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How to Be a Successful Creative Sprinter

This guest post is by Catherine Caine of cashandjoy.com.

There are people who can do the old slow-and-steady routine, but I am so not one of them.

When it comes to big creative endeavors, I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner: my new, best-ever-work physical product was created, start to finish, in one month. (That’s nothing! My first ever product was created over one weekend.)

Image by vestman, licensed under Creative Commons

If you too are a creative sprinter, here are some techniques that can spell the difference between failure, mediocre meh-ness, and success.

Reduce all other commitments

Say, “Sounds great, but this is a busy month for me” to everything possible. This might include money-making opportunities, especially if they’re with draining clients or involve a lot of detail work.

“But … the money!” you say. It is very important! Absolutely. But it’s far better to turn down a bit of work (professionally) than to:

  • turn up, do a distracted job, leave customers unimpressed
  • have to push back the delivery six times because you underestimated how much time you could devote to the project
  • get sick midway through because you’re neglecting your self-care to get the job done.

One of the keys to successful sprinting is to carry as little as possible. Over-burdened sprinting becomes desperate shuffle-jogging shortly thereafter.

Your memory is not to be trusted

Your brain is juggling as you create: the audience, the goals, the tone, the impact, the benefits, and a half-dozen more. Double-spirals, over-and-unders, your brain has it all covered.

Now imagine that I throw in a pile of confetti into your juggling. Disaster! While trying to keep track of the tiny bits of paper, the big balls fall everywhere.

To avoid having to juggle confetti, get everything possible out of your head. To-do lists are a must. Outlines and mind-maps and Post-It notes and tables of contents are your friends. Any time you think of anything extra—”Ooh, must get the banner image done.”—write it down immediately. It’s stunning how much mental bandwidth you regain by dumping everything into a Google Docs spreadsheet.

Get all project manager in the hizzouse

Okay, you don’t need to be a full-time project manager … generally you’re only managing yourself and one or two people. But the project managers have a few useful strategies to share.

Manage resources

One of the most heartbreaking sights in sports is ultra-marathoners who break down with the finish line in sight. We don’t want that for you, no sirree.

The most important resource you have … is you. Self-care needs to be scheduled, and scheduled before any other work. Yep, walks with the dog, buying fresh vegetables, regular reminders to get out of the chair and go drink some water … these are your first priority, not something that’s pushed in here and there as your schedule permits.

Of course, you need to manage other limitations too: a running budget avoids terribly unpleasant surprises later. But it’s not as important as managing you.

Communicate

If you are relying on any other people—VAs, designers, beta testers, whatever—then make sure that you spend the extra time to be absolutely clear about what you mean on any terms that could be interpreted in multiple ways. “Soon” is a word that has destroyed many relationships. It can mean “in the next twenty minutes” or “before Friday”, depending on who you ask.

Other words to be careful with: usual, some, and any sentence construction that doesn’t make it crystal clear whose responsibility a given task is.

Dependency management

If you’re looking at your to-do list with a sinking sense of logjam and paralysis, here’s a fun activity. (Okay, it’s not actually fun for most people. But it’s effective and satisfying, which looks similar in hazy lighting.)

  1. Using a media where you can move items around—spreadsheets or Post-It notes are best—write down your action items.
  2. Sort through and see how many of them are items you could do right now. Put them in their own pile.
  3. For items that you can’t complete, figure out what needs to happen first.
  4. Make sure that action is recorded. Could it be done now?
  5. If not, what needs to happen first? Make sure that action is recorded.
  6. Et cetera.

Often what you end up with is fifty times more action items than you started with, but every item feels a thousand times more doable. “Sales page” is horrifying, but “Sign up for shopping cart provider” is easy, and so is “Create product listing”, “Copy button code and paste in sales page”, and every other small step that leads to a completed sales page.

Write the sales page early

Speaking of sales pages … if you are going to be the person writing yours, do it early.

If you’re a creative sprinter then you tend to burn all your energy in one glorious three-stage-rocket burn, and end up with empty fuel tanks after. If you’ve completed every single task on your list before the needle hits E, then good. (As long as you aren’t launching your new and shiny thing the next day, because you won’t have the fuel to do more than wave a flag weakly and say, “Hurrah.”)

But if you burn it all up in product creation and you’re still the only one who can write the sales page … well, we’ve all tried to write on the meh days. The results are often workmanlike, but rarely inspiring. You often end up with a glorious radiant kick-ass product, and a boring grey sales page to promote it. So no-one buys and finds out how much amazingness is inside. Booo.

Have fun with it!

Creative sprinting is amazing fun. Grab that idea and run! If you’re a creative sprinter, I’d love to hear your tips for making it work in the comments below.

Catherine spends her days helping world-changers create marketing from their magnificence. If you need a coach for your creative sprinting, she guarantees epiphanies within 15 minutes in her free 30-minute Marketing Check-up (or your money back!).

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Comments

  1. Jamie Harrop says:

    Excellent post, Catherine, and a fantastic anology.

    To be honest, I don’t think I am a sprinter, but all your examples above still ring true with me. I especially like your point about writing everything down. It helps me a lot to have a detailed To Do list, in some sort of workable order.

    Thanks!

    Jamie

    • Gregory C. says:

      I definitely agree and just wanted to emphasize the importance of writing things down.

      “To-do lists are a must.”

      Could truer words be spoken? Honestly, wants something is written down, it moves out of the “thought” territory and into the “action” territory, and that is the best way to get things done.

      • If you read Patrick Rhone’s blog, he has a great piece of advice. Everyday, he makes a to-do list with only THREE items on it. The idea is that, with only three items, the list is less daunting, and thus, more likely to be completed.

        The easier the task, the easier it is to get started (and getting started really is the hardest part sometimes).

        • I do that sometimes, especially when I’m feeling distracted. Because I know that no matter what else happens, I can get to the end of the day and say, “Yep, I got stuff done.”

          • Yup. I’d consider my day pretty great if I could just write one blog post, email one writer, and read one chapter of a book. Some days I’ll plan on doing so much more than that, and end up getting virtually nothing accomplished because I just don’t know where to start.

    • Hi Jamie,

      I’m glad this works for more than the creative sprinters! To-do lists are definitely the BOMB. :)

  2. Kwame says:

    Interesting piece. I learnt some things that will help me beat procrastination. I have come to realize how important it is to get things started fast. I have been pushing my online projects away for some time now and I know I have to get back to it all.

    Yesterday, I changed my blog’s look and I am hoping to turn it around starting this month.

    Thanks for the ideas Catherine.

  3. I agree Catherine! I find myself writing more on paper than I apply to what I’m working on. I take my time and do catch up with every project but I’m definitely not a sprinter.

    Thank you

    Jason

  4. Pace yourself in life and don’t but too much on your shoulders then you can carry..Life is hard enough..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • Do you think that running furiously for a short while then taking a break then running furiously for a short while etc etc is LIKE pacing yourself? Because otherwise I am doomed. :)

  5. Brilliant post Catherine, your post is well crafted and understandable. Thanks for sharing

  6. Lynn Currie says:

    Great post! I’ve never used the term “creative sprinter” but have often referred to myself as having “entrepreneurial ADHD.”

    It took me years to learn to focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses. Like you, I have the crazy ability to get an idea and take it from start to completion in a mad rush. Once I learned to own this crazy-mad skill, I learned to love it.

    One other tip I might add for your readers is “Find Someone To Balance You.” Too many of us try to do everything, even the things we’re not so good at and this can slow you down or even prevent you from succeeding.

    I’m fortunate enough to have several marathoners on my team now. These folks make me infinitely better at what I do. They excel at the things I am horrible at and vice versa.

    Once you relieve yourself of the thing that you don’t do so well, you are free to create amazing successes on that sprint!

    Thanks again for sharing!

  7. Amy says:

    I agree. I am definitely a sprinter. I go, go, go, and then I am *done*. Which works sometimes, but not when there’s something else big that needs to be done just past that finish line. I love the idea of managing my resources (being me). When you put it like that, it’s just good business sense. I think I’m off to get a massage…

  8. Daniel Roach says:

    Bless you sprinters. I admire you. I’m somewhere in the middle of sprinter and marathoner. Obsessive marathoner, perhaps.

    But I agree with Amy above, the idea of managing your personal resources and scheduling personal care first is huge and the easiest thing in the world to forget. You think, I gotta go, gotta go, gotta work, can’t stop. And that burns you out fast, he said from years of bitter experience. I hate to say it but I never really thought of doing it your way. I’ll try next time I have to sprint, but no promises ;-)

  9. I love the section on dependency management. I actually think it sounds really fun; I might try it tonight.

  10. Max Bronson says:

    Hi Catherine,
    I’m also not a sprinter, but a marathon person. I work on my product a little each day and it’s getting done. As long as I’m moving forward, doing a quality job and am happy, then that’s all that matters to me. I feel my life is pretty well balanced and I’m not going to burn out before it comes time to promoting the product. :)

  11. Chris Jones says:

    Excellent work. Your writing style is quite impressive and understandable. I like the way of creative sprinting.

  12. CHERYL says:

    I’ve been social networking now for a few years and although I wouldn’t consider myself “hard core”, I check FB daily and occasionally share pics and/or videos. But on a regular basis add incredibly witty comments to the crazy things that my friends post. Some are true classics! In recent days, I’ve become more and more concerned about what I read about social networking sites selling the information that they compile about me as I use their site. Evidently, the 500,000,000 of us sharing our likes/dislikes, talking about where we go and what we do-is really big business-and by that I mean-big MONEY business. SNS sell our personal information as well as our content to third parties-who are clamoring to find potential sales. I mean I know they have to make money, but at what price to us-the users. And it seems so easy for private information shared on these sites to become available to everyone-I mean, you read terrible stories about things that happen as a result of private information made public from these sites. A friend mentioned to me that she was using crazygood.com-a subscription-based social networking site that doesn’t sell users’ info or even allow ads. I still FB often but use it more as a search for friends now-because it’s so massive. But if I want to SHARE info, photos, etc., I only use Crazygood. It just makes me feel more protected, and I’m back in control of my own information. If you’re concerned about your cyber safety and want to be SURE your private information remains just that-PRIVATE, then check out Crazygood by clicking on the link below.

  13. Wendy Barilaro says:

    Love it! As a creative sprinter I only ever get stuff done when I spend at least as much time on the planning and list writing as the doing – it saves me from a world of distractions and ensures that all my fragments of creative confetti get rolled into some kind of useful product.
    Nice article!

  14. ibrochure says:

    Great article – the memory can not be trusted point is probably most relevant to me – better to do it whilst its fresh !

  15. Manish Singh says:

    Great one ………I actually think it sounds really fun; I might try it tonight.

  16. You obviously have a really organised mind. You can tell that from the post and the topic. I have to say that I’m a marathon worker and not a sprinter, thats why I have chosen to run a blog and not create any products (yet!)

  17. Frank M. says:

    Great article. Now a days I always have a notebook to catch those fleeting ideas. Am very forgetful and it helps a lot in my projects. And there is also the fact that you can look back and see what you were thinking a few months earlier.

  18. Sarah says:

    Total sprinter here. Thanks for the post. Just pulled the trigger so I have no idea how to deal with burnout but I am sure it is just around the corner.

  19. trailsnet says:

    I would agree that to-do lists are a must.
    Has anyone found any great online organizers to keep Twitter accounts, Facebook, blog, email, website, to-do lists, etc. all organized and easy to access?
    It would be that next step above and beyond the standard daily to-do lists on sticky notes.

  20. Writing your sales page early is an often overlooked piece of advice. The earlier your sales page is finished, the easier it is to review, edit, and alter it… so that nothing is overlooked when you’re ready to go live with it. That’s the last time you want to be finding inaccuracies or even grammatical/spelling errors.

  21. webdesign1 says:

    Thanks for the post. Just pulled the trigger so I have no idea how to deal with burnout but I am sure it is just around the corner.

  22. Elisabeth Hoelzl says:

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    What resonated with me most is the aspect of taking care of my personal resources. Putting it in this business sense might make it a little easier not to push it aside because “so many important things need to be done.”
    I already am pretty good at taking notes (evernote, index cards) but it doesn’t really solve any problems if you don’t have an eye on your resources.
    Right now I therefore am working on taking down things like “walking the dog” as a #1 priority (and not feeling “lazy” because of it).

  23. Brilliant as usual!!! I’m a sprinter too. Another tip: drop the housework. I mean, seriously.

    I can’t believe how much brain space and power I free up by writing everything down. It’s distributed cognition–using systems outside your mind to make it bigger.

    Onward to my next sprint…

  24. tonirigs says:

    I agree your point sometimes we need to be more organized and give ourselves more pressures so that we can accomplish something everyday.

  25. Pots says:

    Nice and effective and usful idea generated by this article. I will try to do ur suggesion.

  26. Thanks for sharing your fabulous insights … I like the write it down, focus on a productive task to accomplish and write the sales page when you’re fresh.

    Best,
    Christine Hueber