It’s inevitable. It happened in your last project and it will happen in the next one. It’s that moment when excitement and romance get replaced by questions, doubts, frustration and deception.

It turns out that as human beings, we’re the only species with a brain capable of running simulations and feel emotions for things that haven’t happened yet. The problem is, we’re really bad at it.

The last time you changed job, remember how that new job was supposed to be perfect? That last shiny new gadget you bought, maybe you imagined the many ways it would benefit you, trying to rationalize the buying process. Maybe were you even able to feel in advance the joy of owning it.

Well, it happens with projects too.

Initial ideas are always perfect and a whiteboard with a clear roadmap is all you need to feel the joy and excitement of getting there. Then you start executing, and The Great Deception shows up:

  • It’s harder than anticipated
  • The romanticized version of the idea doesn’t translate well into an actual design or prototype
  • It’s going to take a lot more time
  • The technology’s not quite there yet
  • It’s costing a lot more money than anticipated
  • Initial feedback doesn’t stack up with expectations

That’s why as individuals we generally have so many unfinished projects. It’s easier to put the project on the shelf than going against the tide.

On the opposite, companies are better at getting through that phase because they’re generally not good at killing projects. There is a clear expectation when it’s your job to lead a project that you’re going to ship it. And it’s a pressure you put on your shoulders too — others are watching and finished is better than unfinished.

The downside is that many projects that should have been killed just get through, because that’s the process.

So how do you know if it’s worth starting/pursuing or if it’s time to call it quit? Here are a few ideas.

Experiment with your ideas. Before going straight into execution mode, explore ideas on paper and let your mind process them for some time. Are there one or two ideas you’re thinking more about or that seem to obsess you?

Keep a list and compare regularly. Keep a list of 5–10 potential projects, keep it updated and compare projects regularly. Kill ideas that don’t pass the test of time.

Get to The Great Deception as fast as possible. It’s going to happen no matter what, so when executing, cover as much as possible in the shortest amount of time to find out what the main road blocks are going to be.

Break it down. Break down the project into chewable chunks. When something is too big or complex, there are many possible points of failure and there’s no obvious starting point.

Scale down. For anything you want to build, there’s probably a 10, 100, 1 000 and 10 000 hour version of that thing. If the ultimate goal is the 1 000 hour thing, building the 100 hour version first is probably a good idea.

“Done is better than perfect”. A popular quote for sure, but with a lot of truth behind it. Get it out, let the idea, product or project meet the world. The best things happen organically.

Don’t fall in love with the initial idea. Frustration fuels creativity like nothing else, so while it’s tempting to keep the romance going, be open to changing things and to taking a different path.