At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, folks with factories found themselves with a problem that was, up until that point, completely unprecedented:
They were producing more than they could sell.
Because of the efficiency and effectiveness of their new methods, they suddenly had more product than demand, which is a serious issue if you’re a businessperson. If you can’t sell your stock of, say, sweaters, you have to store those sweaters. Maybe sell them at a discount. You end up losing a lot of what makes industrial processes valuable: the fact that you can produce more for less, and faster.
To a certain degree, I understand their frustration. The businesspeople of old had potential output that was so much higher than what they could afford to produce. Running at full steam, they could make a sweater for nearly nothing and sell it for less than anyone had ever seen a sweater cost before. But because doing so would leave them with more product than they knew what to do with, they were forced to handicap their methods, leading to costs that were somewhat better than before, but not as low as they should be.
I understand what they must have felt because I feel the same way about ideas. I think most people do. Having more ideas than you can possibly act upon is a common theme in the entrepreneurial scene, and a frustrating one. The feeling that your potential output is so much higher than your practical output and, because of physical or social boundaries, you’re unable to turn the knob up to 11 and churn out amazing things full steam.
This frustration leads to distraction. The things you work on don’t get your full attention because you’re distracted by the things you don’t have time for. You try to sleep, but you can’t stop thinking about all the possibilities. Things that could be, if you just had more time. More energy. More resources.
Your hustle becomes an omni-hustle: a never-ending move from one thing to the next, each one done imperfectly so that more causes and projects and ideas can be acted upon. You slowly wear yourself down to the bone, and you do it in the name of optimization and productivity.
The denizens of the Industrial Revolution solved their problem by inventing marketing to create more demand. The issue of the omni-hustle isn’t staved off quite so easily.
The closest thing to a solution I’ve managed to find is building intelligent production channels so that when I act upon something, my effort is immediately converted into value; each new effort builds upon prior efforts. In this way I’m able to be continuously productive without wearing myself out, and I’m able to experiment more with side-projects and such without being pulled away from my primary focus of the day.
This does mean taking some time to build said channels, but it doesn’t need to be a completed maneuver: build an audience, start a blog, and write a newsletter from time to time. From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get the fruits of your labor out to the people who would find value in it, and pulling the plug on projects that neither give you long-term happiness nor produce enough value to be sustained economically.
Structure your life so that you can create with a purpose. Otherwise you may find yourself trapped in a cycle of creating to create. There’s nothing wrong with the omni-hustle, so long as the work you’re doing is stoking fires, rather than burning you out.
Update: April 9, 2017
This has long been an issue I’ve struggled with, but in recent years I’ve found that by focusing more intentionally on one main thing at a time, I’m able to invest small bits of effort into other things — to either build up to them later, or keep them stoked — and then finish things before moving on to anything new. I’ve found that one of the better ways to prod myself into getting something done is to get excited about some new project or passion, but not allow myself to turn my full attention toward it until I get what’s on my plate, off of it. Only one thing at a time, but a lot more gets done.