Getting Started Is Not Overrated, It’s Just Not For Everyone

Over the weekend, we ran an opinion piece by Cal Newport arguing against the common notion that getting started on a project is better than waiting for the "perfect moment". In his words: "an instinct for getting started cripples your chance at long-term success". It's an interesting read, but I think the basic premise is dead wrong.

Picture by jayneandd

It's not that I don't recognise Newport makes an interesting case, or that he's the only person who thinks that way. Joss Whedon, for instance, argued for a pretty similar position on his recent trip to Australia. It's that Newport fallen into the common trap of much productivity advice: assuming that an approach that works for him is the best idea for everyone under all circumstances and with all kinds of projects.

People are different. Knowing absolutely everything about a topic before diving in can work well for some people, and it might avoid making mistakes others have already made. But for others, experimenting a little and planting lots of ideas — while happily accepting that many will fail or not be a source of huge wealth — is a more amenable approach. Success has many measures, and also many approaches.

I suspect I fall somewhere in the middle: some projects I start and complete very rapidly, others percolate for months or years with lots of interim research. I can't find a hard-and-fast rule that sums that up, and perhaps that's why I resist any easy summation of "the best way to get things done".

Would you rather wait till you're consumed with passion before starting on a project, or will you happily dive in when the mood strikes? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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    I think you are right in that it is different for everyone. I used to take the getting ready before you start philosophy pretty seriously, and get everything planned out before. But so many unexpected things happen it tends to become just plain frustrating. On the other hand, if we just plunged into whatever we feel like, we may end up starting a lot of things and not completing anything. I found that you have to find a balance, and the balance is unique to each person, I believe.

    Angus, I didn't see that premise (the one you refute) as necessary in the argument for the conclusion of Newport's article. He was not, as I read it, arguing that " 'just get started' is advice that never works", but rather that "the 'just start' advice is encumbered by a damning logical flaw" which Newport then describes as the survivor bias.

    I also, as a separate point, agree with his observation that the "saturation method" is a far more credible alternative than the "just get started" motivational speaker rhetoric. The former is a much harder message to sell to an audience of eager, wide-eyed normal-ites (i.e. people whose success levels are at the peak of the bell curve, or lower).

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