn, the crash test dummy of online business, has been sharing his story through a blog and podcast for several years now. If you want to leverage your time to create financial security through passive income, follow Pat.
Choosing Your Next Project
In summary, consider your short-term needs first. If you need to keep the lights on, your next project should probably be to get a job—the fastest way to make money.
With a job in hand, choose your projects for income potential and learning opportunities. Following what fascinates you is the most likely path toward work you love.
Once your income needs are met, consider other factors. Ask yourself which project you will enjoy more, which will benefit others most, and which has the prospect of passive income.
Avoid Analysis Paralysis
Use this simple rubric to avoid analysis paralysis. Choosing your next project shouldn’t be a troublesome task. The basics of the choice are simple.
If your next project includes starting a business, check out our free guide.
Have you ever struggled with wasted time or analysis paralysis while between projects? What have you found most helpful?