Start by starting

I am a chronic researcher. I don’t mean for it to happen. I get a big idea and decide I need to figure out the “best” way to accomplish it. I can think of a few areas where this has happened to me recently.

  • I decided that I wanted to start writing this blog. I could have started writing immediately or by brainstorming ideas. Instead, I spend a few weeks figuring out how I wanted to host the blog.
  • Every time I decided I want to start taking notes again, spend more time looking at note taking apps than I do using them, since I almost always quit taking notes within a month.
  • When considering if I want to ever post something to YouTube, I get excited looking at cameras and microphones, trying to figure out the best formula for getting started.

I could go on, but you get the idea. There are dozens of ways to do these things, of course, and all of them are viable. This is a recipe for analysis paralysis, a common affliction suffered by a whole lot of people on a daily basis.

All of those examples do share something in common though. They all can be accomplished really easily with things we already have or are available quickly. Blogs can be created for free on WordPress.com or Medium.com. Notes can be taken on paper, in Apple Notes on a Mac, or OneNote on a PC (or Mac and mobile). My iPhone 12 has a fine camera and is completely serviceable, with some minor tweaks.

You just have to keep on doing what you do. It’s the lesson I get from my husband; he just says, Keep going. Start by starting.

Meryl Streep

“Start by starting” is my favorite way to beat analysis paralysis. I have two reasons for this. The first is that it allows action while excitement is at its highest. For all of the reasons that I choose not to buy things on impulse, following through on ideas on impulse can be really energizing. Acting immediately allows that excitement to be tested quickly. Waiting until the excitement fades lessens the likelihood of action.

The second reason is that starting quickly with a low cost, fast option allows testing without much risk. We use this mindset often in technology when using any Agile methodology. Failing fast allows us to learn and iterate to improve on the idea. Continuing to adapt also serves to create opportunities to create new habits that enable the outcome we’re looking for. If the prototype works, continue to invest in it. If it doesn’t, try again in a different way or stop and try something else. In either case, there were lessons learned, which should outweigh the cost of the trial if done well.

If we wait until conditions are perfect, the opportunity can pass us by. Acting quickly can let us test our idea cheaply and learn from it, all while enabling exploration that can help us find things we love to do. It can also help us eliminate things that we thought we would do that we won’t really, which is what happened with my guitar. In either case, learning is a great outcome that can provide opportunity.

For me, I am working to notice that I’m stuck. I am only allowing myself an hour to research before I start working on what I’m looking at. This is letting me figure out what it will take to start, then actually start. For habit-based items, like writing, I add a to-do in Todoist with a daily reminder. If it isn’t something repetitive, I’m adding time to my calendar to act on it to keep the idea at the front of my thinking.

By scheduling time for the activity, I can generate action that will allow me to do those tests. If I notice I’m skipping them or putting them off, maybe it isn’t the right time, so I either cancel or add them to my “Someday/Maybe” list. With all outcomes, I can decide if it’s worth it or not, which is the outcome I’m looking for.

I’ve been able to test things much more quickly when approaching it this way. I’m excited to be acting on ideas that I have, rather than stalling or losing them outright through inaction. Over time, I know that I’ll get better at it, but starting is, by far, the most important step.

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