Since I was little I’ve always had tons of different interests. The older I became the more I realized that I wanted my interests to be more than just things I was doing, though. I wanted to make progress. I wanted to create something.
But what? One day I would be obsessed with creating a computer game, the next day I wanted to build a website, also I wanted to publish magazines, write novels and what about the languages I wanted to learn?
Although some of the interests I had as a young teenager and child got lost (I wouldn’t want to become a programmer anymore), new interests filled their place soon.
The older I got, the more I realized that I didn’t get anything done. Sure I built a few websites here and there, sure I composed a few songs and wrote a poem once in a while, but there was still a whole world of unused potential.
When I look at my life now, I see that I’m still pursuing different interests. I compose music, I act, I write, I sing, I manage websites… but other than in my teenage years, I get stuff done. There are results – although I really do many things on a regular basis.
This didn’t happen by accident or by a magical productivity system. It took a long time until I learned how to deal with different interests.
If you’ve read articles about how to start a business, about how to get successful, make things happen and get results, you probably will have come across the advice that you need to focus on one thing/one project at a time.
In my ebook that I released recently I talked about the same thing in the chapter “focused effort”. In that chapter I talked about that, if you want to change your life, it’s better to focus on changing one habit at a time.
While this is certainly a good approach for habits, it’s a different matter with (creative) projects and interests. A habit needs your focused effort because it’s often very difficult and challenging to create a new habit and get rid of old ones. Basically, for a while you’re “fighting” against your own subconscious. This takes a lot of power.
However, if you already have a lot of projects and interests, most of them probably don’t need that kind of mental focus. For example, if you’re interested in learning French, then you can just open a text book and learn. Of course, from time to time you might do things that are more challenging in order to follow your interests, for example book a flight to France and actually travel to France – but all in all an interest like this allows a lot of other interests on the side.
The real challenge that comes with having different kind of interests and projects is time.
Let’s say you have 10 different projects. If you have 30 hours per week to work on them, you only got 3 hours per project per week. Even if you have only 5 different projects, that’s still only 6 hours per week.
Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule? According to Malcolm Gladwell this is how long it takes to master a craft. So if you want to be a worldclass writer, you need to write for 10,000 hours (20 hours a week for 10 years).
Now maybe you don’t want to be a worldclass writer/blogger/speaker/psychic/ but if you do want to become one who has at least decent skills and success, this means you will need to invest at least hundreds but more realistically, thousands of hours into something.
So it’s seems like having a lot of different projects will make you get nowhere in the long run because you can’t invest a significant amount of time into anything.
This is the reason why a lot of people will advise you to focus on one particular project and to become an expert for one specific thing.
And while it’s true that you need to invest time to become successful at something, this doesn’t mean that you have to drop all of your projects and concentrate on only one for the rest of your life.
Actually I don’t even think that I’d be able to do that. Focus on only ONE project? Wow, how soon would I get bored… And also: how much wasted potential!
While a lot of people seem to be able to do that just fine, there are some of us who just don’t work that way. There’s even a name for those kind of people: “scanners” or “polymaths”.
Scanners are people who naturally have a lot of (and wide range of) different interests. Instead of diving deeper and deeper into one specific topic as a “specialist” (the opposite of a scanner) would do, scanners are more prone of diving into a lot different interests and exploring (often) only the surface of each. A scanner could be learning Russian, have a flower business, manage a website for marathon runners, collect stones, and teach an astronomy class. A scanner will also be more prone to pick up a new interest somewhere, explore it instantly and leave it behind just as quickly as he picked it up.
A specialist on the other hand is a person who has a sharp focus on only a few interests. He tends to invest all his time and energy to explore a specific subject more deeply, instead of just jumping to another subject. A rocket engineer would probably have to be a specialist: Someone who focuses years and years on math, physics, then on engineering and then on the details of rocket engineering.
I classify in big parts as a scanner. My range of interests is maybe not that wide, but I have enough interests in order to not be a specialist anymore. I also get bored quickly if I concentrate only on one subject for a longer period of time. Diving deeper seems boring then and not interesting at all.
This is what I’m interested in, for example: acting, composing, producing music, writing, managing websites and blogs, personal development, singing, being self-employed, languages, drawing, computer games, TV series,;
Some other interests I explored shallowly: graphic design and layouting, programming, building and designing websites from scratch, psychology, outdoor and survival, playing instruments, buddhism, literature, conspiracy theories; (yes, conspiracy theories)
A problem that we scanners often have is that we assume that being a scanner is a bad thing. After all, we have to decide for only a few subjects to study, for only one career in our lives. Also, usually when we quit something because of a lack of interest, this is seen as a failure by other people (and maybe ourselves). “Only losers quit.”
So, before you can learn to manage living with different interests, the first thing you need to know is this: It’s okay to be a scanner. It’s okay to have multiple and diverse interests. It’s okay to be interested in some things only for a short period of time. Really. There’s nothing wrong with you.
In fact, being a scanner can be quite awesome. Just think about it:
- you can do more things yourself which makes you more independent
- you’ve explored more topics, which makes it easier for you to see the big picture
- the combination of your different interests makes you very unique
If this doesn’t convince you, here’s a list of famous scanners (“polymaths”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_polymaths
Also, here are two blogs from two modern scanners, which I read regularly:
- Rosine Caplot
Now, as I already told you, being a scanner can be quite challenging. You only have 24 hours a day like everybody else. So how do you manage your time in order to pursue all of your interests?
In the last few years I tried out a lot of strategy and found out multiple ways to deal with this.
This was one of the first strategies I tried out. Instead of having a project for every one of your interests, you combine some of your interests in ONE project.
I love writing texts and music. I also love performing on stage and singing. So I combined all of those when I wrote and album and did live shows with it.
This worked out quite well because all of the interests fitted together perfectly.
With other interests this might be more challenging.
For example I had a blog where I would write about all kinds of things (music, internet, personal development). I did not have a lot of success with this blog because those different things didn’t fit together well. Some of my readers were interested in personal development but not in my music, while others were interested in internet stuff and in my music but were turned off by my personal development articles.
It might take a while until you find a good combination of your interests. It also depends a lot on your goals. What do you want to achieve with your project? Do you want to do it just for the fun of it? Then you’re free to combine anything you want. Do you want to change the world with it, achieve some sort of success with it, earn money with it? Then you will have to put more thought into it, of course.
Years ago I always wanted to create those mega-big projects. Like creating an RPG game with thousands of characters. This had the result that I started a lot of big projects that I never finished (of course).
If you have a lot of different interests, big projects are always a challenge. So, although it may seem promising and thrilling to start a new mega-big project, ask yourself every time you start a new one how committed you really are. Are you never finishing your projects? Then, how likely is it that you complete the next project that might take about six to twelve months of daily, disciplined work to complete?
It’s no shame if you’re not able to pull off big projects yet. It’s maybe not the right time and not the right idea, yet. Or maybe big projects are just not for you.
I know for sure that I’m struggling with big projects. That’s why I use a different approach now: I just aim for smaller projects.
- instead of creating a whole album, I try to create one song at a time
- my course “How To Change Your Life” is a 6-week course (not a 6-months course, for example)
- I didn’t write a book with hundreds of pages, but I wrote an ebook with 39 pages (with a very big font size)
Every time I complete a “small project” I gain the experience, persistence and confidence that will help me to create bigger projects in the long run. However, I don’t have to care about overwhelming big projects right now. I go for one small project at a time and when I’m really inspired to, I increase the project size (by a reasonable level).
This has worked really well for me in the last few months. For a certain timeframe (a week or longer) I define a main project where I want to make progress. In practice this means that I will dedicate certain amount of time (for example 20hours/week) to this project (and maybe a specific goal within the project).
I did this for example, when I was writing my ebook “Why You Haven’t Changed Your Life Yet.” For 25-30 hours a week I focused on FollowTheRedQueen.com (main project) with the main goal of finishing the ebook. After one week I already had 80% of the texts. And after two weeks I had another 80% of the illustrations. After that I took another two weeks (with about 10 – 15hours of work per week) to review it, complete it and set up the technical stuff (online shop etc.).
My main project is never only defined in my head. I have an overview paper for the week where the main project is always clearly defined (also, I always list a few alternative projects so I can work on them if I’ve got more time or when I’m not inspired to work on the main project).
On a daily basis it works like this:
First thing in order to start work: I look at the overview where I defined my main project(s) and other tasks that I have to do today or in this week. Then I define how many hours I want to work today on my main project (main goal).
How many hours I will choose depends on
1) how much time I got
2) how many hours I actually want to work
3) how many hours I want to work on the specific project this week
So if it’s the beginning of the week and I decided I want to work on my main project for 20 hours this week, I might aim for 4-5 hours of work a day (I usually work 6 days a week, so there would be still enough space if I want to take a day off).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that I absolutely will work those 4-5 hours. Maybe after 30 minutes of work I find out I’m way more inspired to make music than to write something. So I will switch from my main project to a project that’s lower on the priority list. After two hours of making music I might switch back again (I will always try to switch to the main project first).
Dedicating a bigger amount of time to a main project while still leaving space for other projects works very well for me. That way I can make sure that I’m making progress in a specific area (and get results) while still having enough time for pursuing other interests. As a scanner I would never invest my whole work time into only one project. But I might invest 50 % – 70% into one project.
After a few weeks my main projects usually switch. For example I might concentrate on composing for two weeks, after that I might concentrate on my web business for four weeks, after that I might take one week off and concentrate mainly on personal stuff.
Investing time alone is not what made me finish my ebook or anything else I ever finished. Often when I used the strategy of “investing time” in the past I ended up starting a lot of things (for example starting to compose lots of songs) but never finishing anything.
This is why I have a goal for each of my projects. For example, for FollowTheRedQueen.com my goal was to “publish an ebook.” While I was investing 20+ hours per week into FTRQ, I mostly concentrating on doing everything that got me closer to “publishing an ebook”. As you can tell, it worked.
It’s the same with other things. I usually don’t finish songs when I focus on “composing” but I finish songs when I focus on “publishing compositions”. I needed a long time to learn this and get finally productive! It’s just so tempting to dabble around when you’re a scanner.
You don’t need to have big goals or traditional goals, btw. Your goal doesn’t have to be “learn to play the e-guitar so I can play extreme metal soli”. It could be just “learn 5 chords on the guitar and 5 songs that use them.” Especially when you’re trying to learn something, you will get better results when you have a defined goal. Otherwise you’re just learning random stuff that probably won’t even stick.
Sometimes I felt like my head was exploding from ideas and inspirations about what I could do. It’s easy getting hyped up with a new idea when you are a scanner.
But is it really a good idea to give all of your power to a new inspiration instead of sticking to your old plans (at least until you’re reached your next goal?)? It depends.
Usually, in order to find out, whether a new idea could be interesting in the long run, I will test the idea for a few weeks. I create a mini-project with the new idea and invest a few hours a week into it.
For example, recently I discovered audio stock websites. These are websites where composers can upload their music and sell licenses to film makers, corporations, website owners… Now I don’t know how much I would be able to sell on a website like this but the idea to get my stuff on audio stock websites and compose music specifically for them made me very excited when I found about them.
So I decided to dedicate five hours a week into audio stock websites in order to test drive the idea. Now it’s about three weeks later and I’m still obsessed with those websites. I haven’t sold anything yet (and only uploaded a few tracks – most of them are still waiting to get reviewed) but the idea is still making me all excited. This is why I decided that it’s okay to invest more time into this project. Maybe in a few weeks I decided that this becomes my new main project. Who knows?
Other ideas I tested didn’t do so well. I lost interest in them after a few days and never thought of them again.
So the main point is: Don’t turn your life upside down because of a new idea when you’re a scanner. Explore first whether your ideas is really as exciting as you think it is.
Once in a while I make an exception to this rule when I decide spontaneously to dedicate 1 –2 days to a new mini-project. For example I might have the urge to re-mix a song. Then I might work 1-2 days on that, finish the remix, and get back to normal life and my normal projects after that. It’s fun to throw such mini breaks into my life once in a while.
As you see, it’s not much about the rules. Screw the rules. Rather have fun than follow the rules. However, as a scanner, my rules usually help me a great deal in order to achieve anything. A scanner life can often be a chaotic life. So bringing a little order into the chaos might help you enjoy your different interests even more in the future.
Are you a “scanner”, too? What are you interested in? How do you deal with multiple projects and interests?