The moment before sharing your work is equal parts fear and excitement. It’s all kinds of feelings spanning all of two seconds: A rush of adrenaline followed immediately by dread, then either relief or regret. Once you hit that send button, there is no going back.
Choosing the right time to ship your work can mean the difference between your project’s success or failure. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know when that time is. Too soon and it’s not ready. What if you forgot something? What if nobody gets it? What if someone already thought of it, or you didn’t think through it enough? Too late and the time has passed. The audience has moved on, you’ve talked yourself out of it, the project is dead. Either way you will be vulnerable. You’re sharing a thing you spun from the fibers of your very being. You’re taking the sum of your thoughts and effort and putting it in front of people who make no promises to be nice. That’s scary shit.
While every project is different and the decision is deeply personal, there are a few ways to determine when to put your work into the world. It’s a matter of asking yourself a few questions:
1. Does this project or idea, as it stands, meet its minimum requirements?
Go back to your list of goals, or make a list now if you hadn’t at the start. This could be as detailed as a specific design feature, or as broad as an emotion you want to express. Check off the items one by one. Which missing pieces are essential to a functional piece or product? Which can wait until later? The idea is to meet the minimum expectations for your work to be loved by your audience. If you’ve checked off more than ¾ of your must-haves, then you’re probably in a good enough place to get others’ opinions on the project.
In the end we have to understand that a project is never really done. It’s just a matter of hitting the minimum requirement, and then taking it from there.
2. If I had more time, what would I add to this or do differently?
Asking this question allows you to step back from the pressure and your impatience to assess the project. If the thoughts that come to mind would actually add value, or even just make the project meet its minimum requirements, consider how long it’d take to make them happen. Of course it will never be perfect and you’ll never have all the time you need, but if spending a few extra days would make it better, find a way to buy yourself more time. Your audience or even a client can usually wait, even if they grumble about it.
I usually have three lists. One is called “Launch Required,” the second is called “Post Launch” and the third “Backlog.” Now all I do is just move things from one list to another.
The “Launch required” list contains all items that have to be done for launch. It’s things that I feel are essential to the product. The “Post Launch” list is equally important, but here I put items that I can pause on for now. The ”Backlog” list contains everything else – random ideas, future features, things I want to change eventually. Depending on the scale of the project, I usually move things from the “Post Launch” list to my “Required” list only if they make the product significantly better at the launch. Otherwise, I hold off on them.
Of course, the perfectionist would love to see everything on the “Launch Required” list, but in reality that just doesn’t work. The better you are at moving these tasks from one list to another, the closer you are to a perfect launch.
3. Should I show it to my “test” audience first?
Often, it’s helpful to float your idea or work by someone you trust before officially putting it out there. Think of this person as a test audience. It could be your co-worker, a friend or your partner. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who is knowledgeable in your field – it might even be better if they aren’t. Especially with design, any human’s reaction is meaningful. Their basic response to the material is typically what your audience’s response will be (people are more alike than we’d like to admit). An honest friend can save you from a glaring mistake you might have overlooked before higher ups or the cruel, cruel Internet sees it. And often their reaction will make you feel more confident about the “real” sharing part.
Keep in mind: While this is your low-pressure “test” audience, you should still answer question #1 before showing your work to this person. If your project or idea is still half-formed, it’s in a fragile state. Anyone’s opinion, even your trusted friend, could be unproductive in such an early stage. In some cases, especially in the early stages of your idea, you have to ignore everybody and just do it.
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” - Reid Hoffman
4. Am I overthinking it?
Of course you’re overthinking it. That’s usually the problem. If you’re just sitting there spinning your wheels, tweaking every little detail and becoming more and more anxious, it’s time to say “fuck it” and just ship it. (You could also read this article I wrote about perfectionism ruining my productivity. It might help.)
5. What’s my gut telling me?
Trust your gut. I live by this rule, and it applies here as well. More often than not, you will know when it’s the right time to share your work. It’s a certain confidence, a joy bubbling up, an urgency. If your instincts tell you that now is the right time to hit send, you’re probably right. If something feels off or wrong, go through the other four questions.
Overall, I am on the side of shipping early. Just look at my weekly emails, which are rarely perfect when I send them out to more than 30.000 people (you might consider yourselves my “test” audience. I trust you to be gentle <3). If you wait for your work to be perfect, you will over-think it to death and never share anything. Of course we want to share quality work we are proud of, so I hope these tips give you a way to quickly check yourself, put your work out there, then improve it later.