Finish Your Masterpiece with Deliberate Goal Planning

All artists want to create massive, powerful works to be remembered by. We have visions of our own “Sistine Chapel” that we want to tackle before we die. The problem with epic projects is that they’re often started, but rarely finished. This is precisely why we celebrate massive works: they don’t come along very often. The Sistine Chapel took four years of painting the most difficult form of fresco – buon fresco – on rickety scaffolding, while bending over backwards.

(Even Michelangelo was suspicious that his enemies purposely gave the project such a massive scope just to see him fail.1)Finishing masterpieces is daunting. Over time, motivation and desire fade unless we make deliberate strides toward our goals every single day. But getting into the mindset of being deliberate with our work is a paradigm shift. Being deliberate means that when we are working, we are always working on something with an end goal in mind.

Finishing masterpieces is daunting. Over time, motivation and desire fade.

When the Beatles started a recording session, they never knew what sounds they would produce in the studio. But they knew one thing: they wanted every recording to sound different than the previous. John Lennon said this about their process: “Each time we just want to do something different… Why should we ever want to go back? That would be soft.”

If establishing such a goal during the nascent stages of a project seems daunting, it needn’t be. Laying out your end game merely means being clear about what you’re trying to achieve with a given creative project. For Michelangelo, it was as specific as paint 5,000 square feet of the Sistine Chapel. For the Beatles, it was as broad as make a record that sounds like something completely new.

The important thing is to be clear about the goal. Once you have that, you can backfill the details and tasks needed to get there – and, most likely, revise them as you gather feedback and experience along the way. Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Start a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly Review.

I love Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review. It works like this: every year at a consistent time, take a week to look back on the previous year and evaluate every category of your life. What worked, what didn’t work, and so on. Then plan the next year based on that knowledge.

Start thinking about where you want to be in a year. What projects do you want to complete? Use this review to put it all on paper, and start cracking away at these goals every day. The process of putting pen to paper oftentimes helps make the goals happen. It’s part of being deliberate.

The key to the Annual Review is to also review your progress on a weekly and monthly basis as well. Fine-tuning your goals regularly makes a big difference over time.

2. Break Your Masterpiece Down.

Large projects require breaking down things that need to be done into the smallest possible actions. The initial commission of the Sistine Chapel was supposed to consist of 12 massive paintings of the apostles. Michelangelo instead decided to create a scheme consisting of 300 smaller works, making the ceiling project much more complex.

But looking closer, we see that Michelangelo might have been breaking the project into smaller, more interesting pieces for his own sake. He knew that simply finishing the chapel would be a challenge, so anything to make the project more granular, interesting, and executable was welcomed.

Breaking projects down into smaller pieces can be tedious, but it helps us understand the scope, and more accurately plan how long the project will take.

3. Find Accountability.

A bit of social pressure and accountability can go a long way toward achieving your goals. People around you are more than willing to help keep you motivated, if you ask. Share your plans with family, friends, and/or like-minded colleagues, and encourage them to frequently ask you about them. They’re probably just as excited as you are about your lofty goals, and including them in the process will be an added honor.

Some might remember Tim Tebow, a college quarterback from Florida University, apologizing in a post-game loss for a dismal personal performance. But he didn’t stop there. Tebow went on to say that there wouldn’t be another player in college football that would play harder, or push his team more the rest of the season than he would. He finished the press conference by proclaiming that those watching would never see a team play harder the rest of the season than his team. The Florida Gators went undefeated for the rest of the season, winning the 2009 BCS National Championship. Tebow’s speech was later named “The Promise”, and can be seen on a plaque outside Florida’s stadium. There’s something powerful that happens when people proclaim their goals publicly. It adds positive pressure and an incentive to finish.

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Masterpieces become easier when we know exactly what we need to do, and deliberately work every day towards finishing them. There’s a fantastic energy in knowing that we’re deliberately on track with our projects. It helps us create at our full potential, producing a motivator that’s stronger than any external pat on the back.

More insights on: Perseverance, Task Management
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