On (Not) Doing Things

There’s something to be said for following through. Too many times, people voice ideas, talk about things they’re going to do. The common sentiment is “ 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” or something to that effect; A good idea is meaningless unless you act on it.

The craze of Entrepreneurship and Start-Ups and Innovation is infectious. I’ve talked with quite a few people who toil away on even mediocre ideas and still win competitions, still come out doing alright with their businesses. I got caught up in it myself, and tried a few times to build out a product or two.

However, there’s something to be said for not following through. This is a lesson I have learned several times the hard way — Not every great idea should be followed through with. Now, I’m not talking about just any idea that you think is good. I’m talking about things that could become profitable businesses, could become paradigm shifts, could change people’s way of life. They would need work, refinement, iteration, discussion, effort — but you can do them. However, you often should not do these great things.

Imagine you are building brick houses. You have all of the bricks you need. You envision 5 beautiful brick houses — you set out to build them. However, you can only lay one brick at a time. In order to keep up with the projects, keep in touch with stakeholders, stay engaged with your teams, you lay one brick on each house at a time, like you might deal cards in a card game.

This is inefficient: the constant ‘context shifting’ between each house will mean you may start confusing the house designs, and will require much more effort to make sure the next brick you lay is in the right place. Additionally, you will have 5 unfinished houses for a very long time. These houses will be outdated, stale, and probably low quality when (if) they are finished.

Not only will the projects suffer, but your life begins to look a bit like this:

XKCD comic: ADD

Context is key. Look at the rest of your life. How much are you doing already? This new idea, this venture, this Start-Up will need a lot of your time and effort to be done right. If you have 3 great ideas, even if they aren’t businesses, you should not take them all on. Perhaps one of them is just making a cool website idea you want to build out. Make that one thing your Main Project. You will be able to do it fast, do it right, and document it well, share it well, and look good. Your mind will be clear and focused, your effort will be rewarded. You will have specific, consolidated insights from that project as you will be able to think about it more - less ‘context shifting’ and more organized thoughts.

You need to realize that you are not infinite; You are valuable, your time, energy, thoughts are all resources. Do not deplete them; Allocate them intelligently, and leave yourself reserve. Don’t worry about what you’re missing out on. You can still stay in touch with projects and fields in your free time (the internet is a beautiful thing). Let your other ideas simmer on the backburner — they will be better for it.

I am currently in my senior year of College and spread far too thin — not only does it hurt my mental and physical health, but it hurts the things that I’m trying to get done, too. At this point, I’ve managed to position myself deep in so many of these things, I’ve got to work to get uninvolved. If you have the choice, do not look for more things to do or businesses to start or problems to solve: look at what you do right now and either finish it for something new, or do it better.

Do not do things: Finish things.