Overcoming the Post-Project Blues

Picasso - The Old GuitaristHaving finally pushed the big D*I*Y Planner 3.0 out the door, I'm facing the big post-project comedown. You probably know the score: you've invested days or weeks or months of time, effort and thought into a project, whereupon it's become a central focus of your existence... and now it's over.

First, the positive emotions hit. There's relief, knowing that it's done, the pressures are all gone, and now you can move on to something new and exciting. There's joy at the thought of rest, a time of regrouping and renewing one's vigor after the seemingly endless sessions when you bordered on complete exhaustion. And, of course, there's that emotional high, soaring with the satisfaction of a job well-done, a culmination of your blood, sweat and tears made manifest and ready for its intended use or audience.

But then there's the negative emotions trailing close behind. All of a sudden, there's a loss of motivation: when your object of devotion is no more, what becomes of your sense of purpose, or even identity? This is often followed by minor depression, your ego groping in the darkness for something to latch onto. Confusion sets in -- all you have now is a vague sense of other potential projects and goals, a compass swirling 'round wildly, with no firm direction in which to point. Then there's the danger of lethargy, your much-anticipated rest period stretching gradually from restlessness into a complete loss of focussed energy.

So, what to do?

I've always found the key to effectively dealing with comedown lies within the transfer of focus. Every negative effect is the direct result of suddenly no longer having a single all-powerful object or direction in mind. If you're the sort of person able to relax at a moment's notice, you probably don't have this problem. I, on the other hand, have never truly gotten into the habit of resting, and so over the years I've devised a little three-pronged solution to the post-project blues.

First is the need to re-organise, and to do it quickly. The longer you let this slide, the longer you go without a purpose. Break out a whiteboard, or a blank piece of paper, or a blank wall and a pile of stickies, or a brainstorming/mind-map application (I use Tinderbox, or sometimes FreeMind). Better yet, get together with a friend you can bounce ideas off, a pint of Guinness (or tea, or coffee), and a stack of index cards or doodling napkins. Try to choose and define your next project, weighing carefully your current circumstances such as time, budget, level of available commitment and personal interests. You don't have to carefully outline each stage of the project: the goal is to implant a seed, the germ of which will occupy your mind and allow you to direct your mental cycles into a productive direction. If you already have a new project lined up (say, dictated by your glorious overlord), jump into it right away, and start figuring out the details and completing the first step or two.

Second is to find another short-term focus that will help you relax, and nothing is better for this than pursuing a hobby or strong personal interest. For me, this has typically ranged between such things as paleontology, longbow archery, nature studies, medieval language and literature, woodworking, Zen Buddhism, and the study of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works, especially those concerning Sherlock Holmes. None of these fall within the realm of my "professional occupations", and thus allow me to immerse myself in topics that I find relaxing without feeling the looming threat of work-related stress or pressure. It also helps when I go to sleep at night: now that my sleeping hours are no longer occupied by the project, I can allow my subconscious to grasp onto other topics of interest, and pleasant ones at that. (Although how many other people would find the study of tyrannosaurid anatomy to be pleasant or relaxing is a matter of some speculation.)

Third is the re-forging of lost connections. Let's face it -- you've been so involved with this project that your family and friends have probably learned to live without you, or at least have bided their time while waiting for you to return to your regular non-obsessed self. Make yourself a "Re-Connect List": all those people with whom you need to touch base, those friendships that have stalled, those people who care about you and haven't seen enough of you, those colleagues/ clients/ professional acquaintances fallen by the wayside, and so on. Stop living in isolation... they need you, and you need them. It's the perfect time for reaching out and becoming part of other lives again, for rebuilding your social system.

The seguing into another project offers the time for renewal, for finding lost-lost enthusiasm, and for uncovering a new focus for one's efforts. It's an exciting time: take all those hours that you would have spent moping about, and direct your energies into positive directions for the future. That is your new project, at least until the next one materialises.

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One thing I'd like to add

One thing I'd like to add is, do something special to mark the end of the project. Go out to dinner, clean off your work area, anything that shows that you've completed this project.



Reward yourself

I would simply add that in the light of what you have achieved give yourself a reward, it not only makes you feel good but it helps to finally close a successfully completed project.