How to Master Chaos

A day will come when your work will be truly overwhelming. You will eventually say “yes” to too many things, encounter roadblocks of time or resources, or face challenges that are greater than your own current abilities.

Here’s how to start swimming when the dam breaks:

1) Simplify and systematize.

There far more power in reduction than in addition (isn’t addition the reason you’re in this mess?). Eliminate anything that is preventing you from throwing yourself, heart and soul, into the work you need to do.

Automate the repeatable or menial tasks and decide ahead of time how you will address otherwise distracting and energy-draining decisions. Build the systems that will help you to achieve your goals, even if they require an extraordinary up-front cost of time and effort. It’s worth the world to establish the kind of momentum that will sustain itself through your future projects.

2) Give up (on everything else).

Embrace the desperation. It is one of the best ways I know to achieve extraordinary focus. There is a freedom that comes in knowing that you may have already failed the expectations of others. It allows far greater space to achieve only for the sake of your own pride or love. Maybe you won’t make it. Who cares? At least you’ll go down with the ship.

Of course, if you have this mentality, you rarely ever will. It’s not a coincidence that the heroes of myth commonly see their own dooms and fight harder and more heroically as a result. This is productive recklessness, and it’s what enables everything from last-ditch battles to all-night coding sprints.

3) Force flow’s hand.

Just start. When you do, don’t stop. Remember that you have nothing left to distract you, and accept that you now exist for the sole purpose of this moment and this act of creation.

Don’t wait for an invitation or serendipity to push you into that semi-magical psychological state of flow. Prepare for it, will it, and welcome it when it comes. Enjoy the moments in eye of the hurricane — they can be justification enough for the moments of overwhelm.

4) Ship ruthlessly.

The type of person who often finds himself up in creative chaos will tend to be oriented toward perfection and achievement. In the midst of that chaos, it is only possible to choose one of these.

Even when it’s painful and doubtful, you need to allow yourself to finish things. Steel yourself for the consequences of imperfection (not that bad, actually) and prepare to improve and iterate on your work.

How are we to think about creative chaos? This post may seem to suggest that chaos is simply a problem to solve. On the contrary, I would argue that chaos is a feature rather than a bug in the best of endeavours, startups, and lives.

Yes, chaos can be dangerous. The forces of nature are also dangerous. If they were not, they would not be worth harnessing. While you cannot (and should not) eliminate chaos, you can make it serve you just as well. Like many others, you may find that extraordinary things can emerge from it.

Isn’t the extraordinary why you got into this work in the first place?

James Walpole is a writer, podcaster, and marketer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He currently works with bitcoin payment technology company BitPay and explores the ideas and people behind the decentralization movement with the DECENTRALIZE podcast. He also writes and works with Praxis, a ten-month program for entrepreneurial young learners.

Originally published at on April 16, 2015.

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