Well everyone, this is it! The first post in what will hopefully be many. I’ve got big plans for JaredRiley.com and my head is brimming with article ideas regarding project management, team management, and game design. For now I’m hoping to release either a comic, article, or some other piece of content per week- we’ll see if that holds. I’ve been known to get ahead of myself…
Speaking of which, it’s amazing that this site even came together at all. This project had been trapped in the sneakiest, but perhaps the most common, black hole for projects that exists: the getting started. It’s not that I didn’t try to get started or make efforts to begin; it’s just that over the years I spent thinking, talking, and acting on getting things going for the site my actions never coalesced into anything that made meaningful progress. In fact, despite speaking to a number of artists and even hiring out people to develop the site for me, absolutely none of that effort is reflected in the site you see before you. I spent two years working on this site and only a few days actually creating it.
“Well what the hell is your problem? Why couldn’t you just get your shit together?” I hear you thinking to yourself.
“Back the fuck off!” I respond in your head. “We just met! We’re just getting to know each other!”
The Top of the Mountain
Okay, maybe that whole exchange was all internal to myself. But sitting on a half-started project for years will do that to you. It’s hard to avoid those thoughts and feelings as the frustration builds around broken plans and poorly initiated projects. I spent a lot of time soul searching to find the answer to the questions “what’s holding me back?” and “How can I get his project moving?”. Quality soul searching time such as watching sunsets and staring at the stars. But that all failed me.
What saved me was a fortune cookie. It read “keep your expectations reasonable.”
My problem was that my dream, my vision, was just too damn big. I wanted my site to be everything and to do everything and in my head, when I pictured my website, it was already brimming with hundreds of witty and amazing articles and loads of custom content. My plan had me starting my journey at the top of the mountain instead of taking the first steps towards it.
What I was aiming for:
- Lots of custom art for a site I hadn’t even designed yet
- Website built perfectly to fit the needs of several distinct (and non-overlapping) user demographics (ie. academics, managers, AND teenage gamers looking for a few minutes of online gaming- all in one place!)
- LOTS of interactive, animated elements
- Holy crap it even included a full blown meta video game built over the site to encourage visits and sharing (share url’s to the site to build out your own city!)
What I actually wanted:
- To simply write some articles and share my thoughts with other interested people
I desperately needed to scale back.
“My problem was that my dream, my vision, was just too damn big.”
In my experience, and I have reason to believe in many others, getting started is often one of the hardest parts of a project. It’s where I procrastinate the most. But it’s also the area that I, and many others, can really improve ourselves and make huge gains in our ability to get shit done.
People who can simply and quickly get started are unstoppable- role models worth aspiring to. This is a muscle I find myself constantly needing to exercise. And although I don’t have any magic bullets, here are five strategies I’m planning on employing more in the future for simply getting started:
1) Make step one read: “hello world!”
When starting out as a first step many programmers (including myself) often kick off a code project with a simple program that outputs “Hello world!”. It’s an easy first step that gets you to the minimum needed to set up your code environment and build your application (or website, or what have you) that actually does something. Once you’ve output “hello world!” you’ve got a thing, and subsequent tasks are just adding to that thing. It works well for me, but I often find myself lacking something comparable for projects that aren’t strictly programming. What I need is something similar to “hello world” for my other projects and tasks. For a blog, it could be simply installing wordpress and writing the first simple entry. For cleaning the kitchen, it could picking up just one piece of trash. For paying the bills, it could be simply sorting them. Whatever it is, I need to find that first steps that requires the least amount of work to just get started.
2) Strip it down.
The second strategy I plan to employ in my “getting started” arsenal is stripping projects down to what I actually really need. Sure, I can build on my project later and add all the bells and whistles. But before doing that I need to simplify my goals to just exactly what is needed and how I can quickly reach that goal.
3) Address the fear.
According to The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, PH.D., the three main reasons that we procrastinate are all linked to our fears. Fear of being overwhelmed. Fear of failure. Fear of not finishing. Addressing that fear is important towards moving past procrastination and getting shit done.
Fear of being overwhelmed – Sometimes tasks that we are capable of accomplishing just appear too massive in scope, we’re afraid it’s just too much to handle. An example of this would be writing a book. A number of strategys can help address this, but most boil down to just breaking the task down via a task list or schedule into smaller tasks that we know we can easily accomplish. We need to look at just not the size of the thing but also learn to look at it through the prism of time to see that with smaller steps we can eventually get to where we are going.
Fear of failure – The author of the book suggests we take the time to do the work of worrying. Specifically, worrying when combined with an active response to our fears and concerns is a very positive thing. It helps us prepare for negative outcomes and survive. But often we do the worrying part and then forget to do the active preparing. We haven’t done the “work” of worrying, the part that enables us to better meet the challenges we are facing. Taking the time to write out what our fears and concerns are and then to also construct a plan of how to address those fears can help us move past them and get going!
Fear of not finishing – Sometimes just the sheer amount of work can be intimidating and it’s hard to think about taking the next step let alone running the last 10 miles of the marathon. Other times, actually succeeding may have scary consequences that you just aren’t actually prepared for, whether you know it or not. For example, getting that job might mean you have to move across the country. Submitting a great paper may mean you have to present it to your peers. Publishing a book might subject it and you to criticism. Thinking strategically about what you really want and then putting it out of your mind as you think about just the next step can help us get to the finish line. Sometimes we have to “repeatedly start”.
4) Commit to less.
Similar to item #2 above, sometimes I just need to commit to less in order to do more. It sounds counterintuitive, but for me it helps to build up the confidence and energy to move forward. I love to go running, but sometimes aspiring to a 12 mile run can be really daunting. So I commit to less. I promise myself I’ll just go for my usual 4 mile run and see how it goes. And every time, I find I hit four miles and have a lot more energy… so maybe I’ll just run a couple more… and then a couple more… and holy shit I’ve just ran 15 miles! It goes hand in hand with the previous three items in this list in taking the pressure off to deliver something that could feel overwhelming.
5) Set aside the time and reward myself.
Another idea suggested from “The Now Habit” is to remember to take time to play. We need time for ourselves perhaps as much as we need to get all the work in our life done. Often, it’s the fear of not having that time that holds us back from getting started. Often we know it’s best to just get our chores done in the morning and have the rest of the day to relax. Instead, we worry about not having that relax time so we procrastinate. Sure we get that time at the beginning of the day but it’s often spent worrying about the stuff we need to do or doing things that really aren’t all that important so as to justify the use of our time. Scheduling some time in your day to relax as well as work can be a great way to both reward yourself for getting stuff done as well as be able to enjoy your relax time without worrying you’re failing or falling behind.
I hope this website is one day overflowing with helpful articles and other content that really helps a lot of readers out there. For now though, I’ll start with just this first post.