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How to Start a Project

We’ve all been there: staring at the blank sheet of paper with no idea how to start. There’s a massive project, but where do you even begin? Sure, twirling in your chair eating Goldfish crackers for an hour was a nice distraction, but that doesn’t mean you’re any closer to the project being done. I’m going to use writing as my main example, but the concepts can be applied to almost any kind of project. 


Break It Into Smaller Steps

At the beginning of a project, often you’re looking at what seems like an insurmountable wall of awfulness. But no matter how long a book, they were all written the same way: one word at a time. Break a massive project into smaller steps. Sure if you think about having to write an entire 300-page novel, it seems impossible, but if you just try to write only one page today, that seems much more doable. Figure out a small task that can be done that builds towards the big finish. Remember, a drop of water doesn’t seem like much, but enough drops of water and you have an ocean. 


The Ugly First Draft

In her book Everybody Writes, writer Ann Handley tells us to “embrace The Ugly First Draft (TUFD).” The basic idea is that is we worry too much about how the first draft looks, we never make any progress because we’re constantly going backwards and erasing what we’ve already written. By embracing The Ugly First Draft, we’re able to dive into a project and just get it written. Once you have your Ugly First Draft, you’re then able to go back and clean up and edit and make it as pretty as you can for the second draft. But by removing our internal editor during the first draft, we can create much more efficiently. Just get the words on the page. Just start. Don’t worry that’s it’s terrible, just make it a thing that exists. A terrible first draft is way better than a great concept on an empty page. 


Take a Break and Return with Fresh Eyes

Humans are fragile creatures, if every evil talking alien in a sci-fi movie is to be believed. We get overwhelmed and stressed out. Too often people push themselves a little too hard, and their work suffers because of it. So take a break when you need to. Sometimes by just being able to clock out for a bit and take some breaths or watch a sitcom or go for a run, we can hit refresh on our minds and come back to the project feeling reinvigorated lets us see the project with fresh eyes. Maybe that wall that you were stuck at turns out to be tall but not very wide, you just had to back away to see that you can walk around it.


Ask for Help When You Need It

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Too often people feel ashamed or too embarrassed to ask for assistance when they need it. Ask! How much time would we save in corporate America if people were more willing to just ask a question or get clarification rather than “not wanting to bother” or look stupid? People (that aren’t massive jerks) like helping people. If someone has a question, humans usually want to help them, especially in a team environment like most companies try to foster. Nobody does anything completely on their own, we all need help in different ways. It’s better to succeed with help than fail by yourself. 


Just keep taking one more step. Progress is the key, and I can’t stress this enough: progress is never a bad thing. These steps can really help you get through the work day. So when you look at that mountain of a project, just remember that to climb Everest you have to take it one step at a time. Just, don’t use up all our your oxygen ten feet up.

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