Start Before You’re Ready

A few weeks back I was finally able to tear into Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Do the Work. I wasn’t disappointed. Both of these books are right up my alley, dealing with the process of actually doing things in the face of the myriad ofbarriers that prevent the doing of said things. He refers to those barriers as The Resistance.

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

Everything he says about The Resistance is incredibly familiar. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he wrote both books specifically for me. It’s all really useful thinking, but after my first read through there was one take-away that really stuck and proved the most practical of everything he writes about:

Start before you’re ready.

Don’t prepare. Begin. Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. The enemy is Resistance. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Begin it now.

And then, for the planners:

Research can become Resistance.

It’s probably a no brainer for most people. As for myself, I’ve become really good at making sure that everything is ready to go before getting down to business. Sometimes it’s physical noodly things like topping off my coffee or getting a new pen. Sometimes it’s some sort of bizarre pressure that I put on myself to do better work…like if I start at the right time it will be great, but starting at the wrong time will lead to absolute ruin.

Turns out that just starting will take care of all of the angst and anxieties lurking about in your head. Oh, and that actually working on things is the best way to figure them out.

It’s been really helpful for me. I highly recommend the books if you’re at all into this sort of thing. Otherwise, you may resume eye-rolling.

Viciously defending your work time

One of the most difficult things about working in a business like advertising is the tension between people who do their job by doing work and people who do their job by having meetings. It’s really easy to get caught in that pattern of relentless meetings that create more things to be done while keeping people from doing the things that are already on their plate. Seth Godin has written a great little post about this problem in which he points out: 

A big part of doing your work is defending your time and your attention so you can do your work.

After getting clobbered by an overabundance of meetings last year, I set out this year to try and do a better job of managing my time by defending it from myself and others.

This was a matter of 3 things: 

  1. Reading Getting Things Done 
  2. Activating GTD using Things
  3. Setting up meetings with myself on my calendar and then viciously defending that time
The first two were fairly easy. The last one drives other people crazy. They don’t see it as being a legit block on my calendar. They want to pave over it with meetings. And the reality is that if something is really important I’m happy to move that time. But honestly, I’d rather spend my time at work getting my work done rather than sitting in other people’s meetings at the expense of having time with my family at night. It’s not easy, and it’s not always cut and dry, but I’ve found that I’ve become much more productive and useful at work than ever before.