Occasionally, I find myself overwhelmed with a desire to work on multiple projects at once; more than I can realistically handle. In many ways, I'm blessed with several interests, curiosities, and passions; yet this can make it difficult to stay focused on a single task, project, or intention and to see it through to the end.

I love that I have ideas and things that I want to act on. But I also would really like to be someone who can finish things and move on to the next thing, accumulating skill and ability along the way for the next task.

Tonight, I found myself wrapping up the recording of the first episode of Jazz by the Decade. After, I started to get hit by these thoughts of wanting to do various other projects, different things, all at once and not feeling like there was enough time.

Somewhat ironically, my mind went to trying to see if I could use AI to give me some advice about this. I expected it to be somewhat abysmal of an attempt, but it ended up being kind-of decent.

I happen to have this app on my laptop that provides prompts, and one of those prompts sets the AI (Chat GPT-4 in this case) up to be something of a life coach. Now, if you know me, you know that I'm pretty open to hearing advice. Hearing advice from a non-human being is a little weird, though.

Nonetheless, here was the prompt I handed over to Chat GPT-4 that came out of the app Typingmind:

I want you to act as a life coach. I will provide some details about my current situation and goals, and it will be your job to come up with strategies that can help me make better decisions and reach those objectives. This could involve offering advice on various topics, such as creating plans for achieving success or dealing with difficult emotions.

Then I chucked this little piece of vulnerability out to the AI ether:

Lately, I find that I’m very much a generalist. I have ideas for different projects of various kinds (art, music, podcasting, writing). I often start these projects but never finish them. Not only that, but I’m regularly afraid of publishing, and usually grow bored with the project before it gets anywhere. I have no shortage of discipline, but often I wish I was able to finish things. I find it frustrating.

Let's take a look at the advice it gave me:

Thanks for sharing your situation with me. It appears that you've got an array of talents and interests, which is wonderful! But I understand how frustrating it can be when you're unable to complete your projects. Let's break this down and try to build some strategies that could help you:

  1. Prioritize and focus: It’s essential to recognize that you don't need to do everything at once. Try to identify what project you're most passionate about or which aligns best with your long-term goals. Dedicate most of your resources to this project for a set period until it's completed before moving on to the next.

  2. Set realistic goals: Make sure to break your project down into smaller tasks. Setting achievable short-term goals can make a larger project seem much less daunting and keep you motivated throughout.

  3. Create a schedule to follow: Depending on the project, establish a regular schedule when you will work explicitly on that project. Consistency is crucial.

  4. Dealing with fear of publishing: It's quite normal for creatives to be afraid of publishing their work due to fear of judgement or scrutiny. Try to seek constructive criticism, not approval. Each piece you create is a step in your growth and development. The more you publish, the more easily it'll come.

  5. Manage boredom: If you find yourself getting bored with your main project, take a small scheduled break to work on another one of your projects. This can keep creativity flowing while still ensuring your primary project gets completed over time.

  6. Celebrate progress: It's essential to celebrate your minor victories. Each completed task is a step closer to your project's completion. This can bring the feeling of satisfaction and motivation to continue.
    Remember, patience plays a key role in achieving any goal. These strategies might help you take control over your creative process and see your projects through to their completion. Good luck!

Not bad. I would say that 1, 2, and 4 are my weak points. I found this point pretty striking:

It’s essential to recognize that you don't need to do everything at once. Try to identify what project you're most passionate about or which aligns best with your long-term goals.

Back in university, I used to run a radio show. I recall getting some advice from another radio host, somewhat in response to the generalist energy I had. He told me that realistically, I could only do one thing at a time. I think I might have bristled at that advice at the time, perhaps not understanding that it needed to be taken more literally. Of course I can’t paint and write at the exact same time (well, I could...but I don't want to see the output). But it’s also reasonable that changing between two tasks every other day is going to split how long it takes to do both projects, at least in half, not counting for what context switching is doing to your ability to really go deep on something.

Regarding the second point above, I should bite off smaller pieces to chew on. I have a nasty streak of taking on projects that are far too big. There’s nothing wrong with that, save if you want to be actually finishing things. Lately, I have enjoyed puttering on hobbies that have no definite end (making posters, on my iPad for example) and I have found somewhat of an antidote in not thinking in "projects" so much and instead thinking of continuing to hone a craft.

I wonder if taking on a big project is more of a defence mechanism – by doing something so large that I probably won’t finish it—then I never have to publish. The fear of publishing is real. I would say that GPT’s advice here is actually quite good. Even being intentional to seek feedback rather than approval is not something I’ve ever thought of. Further, although I’m not even hearing this from a human, seeing the words: It's quite normal for creatives to be afraid of publishing their work due to... feels like it relieves some tension in a let’s normalize this for you sort of way.

Wrapping up this experimental post — it feels quite bizarre. I mean, why not ask for advice, have entire conversations with an AI? I don’t have to do anything with this advice. But it is thought-provoking, wouldn’t you say?

I reflect on these sorts of things like this a lot. Sometimes people can react to meta-thinking a bit negatively. Sometimes people will jump to conclusions and diagnose you with some kind of malady. You think too much. You might have adhd. And so on. But, I do know I’m not alone in some of these struggles — and I’m not going to hide from it, since it does bother me. Without stopping to do this from time to time, I fear time will continue to pass quickly, and I’ll still be doing the same thing, cutting the groove of my rut deeper and deeper.

So what’s next? It sounds like I need to spend more time on Prioritization and Focus. While I have been working and improving on limiting distractions, maybe more importantly, I need to assess long-term goals, and really ask which projects I’m most passionate about. It’s simple advice, but I haven’t really done it.

At times, I'm unsure if my wandering and curious mind is something to attempt to harness, or that simple self-acceptance is the best path forward. But if you want to finish things, and you’re not—something has to change.