Sometimes I’ll be working on a project over a period of days, weeks, or months and come to a point where the outlook for the project is not good. It might be due to:
- Life stuff has come up which will take much of my time.
- A key member of the team drops out.
- A gigantic hurdle has been uncovered, such as a technical, legal, or physical limitation.
- Some foundational assumptions I made turn out to be faulty.
None of these is a case of losing interest or passion for the project – that’s a different situation. What I’m talking about is a total and complete roadblock or derailing of a project I love and don’t want to give it up.
For example, on a video conferencing project called “The Curious Cam”, we came to a technical limitation known as “the speed of light”. To do the graphical realtime video editing we had planned during a live video conference without having annoying latency ran up against the technical limitations of computers and the internet. It simply wasn’t possible to do what we wanted to do with existing hardware. (Or at least, any technology we had access to). We wanted to do it but this was a deal-breaker.
Still, I didn’t want to stop trying.
I often have the temptation to keep pressing on it, even though I know there will be diminishing (or no) (or negative) returns. Despite being aware of the sunk cost fallacy, I can’t stop thinking things like, “but we’ve come so far on this!”
I just can’t let it go and I can’t move forward either. I’m stuck.
When I recognize I’m in this situation, I use a mind trick I call “The Shelf”. This allows me to hold on to the project while also giving it up.
I tell myself I’m going to shelve the idea for a while and come back to it later. Somehow I am able to convince myself that It’s totally still alive and I’m totally going to do it someday when circumstances change. The project is not at an impasse. It is currently at an impasse. I don’t say “it’s not possible”, I say “it’s not possible right now”. I don’t think, “It can’t be done”, I think “It can’t be done yet”.
I have a “Shelved Projects” folder on my computer and I move the project folder into the shelved projects folder.
When I use this technique, it’s as if I have two minds and two perspectives simultaneously. One feels like I’ll get back to it “soon”. The other is pretty sure I’ll get back to it “never”. The former mind is filled with hope (else why would I have tried in the first place), so it’s amenable to this deal. But that hopeful mind would never accept “it’s not possible” as a reason to walk away. But it will accept “it’s not possible…. right now”. So in a strange way I leverage the power of hope that says “keep going” to convince it to stop going.
Be committed to keeping it on the shelf for a while, else it might crawl back off the shelf. Have another project ready or at least an exploratory process to find the next thing to be hopeful for.