I bought that sheet cake for myself. When people asked me why, I said “Because I wanted it”. They’d laugh nervously, and then it would get awkward. They thought I was crazy. I thought that they a) clearly haven’t ever eaten sheet cake before because it’s delicious and b) must have some other way of handling the intense challenge of finishing a big project.
See, we just recently published our first ever documentary photography project, Lobster Island. It included videos, photos, stories and recipes all on a custom website. We also published a printed fine art book (that we designed and wrote ourselves). And then we launched a behind-the-scenes tutorial that describes the entire process of creating the project to help other photographers who want to do something like this themselves.
Man, I’m tired just writing that all out.
Needless to say, it was one of the biggest projects we’ve ever attempted, and it was a massive amount of work.
And here is something interesting that I’ve discovered after doing several launches like this. There is a point, about 90% of the way through a project, when things get tough. Really, really tough. You’re physically and mentally exhausted. You start to question whether the work is any good, whether anyone will care, and whether you should even bother finishing it. Or you just straight up, for no good reason, hate it. And it can happen with any type of big project, from a branding update, a new portfolio, a personal photo project, and so on.
There is a point, about 90% of the way through a project, when things get tough. Really, really tough.
This is where the sheet cake comes in.
Lobster Island wasn’t our first big project, so when I hit this tough point, I recognized it right away. I knew that there was a lot of work that still needed to be done, and that it was going to be a challenge to finish everything up. I bought myself a sheet cake so I could eat a piece (or two, let’s be honest) of cake every day until I finally got the project out the door. It was something to make me happy whenever I was feeling low. And wouldn’t you know, it worked. I ate the cake, and I launched the project!
I’ve done a few launches now, so I knew that the tough spot was coming, and that I’d just have to work through it. But I remember what it was like with the first couple projects, and how it felt like I couldn’t keep going. So here are some tips I’ve picked up, to help you get through that tough spot for your own launches!
1. Know That It’s Going To Get Tough
The beginning of a project is amazing. The end of a project is terrible. At the start you’re filled with energy, you’re doing all the fun stuff like reading and thinking and brainstorming and shooting. But to finish things up you need to do approximately a million little tasks that aren’t fun at all, like sorting out tax rates, and setting up mailing lists and proofreading and websizing and on and on and on.
And I think a lot of people get stuck once they hit the tough stuff. The project isn’t exciting anymore, and they don’t want to do something that’s not exciting, so it fizzles out.
I get that. Why would you want to do something that’s not fun? Well, because it takes doing some not-so-fun-stuff in order to bring your ideas to life! So if you want your projects to see the light of day, know that it’s going to get really tough near the end. If you can anticipate this, you are better prepared to get through it.
2. Stay Organized
When all those little tasks start mounting up, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. That’s a surefire recipe for giving up. If you can stay organized, and keep a list of all the things you need to do to launch, the task is much more manageable. Just focus on one step at a time, and one by one cross them off your list. If you keep going this way, you will eventually finish (even though at times the to-do’s seem to replicate like bunnies…).
3. Don’t Rush
At the point where you hate working on the project, it’s tempting to just slap everything together and kick it out the door. You don’t care anymore, you just want it to be done. But that’s no way to honour all the work you’ve already done. Take your time, don’t rush, and just keep plugging away. If you need to spend an extra week to make it right, do it. At the time, that week will seem like an eternity. But in the long run you’ll be so glad you gave yourself that extension so you could launch it as best you could.
4. Give Yourself A Deadline
This is a bit at odds with not rushing, but it helps a lot to give yourself a deadline to launch your project. This will keep you working steadily towards your goal. Without a deadline it’s all too easy to let things sit for weeks, especially when you don’t feel like working on it. Deadlines keep you focused and responsible to the project. But remember, they can be flexible if you need extra time to make it right. We pushed our deadline back a week this time around, and that let us make sure we were able to do everything we wanted to do.
5. Buy Yourself A Cake
Do something to keep your spirits up. You can buy yourself a cake, take a break and go see a movie, or spend an afternoon enjoying the sunshine without a computer in sight. It can feel stressful to not be working when you just want to get things finished, but these little cheer-ups will lift your spirits, and give you the energy that you need to keep working to the very end.
What matters is that you finished it, and got it out there.
And you know what? When you push through that last 10% of work, and actually launch that project, it is the most amazing feeling. The world looks brighter. The sun is shinier. And birds sing and unicorns frolic and everything is just wonderful. Because in the end, it’s not necessarily what the world thinks of your project that matters. What matters is that you finished it, and got it out there. It’s a hard thing to do, but completely worth the struggle.
Oh, and the sheet cake? You bet I finished it. It tasted like success.
Want to hear more about our adventures on Prince Edward Island, and get a ton of tips and insight into shooting a documentary project? Check out our new eBook, How We Did It: Lobster Island!