I think those two words have hurt me more than my three worst ex-boyfriends…combined!
Not because it’s bad advice to tell a person to just start the things they want to create. But because productivity for productivity’s sake – sucks.
“Just Start!” is great advice if the problem you’re having is that you have a great idea, and it’s ready to go, but you are over-complicating the thing to avoid the risk of starting it.
It pushes past that perfectionist need to over-plan and research forever and prepare yourself to death. “Just Start,” is a ramp over the rocky beginning that stops a lot of great ideas in their tracks.
I know that a lot of creative projects die, because we sit on the sidelines and stare at them. So telling someone to just start the thing could be exactly the push they need to create a beautiful thing.
That kind of simplistic push can work really well, when it’s the kind of advice you need. But it’s damaging as all hell when it’s the wrong message. And for me? It’s almost always the wrong message.
“Just Start” helps you climb the wall of awful, but sometimes that wall is a good thing. Sometimes, it gives you time to decide not to do a thing that’s not good for you.
This productivity “hack” sucks when your creative problem isn’t about moving forward on a good thing. But rather, deciding if the thing is even good at all."Just Start," is NOT good advice for when you are trying to do the wrong things – when that dragging slowness is a very real indicator that you should Just. Effing. Stop! Click To Tweet
We focus so hard on getting things done. We’re busy checking things off of our list and collecting accomplishments. We need quantitative proof that we are successful human beings.
We often judge our worth as creative people based on how much we’ve produced. Not the value of it.
Not our joy in making it, or the care with which we developed it for our world. Just how much we got done. It’s a factory kitchen, churning Big Macs versus my mom’s homemade mac and cheese.
Big Macs are fast – but MAN that Mac n Cheese is worth the wait.
We feel this need to do ALL THE THINGS though. Be on all of the platforms and be creating all of the possible things. More revenue streams! More social media followers! More more MORE!
This kind of productivity first mentality and its related brand of self-help advice is actually killing us.
Because we can’t possibly DO enough. We can’t show up enough or finish enough or slay enough for the productivity gods. They will always be disappointed in us, and we will always be at fault. Because we’re lazy and unfocused or manifesting failure with negative thoughts – or some other bullshit.
And no we don’t need your tough love to push us, for our own good. We don’t need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to be of value. That doesn’t work in this world.First of all? We're tough enough. The world is burning and bootstraps are bullshit. We need love – without your side of "tough". Thanks. Click To Tweet
Second of all? How condescending that these people (who – by the way – are making money off of us buying into this crap) act like we need to be tricked into creating things like we’re naughty school children (who – by the way – don’t need to be tricked either).
And honestly? We should plan and think and wonder if what we’re doing will be good or real or responsible enough for us to give ourselves to the doing of it.
We should take time to decide if the thing we’re tackling is something that will be worth our effort and the space it will take up in the world.
And we should do the silent and seemingly unproductive work of planning and ruminating over it to be certain and to develop it into something that will feel good to do – and to share.
We should relish in the getting-to-know-you period with a new idea, when it’s shiny and perfect and new. You should let it percolate and settle into the actual body of work you want to create with your life.
Will it fit? Will it add? Will it be a pleasure to have made it?
Sometimes, we should just not do the thing at all, because sometimes, it’s the wrong effing thing!
Cut to the part of the article where I tell you a story about how I realized that productivity sucks. But I’m going to try to keep it short and low on the self-pity or “I’m a Hero!” kind of stuff these kinds of stories tend to be steeped in.
*Cautionary Tale Warning*
Basically, if you know me at all, you know that I’ve been writing about writing for a long time. I got opened up to the world of “Online Marketing” early on in my own career. Because it’s a great place for creative people to make a living, right?
Well, I did. I developed some really cool ways (I think) to look at marketing and copywriting. From the standpoint of social justice and creating an impact in the world with your small business, it’s interesting!
I made systems to find the real need in the world that your thing will fill. And I developed a way to find the kind of message you can share that’ll sell your things. But focus on making people feel differently about themselves or the world – in a lovely way.
And I’ve worked with some amazing people who are doing wonderful things with their creative minds. I still do that.
But I was treading water in the world of productivity.
Always-be-Shipping and sell-sell-sell and tough-love advice from productivity “experts” who had no discernible expertise in psychology or design thinking or even business acumen.
I was telling my clients to “Just Start the Thing” and to FOCUS.
Finish something before you start to dream of anything else.
“Do as I say…not as I do,”I would jokingly tell them. But I hated myself for not producing more. I felt like I was supposed to write four E-books a year and join big sales with other so-called experts. I thought I had to be EVERYWHERE, doing everything.
I felt like it was all my fault that I wasn’t productive enough. I thought that I should be comfortable with executing on ideas that didn’t feel right to me. I thought I should be always jumping into projects, and doing eighty new things. No matter the discomfort or lack of real value.
So I did. I jumped, and I tried and I did the dance of starting projects that I didn’t believe in.
And I failed at them! Over and over again, I’d get partway in and give up. Because it felt wrong, or it wasn’t a sound enough idea for me to feel comfortable sharing it.
Once I got in there and started building the thing, it felt like it was hollow, and it didn’t work. And the reason that I got there was because I just started – before I was ready.
Before I had let it marinate, or developed the idea enough to validate it and know that it was the right thing to do.
But I didn’t realize that, and I spent a ton of time beating myself up for never finishing things.
Because that’s a character flaw, right?
It’s a flaw to think it out before you start something that doesn’t feel right. Because you’re just “being lazy” or afraid.
And it’s also a flaw to reevaluate and stop or pivot when something feels wrong partway through. Because you’re just “letting the hard part stop you” or making excuses to avoid doing the things, and being a flake.
You’re an imposter, and you don’t belong.
This all feels a lot like gas-lighting, ammirite?
If it feels like it’s not time to make the thing yet, maybe it’s not. Perhaps you should take a minute before you dive in. Listen to that voice and then solve the real problem. Act on that.
Because productivity without pride in quality is gross. And it’s harmful to us, and to the people we are trying to serve.We beat and stretch and push ourselves into contortions to squeeze out every drop of productivity we can, and it sours the work we do. Click To Tweet
It’s somehow considered better to write a book with no structure and a flawed thesis, but Get-It-Done in 2 months, than it is to work and develop a brilliant idea for years and create something true and beautiful. And then share it when you are ready, when it’s ready.
And do you know what? Maybe spending a lifetime thinking about the world your stories live in, or learning about all of the pieces of your passion, or parsing through the what-ifs of a project – isn’t so bad.
Maybe thinking is a little too undervalued.
And maybe slowing down and listening to your inner voice when it says, “No” isn’t a bad idea either. Being prolific is not the only metric for success of a creative mind.
Because if you are a creative person, you will create something. It might be only for you, and it might take your whole life. But that’s okay too. Because you don’t owe anyone a half-assed version of your beautiful idea.
You owe yourself the joy of creating something the way that you want to create it.
So go and think about stuff. Ruminate! Spend the day gazing at the leaves while they’re still attached to a branch. Marvel at the fact that they’ll soon fall down. Just because marvelling, in itself, is a creative act.
And when you decide to write something or build something or sell something? Do it at the speed that feels like you will be proud.
Do it in a way that makes you feel more like yourself in the making of it – not less.
Because if you are treading water – like I was – and endlessly churning out nonsense that you feel badly about? You’ll burn out. You’ll stop creating anything, and you’ll think it’s because of your own inherent uselessness.
And that’s just not true.
So go make something slowly today. Think about things! Imagine the long process of creating a perfect anything, and then? Slowly – if it seems like you will enjoy it – start.
I write articles about Writing, Business, Mental Health & Changing the World.
If you want to get an email from me when I send words & doodles into the void (ideally, every 2 weeks...but probably not that often), sign up here.
I won't sell your stuff or send you SPAM, because I'm not a jerk & I hate confrontation.
You mad? You excited? Just have a need to share? Please do!
Let's have a conversation - not just me, shouting into the Void.
You just read the WHOLE article!? Awesome!
Want to read more? Check out these recent articles too.
One of the key elements of a rich Writing Practice is the act of purposefully adding a sense joy & luxury to it. That doesn’t mean that you have to scream-laugh while you draft a blog post – or purchase a solid gold desktop to hide behind. But it does mean that we can find…
Okay…but why did you click the “Writers’ Block” title, if that’s working so well for you? Cause it’s not working for you – that’s why. I know this, because that used to be my point of view too. I had no writing routine, because I didn’t know I needed one. I was certain that my ability…
What’s with writers & their spaces, anyway? You know that mythical perfect spot you imagine will make writing easy and comforting and PERFECT? Well…it’s not real. You can’t find a place that will magic away the difficulties of writing, but the yearning for a perfect writers’ space endures. We all still covet it and dream…
What is free-writing? Right. That’s a good starting point isn’t it? If you’re not familiar with the way I suggest you use free-writing, here’s a short primer. Free-writing is a perfect first step for people who want to be able to write without enduring that feeling – you know the one: The drop in the pit…