Make Yourself Write Project Proposals

I love coming up with new and creative ideas. I like thinking through the purpose of a new project and considering who the stakeholders could be. Essential to this is how the new initiative could provide value to those stakeholders. Sometimes, I am the only stakeholder. Other times, there are many stakeholders. Regardless, it’s important to provide value to anyone involved. Value is an interesting topic and I’ll probably do a full post on that at another time. This post is about project proposals, but before we get there, let’s talk about the motivation behind this post.

It’s spring of 2020. Things are moving along. Family is growing. Day job is going well.

But... my never-ending creative itch is telling me I need to do something creative.

🦠… then COVID …🦠

Classes go remote. Family is put on lockdown. Uncertainty is everywhere.

Everyone handled (and is still handling as of Nov. 2021) the impacts of COVID very differently.

One of my methods to handle COVID was to start new creative projects; particularly, projects in the digital media space. * I finished a children’s book about engineering and tried to find an agent/publisher (no luck yet, but if you're me). * I started a podcast called Talking To The Internet. * I partnered with a theology/apologetics ministry (multiple sub-projects): Theologetics. * After a little while, I realized I wanted to try a more solo project, so I started Through The Cruft. * My friends and I started Heard Immunity after wanting and trying to start a podcast many, many times. * I co-developed a workshop to help academics think about values alignment, their personal lives, and their work. It’s called Design Your Academic Life

As you might imagine, and I realize this too, that’s a lot (too much) to do in a short amount of time.

I’m always trying to learn and, boy, did I learn! I learned how to design, edit, and publish podcasts. I learned how much work it takes to make rudimentary YouTube videos. I learned how to work with many different types of people. I learned how hard it is to get people to respond to emails, Twitter DMs, etc. I learned one way to scratch that creative itch. But, most importantly, I learned that I took on too much and this post is meant to discuss a technique I wish I would have done.

Enter the Project Proposal

As the title foreshadows, I wish I would have written myself detailed project proposals before actually starting on these projects. This Babson resource does a great job detailing a project proposal, so I won’t go through the sections in this post. If you don’t care for this resource or it doesn't fit with your project, just search for “project proposal” in your search engine of choice and you’ll find many, many resources. Admittedly, I thought about most of these things before starting, but I didn’t think remotely deep enough about them and I didn’t write them down in any structured fashion.

So, what I want to emphasize in this post is the value that making myself write the proposal would have had on me. Here are five value nuggets I would have gained.

1. It helps you slow down.

I get excited. I want to go, go, go. However, with projects like this and with wearing many hats, excitement and speed can lead you astray. Making myself sit down and write out all of the details would have caused me to slow down and helped me not fall whim to shiny object syndrome.

2. It helps you separate the ideas from the projects.

Not all ideas should come to fruition. It's OK for an idea to stay an idea. However, some ideas should be escalated to actual projects and worked on further. The act of writing the proposal, as well as overcoming the initial inertia most people have to sit down and write, will help you filter the ideas from the projects.

3. It helps you clarify.

If you follow a well-crafted and relevant template, writing a project proposal will make you clarify what the project is, who it’s for, how it will be accomplished, and much more. This clarity is key when you start acting on the project. This clarity is key when the going gets tough and you need to remember why you even started the project. I’ll show one of my favorite images about doing cool things and emotions (credit for this version).

The Emotional Journey of Creating Anything Great

4. It provides a documented set of guidelines.

Writing everything down and thinking about the project thoroughly beforehand not only makes you clarify, but it documents the guidelines you should follow as you make progress. Importantly, you can somewhat trust these guidelines because, well, you wrote them. Be careful here though. Just because you wrote something down at one point, doesn’t mean you have to follow it verbatim.

5. It helps you compare projects more objectively.

I listed six projects earlier. If I would have written a project proposal for each one and then compared, rated, and evaluated them against each other, I definitely wouldn't have tried to take on the burden of recording and editing three podcasts at once. I likely would have overcome the Do-Nothing Alternative, but I now see that this was doomed for not working out.

Key Takeaways

If I could snap back to March of 2020, I'd make myself write project proposals for all of my legitimate ideas. Just telling myself I needed to write six project proposals would have made me think long and hard about which ones were worth writing. It would have been a lot of work and it would have taken me longer to get started, but my projects would have benefited from the process.


ps... here's the current status of all of the projects: * The Children's Book: I took a break getting rejected by agents/editors. I would love to see this book (and the series it's part of) get published. I'll keep writing and refining, and I guess time will tell on this one. * Talking To The Internet: I loved making this show. I'm excited to say more episodes will release soon. * Theologetics: I'm still active on this team and excited for where things are going. I have multiple project ideas that I want to write proposals for and will be doing so soon. COVID has slowed some of this down for the time being though. * Through The Cruft: This project will likely survive, but I need to write a proposal to clarify exactly how it will survive. More to come on this. * Heard Immunity: I think this show produced some really great content and I really enjoyed helping create it with my friends. But, I had to remove myself from this project. With everything going on in life, this project just had to be pruned. * Design You Academic Life: This project is going strong. I'm not sure what the future holds for this project, but I'm interested to see where it goes. (Not surprisingly, this is the only project of the six that had some form of a project proposal before launching.)