Letting It Soak: A Success Strategy for Projects Needing Creativity

Photo by SeraphimC

When a new creative project starts people typically take two approaches. They will either get working on it right away if they have the time (or are excited by it) or push it off till right before the deadline. Neither strategy will allow you to be at your creative best. Instead I recommend you start early and let it “soak”.

The Soak Cycle

When it comes time to washing dishes you take the grimy dish and put it in water to let it soak. Time and water+soap do the hard work. With time the water and soap break down the grease and grime. Similarly letting your project soak will allow your brain to work on the project even while you’re doing other tasks.

Soaking is when a project is thought about but not actively worked on. The project is reviewed at specific intervals. This gives your natural creative instincts time to work on it.


The human brain is a powerful tool. Giving it time to work on a project will lead to a more creative, better solution. Schedule times to think about your project. Depending on the scope or length of the project you may schedule 5 minutes a day for a week thinking about it or an hour every two weeks for 3 months (or anything in between).

When you schedule thinking time, be sure to give yourself enough time to think. Write down notes of your conclusions so you can refer to it in the future. Try to take different approaches each time you begin a thinking session. Many times you’ll get that “Aha moment” (a good idea) when you least expect it, so don’t worry if you feel blocked. People report inspiration frequently in the shower. Giving yourself time to think will give you more shower days to let your brain think about it.


During your thinking time find ways to break down the project into small parts. Do a few little steps for the project to give you a better understand of what it entails. Do a five minute task. Do any tasks that take just a few minutes to delegate. They should be delegated as soon as possible so the receiver can plan accordingly and it’s not an emergency at the last second. This process is called layering where you “layer” your successes. It allows you to know you are on the right track and gives you tangible results.


Put layering and thinking together by scheduling time to talk to people. Talk to thoughtful people about the project, even if they don’t have expertise about it. Just talking about the project will allow your brain to crystallize your thoughts. In addition, others may provide a new perspective on the project you are tackling and give you a new wave of ideas.

Enlist others to look at your project as you’re working on it. This gives you an outsider’s view. Get a coworker or friend that you can bounce your work off of. Try to get someone whose ideas you respect but who thinks a little different than you. Show them your progress so they can monitor if you’re fulfilling your mission.

You don’t have to listen to them. Just listen to why they are saying it. They may say you should make an element red. They don’t necessarily mean it has to be red- but it has to contrast from the background. Again you see how outside ideas can trigger new thinking and ideas.

Go To the Source

Many times the person requesting the project has something specific in mind. This will give you direction on how to proceed. Often times they have very detailed pictures (in their mind) of what they want and you’ll need to deliver. It’s important to keep this person involved because you may have the most creative, amazing result but without their buy-in it’s a waste of time. Brain storm with this person. Prepare drafts or mockups- for many people it’s easier to talk about something they see than something abstract that’s not in front of them. Let them soak it in and tell you exactly how to make the project perfect.

Go To the Subsource

There are times the source isn’t available or doesn’t really know what they want. Try to get feedback from their assistant or “right-hand man”. The subsource will give you insights into the source, the organization and the project. As they work with you they buy-in to the project and will help you sell it to the source. Oftentimes they have their finger on the pulse of what’s really needed and may differ from what the original requirements were. Let them soak with the project and they may give you valuable insights.

Finish Early

Set your deadlines so you finish early (if possible). Then sleep on it (aka let it soak). The extra time allows you to review your results one more time. You can look at it and see it from a fresh eye of how others perceive it. This can give you the inspiration of last minute changes that can make a good project, a great one.

Pushing off the project till the deadline isn’t as effective because it doesn’t give you time to think and the last minute rushing may curtail your thinking. So next time you get a new creative project don’t push it off- spend a little time periodically thinking about it- your solution will be much better.

Heshy Shayovitz is the author of Success Making Machine where he writes extensively about the optimal way to succeed on your own terms.

Leave a Comment

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Scott December 13, 2008, 7:41 pm

    This article was extremely good. Very useful insights. Thank you for posting it.

  • Scott December 13, 2008, 2:41 pm

    This article was extremely good. Very useful insights. Thank you for posting it.

  • annew November 6, 2008, 11:48 am

    Love it… I call it yeasting instead of soaking, but it's the same thing.

  • Shamelle -TheEnhanceLife October 9, 2008, 11:45 pm

    “When a new creative project starts people typically take two approaches. They will either get working on it right away if they have the time (or are excited by it) or push it off till right before the deadline.” Guilty… :0)
    This is a fresh perspective. Thanks

  • Heshy October 9, 2008, 10:32 pm

    @Tabs: that's a good point. The longer a project stays on your mind and you aren't making progress on it (e.g. start and know your plan) the worse it makes you feel.

    @ Trevor Lee : Thanks. you hit it on the head.

    @ Melissa: Enduring. I love that- it's one huge difference between soaking and just getting it done.

  • Melissa October 8, 2008, 2:44 pm

    This reminds me of a lesson I learned long ago in college. The papers I took my time to do are the ones that came out the best. I had honestly gotten great grades on things I threw together at the last minute, but the truly enduring papers, that I still think hold up today are the ones that I took the time to plan, investigate and rest for a bit before editing and submitting.

    Thanks for reminding me of the process.

  • Tabs October 7, 2008, 7:11 pm

    Thank you so much for this list, currently working on a project and I am hoping to finish early, not only for the points made by Heshy, but so I can get on with my life. I find letting a project sit around means I have to donate more brain power than required to it. I like to get it done and move on. (Can you tell I am not enjoying this particular project) :)


    • Trevor Lee October 7, 2008, 8:31 pm

      Great article…right off the bat I find myself in both scenarios, jumping right on a project, or waiting til the last minute…and when I look back at the projects I just devoted more “thinking” or as you put it, “soaking” time…they definitely have a better air of quality to than.

      Thanks for the great post!