Given the recent start to the blog, I thought it fitting to touch on the topic of starting. It’s a subject I constantly need reminding of and seemingly never get tired of hearing about. Why? Because it’s so crucial, and even after you ‘get it’, you still need to hear about it once in a while in order to stay sharp.
When I say ‘starting’, I say it without reference to a topic for a reason. This article isn’t about ‘starting a board game’ or ‘starting a blog’. It’s about motion for motion’s sake. Ideally it’s productive motion – blindly running in circles doesn’t get you very far. But even that act of moving is more beneficial than stagnation. ‘Moving ships are easier to turn’ and all that. Hell, even that blind runner is getting a workout.
The reason why it’s so crucial to hear over and over is that it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of a given task, or career, or day, or life. It’s easy to get proficient at something, master its complexities, and then assume that everything else in life is just as complex. Not that everything is always simple and easy, but we often forget that we always start out as an ignoramus. We forget the platitudes of ‘putting on foot in front of the other’, and let the fear of complexity and being ‘wrong’ stop us from starting in the first place. Granted, the ability to recognize this flawed way of thinking improves with experience. But I doubt it ever goes away completely for anyone whose name isn’t Richard Branson or Elon Musk (and I doubt they had it in the first place). Hence, the importance of reminders.
Another reason starting is often difficult is perfectionism. The concept of having things down perfectly to maximize efficiency and ‘do things the right way’ stems from childhood. Measuring twice and cutting once is a fantastic lesson for working with a single piece of wood. However, it’s terrible when working with something slippery, nebulous, and infinitely repeatable. It’s also not something that’s binary. You can be great at starting a project, but then get so involved in a part of it that really doesn’t matter. For example, I was really good at coming home from work and making draft, terrible, greeting card designs for Pithy Diction. I came home, didn’t worry so much about having perfect designs or artwork, and just made things that I thought were funny. I was terrible, however, at opening up my Etsy store. What was my name going to be? What’s the process for getting a business license in this city vs. that city? How should I optimize my listings? All these things got in the way of actually opening the store and selling cards. They got in the way of me starting the other half of my project, even though the first half was going well.
For board game design, one of the things I’m constantly struggling with is working on the prototype and just trying things. I constantly want to think of new mechanics, or ways we could have a system work, or whole new games for that matter. I keep on having to force myself that just starting on the next step of the game development will solve most of my problems. Sometimes, that might mean just starting work on the game that day (instead of the ticky-tacky other tasks in my life, which I’ll talk more about in a separate post on procrastination/productive procrastination)
How do we get past this fear of/apathy for/inability to start?
- Some of it involves constant reminders to start instead of deliberate
- If you’re reading this now, consider this bullet done for today
- Some of it can be a system or software for project management we set up for ourselves
- Omnifocus, Trello, Todoist, giant wall calendar, etc.
- Some of it can even be just finding a way to dump all your spur-of-the-moment ideas in one place so you don’t forget, but you can move on to what matters right now
- despite its numerous shortcomings, I’m very partial to Evernote for idea/data dumping AND my project management
Above all, however, it takes a realignment of focus. Constantly train yourself to think about starting first, and worry about the rest later. You all are smart – you’ll be able to work things out and make everything more effective as you go. But just the simple act of starting – overcoming the activation energy – will make a world of difference in your effectiveness.