Start Your Project by Doing Messy Work

Messy paint pallette

Even when you have your time allocated perfectly and your productivity should be at its peak as a result, sometimes it’s just too hard to get started on a project. There are a lot of reasons to delay starting on something: maybe it’s something you hate doing, or a project with so many moving parts that it’s daunting. Often we hesitate to begin things because we’re afraid we won’t be able to create something good enough, or we’re intimidated by the parameters of the project. Paralyzed by perfectionism, we fail to even try.

One way to get over the difficulty of beginning a project is to grant yourself the opportunity to make something truly awful. Write a weak rough draft, create a faulty prototype, or go through the entire process once—very sloppily. Don’t stop to fix mistakes, but rather allow yourself the luxury of mediocrity.

I’m not saying you should do this and then turn in the result as your final project. Hardly. This low-quality first draft won’t ever pass muster as your final product, but it’s top-notch stuff for springboarding you into your work. Once you get started, your creative juices will get flowing and your brain will ease out of its perfectionist paralysis.

Once you start working, it’s a lot easier to start working better. Once you have a framework—whether that’s familiarity with a particular process or a prototype to learn from—it’s a lot easier to get to the meat of your project. Your project skeleton, though it may be a bit disturbing to look at alone, can hold up and structure the final product. It doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to exist.

So tomorrow morning when you start work, create something awful. When you’re done, turn that awful something into something wonderful. Use your experience with the rough draft to stir up ideas for the final product and to help you discover better methods of doing things. Maybe when you built the rough webpage you found a bit of code was giving you trouble: then you know you either need to design something differently or spend some time researching different ways to code. Maybe when you were writing the rough draft of your marketing copy you thought of ideas you want to get across and words you could use: then you know where to brainstorm for further development.

Giving yourself a break from quality and perfection can give you the jumpstart you need to get you going. Once you’re up and running, it’s pretty easy to change direction and start heading towards a final result you can be proud of.

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