Step One: how to get started when you’re overwhelmed

“You ain’t done makin’ mistakes, bub, not by a long shot”

It’s frustrating when you have brilliance trapped inside you, waiting to be let out. When there’s a spark of creativity that could light a bonfire, but the kindling just isn’t quite there.

Blank page syndrome. Writer’s block. Starter’s anxiety. There are plenty of names for it, some of which I probably just made up. At its core it’s when you get in your own way. Your vision of perfection demands that you don’t get your hands dirty; you just shouldn’t start at all.

Step 675 of 2000

Chances are that the things we’re being paid to think hard about, that we’re tackling so that we can pay ourselves, or that we want to achieve in our spare time — they’re complicated. If getting six-pack abs or becoming a multi-millionaire were simple we’d all live in mansions and grate cheese on our bellies. If you’ve done it once it might be simple to do it again, but if you’re new to the problem it may seem insurmountable.

The people who say it’s easy have it all worked out already, or they have different habits or lifestyles in place that make the choices easier.

But nobody’s completely free of problems. Your worries will expand to fit the circumstances available. Sure, you might not be poor any more but your second sunken tennis court has a drainage problem and you probably shouldn’t have had that affair.

Whatever your problem is, it isn’t settled by not starting.

Step Zero

You’re not doing anybody any favours by sitting in a state of indecision and doing nothing. You can always find the perfect words, analogy, strategy another day. It’s rare that a project demands absolute perfection from its inception.

Likelier is that you need to be firing on all cylinders to compete at the top of your game, but you can craft and perfect those skills as you go. And the best way to learn is on the job.

Start at One

So what’s step one? If it’s sitting down and pulling out a piece of paper, then fine. That’s achievable. If you’re frozen with indecision, you’ve probably planned enough. You can plan before step two, if you really feel you need to do more.

The problem with plans is that they don’t always survive first contact with the enemy. In a battlefield you can’t model how every independent actor is going to behave. If you’re writing a book, you might not know you need to work on your dialogue until you’ve started to write. Think of it this way: if you want the ideal plan, the best way of making sure it’s perfect is by testing and adjusting it, and the best way of doing that is by — doing.

The best plans are the ones that have been fulfilled, not the ones that lie untested.

So, whatever you’re working on, whatever stage you’re at, take a fresh look at the problem and ask yourself: what’s step one?